ONE LOOK AT "Kaleidoscope," NBC's movie tonight, tells you both why Danielle Steel sells a zillion of the books she churns out and why they make such lousy movies.
And that's not lousy in the way a Judith Krantz or Jackie Collins book is lousy -- a low-taste, trashy, offensive sort of way -- but lousy in the sense that they just don't have the stuff to make it on the screen.
"Kaleidoscope," which will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) at 9 o'clock, is the opening jab in the combination NBC has to counter this week's sports programming. It's up against ABC's Monday Night Football, while the three-hour "Fine Things" tries to get the women who aren't interested in CBS' coverage of Game 1 of the World Series tomorrow night.
Steel's plot does not dance from contrived cliffhanger to convoluted climax a la Krantz or Collins. Instead, it gently slips in a hook that gets you wondering a bit about how all this is going to be resolved, then slowly moves from one squishy-soft romantic moment to the next.
In print, page after page of this must go down easier than a box of chocolate bon-bons, giving you a nice warm, fuzzy feeling that probably puts the anxiety-laden in the proper frame of mind to drift off to sleep.
But on film, there's just not enough plot to carry a movie, even one trying to be as lightweight as this one. It's not a question of waiting for the other shoe to drop -- you're waiting for the first shoe to drop, for anything to drop, for that matter.
The setup has an aging attorney, played by Donald Moffat, hire a handsome young investigator, played by Perry King, to track down three sisters who, as Spy magazine would say, were separated at birth.
Well, not quite, but close enough. After what you eventually learn was the tragic death of their quarrelsome parents -- who had fallen so romantically for each other in Paris after it was liberated in World War II -- the sisters were sent to live with an aunt and uncle.
The aunt's death led to abusive conditions so that the attorney -- their father's best friend who also loved their mother -- found fine homes for the two younger ones. The oldest one, played as an adult, inevitably, by Jaclyn Smith, stayed with uncle and refuses to forgive the attorney for leaving her there.
Will the investigator find the three sisters? Will they agree to a reunion? Will there be a surprise revelation that's about as shocking as the sun rising in the east? Will the two pretty people in the cast -- Smith and King -- bed down together? Can you guess or do you have to watch?
About the only real fun in this is seeing Patricia Kalember as one of the sisters and Colleen Dewhurst as her mother with dueling Southern accents.
(One bit of local trivia: Kalember and her on-screen husband, Terry O'Quinn, are both Center Stage vets).
Otherwise, this is junk-food television, easy to swallow but with no discernible nutritional content.
* An aging attorney who arranged the adoption of three daughters after the death of their parents seeks to reunite them decades later.
CAST: Jaclyn Smith, Perry King
TIME: Tonight at 9
CHANNEL: NBC Channel 2 (WMAR)