The Soviets were fearfully upset about "Amerika," an ABC miniseries about the Soviet occupation of the United States. They held a news conference to denounce it, along with "Rambo" and "Rocky IV," the two smash hit movies that make some people think that Sylvester Stallone should be secretary of state.
Maybe ABC did the wrong thing to pull the show after the Soviets objected. Censorship is even uglier when it is imported. But it was the right thing to do, all the same.
As is their way, the Soviets did not stop at polite protest. They put a little steel into it by threatening Walter Rodgers, the network's Moscow correspondent. His accreditation, the ABC News bureau itself, were on the line, the commissars told him. It was either "Amerika" or Rodgers.
ABC quite sensibly chose Rodgers, an excellent reporter.
And the country is better served to have Rodgers telling us what is going on in the Soviet Union than by having a television series about what might go on if the Soviets took over the U.S.A.
"Capitulation," "sellout" and other expletives fill the air. Bashing ABC as the yellow network is the rage. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who feels called upon to comment on many matters beyond his official preoccupation, the nation's public school system, said ABC should "consider telling Moscow where they can put their intimidation." That's the kind of language that, spoken in a classroom, can get you sent to the principal's office, but Bennett's role model in this instance is Rambo.
Maybe what Bennett was trying to say is that ABC owes the Reagan administration one after putting it through the wringer with "The Day After." Brandon Stoddard, president of ABC Entertainment, presided over the production of the story of a nuclear holocaust. The administration braced itself as if for the real thing. Secretary of State George P. Shultz felt called upon to assure the public that President Reagan knows nukes are dangerous.
"The Day After" was seen in 83.8 million homes and caused intense heartburn on the right-wing, which felt that it was unfair to show nuclear war as all bad. They want people to think about the "other side," that is, surrender, which is what happens in "Amerika."
Brooding over the postponement of "equal time," Bennett mourned, "The American people might be denied a television series because the Kremlin does not like it."
Denied, perhaps, but deprived, hardly. What the country needs least right now is another movie telling them how rotten the Soviets are. Hollywood is not to blame. It took its cue about the "evil empire" from the First Movie-Goer.
"Rambo" and "Rocky IV" are making the point sufficiently with pectorals, gutturals, grunts and grenades. "Amerika" is said to be in a different class from Stallone's comic-book cutouts. Even if it's serious, it's redundant.
Fifty million Americans have seen "Rocky IV." It is a deafening and dumb show of Stallone's physique and his psyche, the former being much better developed than the latter. This viewer kept waiting to see that Igor Drago, the robot-like Soviet champ, had lead in his gloves, but what KOs him is a surge of heart from a fella who trained by chopping wood, lifting rocks and righting overturned Soviet sleighs. Drago worked out in a lab with wires on his chest and steroid-dispensing doctors checking his reflexes.
At the end, the Soviet crowd is won over. They begin chanting "Rocky" without even a Slavic accent. Rocky, who is literally wrapped in the American flag, gives a little foreign policy homily. "If I can change and they can change, maybe everybody can change," he says thickly. Does this mean Mikhail Gorbachev will shape up after we've whomped him?
The irony is, of course, that while Americans are freaking out on "Rocky IV" they are loving the spirit of Geneva. Reagan's ratings have soared since he sat down by the fire with the Soviet leader. Nobody seems to mind that they didn't discuss arms control. Seeing them together apparently gives hope that the world will not be blown up any time soon.
Whatever "Amerika" might have been, it is a miniseries, and we have been spared, as well as the Soviets. Miniseries are endless, mindless, soggy sagas in which many die and nobody laughs.
Maybe ABC should have been more hypocritical and crass and said that it was postponing because the ads weren't selling. But maybe if it invested in a documentary of the Beach Boys in Minsk and the Bolshoi in Peoria, ABC might spend its money, and our time, more profitably.