Most people rent or buy videos to escape the network doldrums. Escape might be harder than you think. A disturbing amount of made- for-television fare, most of it mediocre, has crept into the video refuge. Disguised, commercial-free, and often titillatingly packaged, it's still laundered money. Yours.
Keep your eyes open for the following or you won't be able to later.
BIRDS OF PREY (TWE, 1973) Helicopter reporter David Janssen observes an aerial kidnapping and decides to pursue the robbers. Uneventful chase melodrama with a typically good Janssen performance and not much else. An old ABC movie of the week featuring Elayne Heilveil and Ralph Meeker.
MASTER NINJA II (TWE, 1984) Two episodes of a failed television series, "The Master," do not a movie make. An American ninja searches for his kidnapped daughter. NBC's sad update of "Kung Fu" (pilot available and eminently more watchable) at least stars Lee Van Cleef and David McCallum ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.").
DEATH SQUAD (Prism, 1974) Another ABC movie of the week, of a higher caliber than most. A hard-boiled detective traces a rash of vigilante killings back to fellow police officers. Inspired by Clint Eastwood's "Magnum Force," with a charismatic Robert Forster and a venerably classy Melvyn Douglas.
DEVIL DOG -- THE HOUND OF HELL (Lightning, 1978) Excruciatingly absurd post-"Exorcist" snorefest about a family pet possessed by the devil. Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux struggle for credibility. They fail. First telecast on CBS.
HONEYBOY (U.S.A., 1982) Whatever happened to Erik Estrada? "Honeyboy," for one thing. An obnoxious Chicano boxer finds success even more obnoxious, despite Morgan Fairchild. With Hector Elizondo, James McEachin and Sugar Ray Robinson.
THE GLITTER DOME (Thorn EMI/HBO, 1984) A seemingly unbeatable combination -- James Garner and John Lithgow in Joseph Wambaugh's dynamic story of burned-out L.A. cops -- fizzles under Stuart Margolin's incompetent direction. With Margot Kidder. Produced for HBO.