"TV Viewers Yawn at Season Premieres," notes a headline in Adweek magazine. Anyone wondering why this is so (someone who hasn't seen any of the season premieres, for instance) might want to take a peek at the last of the new fall crop: "Over My Dead Body," a yawnable CBS whodunit with an appropriately suicidal title.
The show makes its debut with a two-hour episode at 9 tonight on Channel 9.
Scholarly curiosity about the lowermost reaches of mediocrity might be the only valid reason for tuning in this feckless, hapless dud, the network's candidate to replace "Murder, She Wrote" when, as is likely, that series bows out at the end of the season. Angela Lansbury wants to do a situation comedy. And so she will.
Wags have been quick to dub the erstwhile substitute "Murder, He Wrote," since it's all about a male mystery writer, one Maxwell Beckett. Considering the dreadful way the show is written, however, and the fact that Edward Woodward plays Beckett as a gratingly whimpering boor, "Murder, You Idiot" would be more like it.
Last year, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid starred in "Snoops," a "Thin Man"-style mystery that also seemed a candidate to replace "Murder." That show suffered from the galloping cutes, but it was classic Agatha Christie compared with "Dead Body."
On the theory that one intensely irritating character isn't enough to sustain a series, Executive Producer Rick Okie and writer David Chisholm give Max Beckett a partner: moose-jawed Jessica Lundy as Nikki Page, a ravingly obnoxious obituary writer for a San Francisco newspaper.
Nikki looks out the window one night and witnesses the murder of a hooker. Her immediate response is to race over to the apartment where the killing occurred and break the door down with an ax -- smart, huh? Later, when no one believes her story (the body disappears in a way that is never explained), she enlists Beckett for amateur tandem sleuthing.
Naturally, the two start out as adversaries, Beckett refusing to join her in her game, she playfully smashing one of his windows. As another cute prank, she writes Beckett's obit and manages to get it printed in the next day's paper. Miraculously enough, nobody gets sued over this and Page does not lose her job.
"Dead Body" is a show for mystery fans who demand the bare minimum in plausibility or logic.
Chisholm based his mystery on a 1945 movie called "Lady on a Train" that starred Deanna Durbin. It had to have been better than this remake, if only because it didn't have Woodward mincing about like a twit and Lundy pushing her face into the lens whenever it has the misfortune to turn her way.
As for the plot, it's abandoned for several acts while Chisholm laboriously establishes the two main characters. Halfway through, any casual TV viewer will spot the murderer because he is played by an actor who always plays the murderer, or at least some mangy sleaze.
Plus, this time he's supposed to be a politician, and in Chisholm's scenario, that makes him much more suspect than the friendly gangster whom Page tries to seduce.
Woodward earned himself millions of fans playing a terse and businesslike vigilante in "The Equalizer." Perhaps his decision to play this horrible new character in such a horrible old way has something to do with those actors' "challenges" that are always being yammered about on "Entertainment Tonight."
Whatever the reason, a man who made himself an enigmatically attractive figure -- despite a post-middle-age paunch and gray hair -- now turns himself into the proverbial bloody nuisance, his voice pitched into its highest registers for plaintive screams that bring to mind SCTV parodies of Richard Harris at his most theatrically overwrought.
The real mystery is why CBS, whose economic hardship is directly tied to the advanced median age of its audience, would embark on a show with potential appeal only to the oldest possible viewers.
Maybe they think they can move Woodward into Lansbury's Sunday night spot next fall and nobody will notice. But everybody will notice. Lansbury is so much more ingratiating, so much more watchable, so much more macho.