Cross "Broadcast News" with "All About Eve" and what do you get? Something that would be better not gotten. Even so, "Her Wicked Ways," the CBS movie at 9 tonight on Channel 9, has the dumb allure of a benign no-brainer, and the fact that the plot seems partly inspired by the Deborah Norville affair gives it a lightly gossipy tang.
For Washington viewers, there's an added attraction: The film offers another Hollywooden view of what life is like in the nation's capital. They imagine it to be like Beverly Hills but with fewer ferns in the restaurants.
Heather Locklear, that bouncy little buttercup, plays the Norville (a k a Eve Harrington) role, a novice reporter from Richmond named Melody Shepherd who bluffs her way into a job assisting Barbara Eden as veteran reporter Tess O'Brien. Tess is the Jane Pauley figure, who thinks she is being groomed for the vaunted network anchor chair about to be vacated.
"The next time you see me," Tess tells a pal, "you'll be looking at Dan Rather in a skirt." This disconcerting image is, thankfully, never pursued.
The movie could have been more fun, but it suffers from a bad case of the new neuterism. Nothing must be done that could be construed as endorsing sexual stereotypes; thus, Shepherd's wicked ways aren't really all that wicked, and both she and Tess tread a narrow path within acceptable, politically correct boundaries.
Director Richard Michaels keeps pulling back on the reins too, and so the outlandish and campy potentials are pretty much ignored.
There are some gigglesome moments, of course. Shepherd sets her sights on Tess's architect son, an unbelievably chumpy dunce played blankly by David James Elliott, and during one of those midnight walks around Washington that get walked only in films, she pauses at the Jefferson Memorial to rhapsodize.
"Can't you feel it, Andrew? Can't you practically smell it?" she says pantingly. "It's like an aphrodisiac -- the power of this town. I can feel it pulsing right through me." Talk about your original thoughts!
The working title for the film, incidentally, was "Potomac Fever." It was changed to be sexier but also, most likely, because Washington titles are ratings poison, sure to ward audiences off. Why do you suppose that is?
Shepherd, though expert at the come-hither glance and the bedroom eyes, doesn't precisely sleep her way to the top. We are told she finagled a quote out of the secretary of state by sending him homemade corn bread and peach preserves. Both the older and younger reporter are forever in search of the "great quote" and the "terrific quote," and what's odd is that though they work in television, it never occurs to them to get any of these quotes on camera. They just read them to viewers.
Despite a vaguely feminist tone to the pulpy material (the co-writer and some of the producers are women), the denouement finds Tess following about the same route Rosalind Russell took in all those old movies where she had to choose between A Career and A Man. Guess which wins. It's doubly dismaying here since the man -- Tess's longtime lover, not husband -- is a deadly dull foreign correspondent played by Jed Allen.
Eden has such a sunny, magnetic countenance that she keeps one interested, and even rooting -- not that the odds against her ever seem all that formidable. In the end, and in the beginning and the middle too, the movie's fatal flaw is caution -- nothing to get worked up about, perhaps, except that it also happens to be exactly what the networks are drowning in.
New Year, old nemesis.