SO, TELEVISION'S 1990 network premiere season ends not with a bang, but with the whimper of contrivance, a formulaic vehicle that drives down some of the most potholed-filled streets in the medium's aging infrastructure just ahead of the first of the mid-season replacements that begin appearing in a couple of weeks.
But give CBS' "Over My Dead Body" some credit. Clearly it cares for the environment, or else how would you explain its penchant for recycling. There are so many retread ideas that you lose count. You can recognize bits out of everything from "The Wizard of Oz" to "Murder, She Wrote" in the two-hour pilot that will be on Channel 11 (WBAL) tonight at 9 o'clock, the show's regular time slot.
The star of "Over My Dead Body" is Edward Woodward, late of "The Equalizer." In this one, he plays Maxwell Beckett, a one-time Scotland Yard employee playing out his string as a mystery writer in San Francisco when the possibility of rejuvenation and redemption appears in the form of a visit from a young female fan who's seen a murder and can't interest the cops because there's no body.
She's Nikki Page, played by breathy-voiced Jessica Lundy, an obit writer for a Frisco daily. She drags Max into this morass, which turns out to have all sorts of coincidental connections with his life, of course.
Along the way, it turns out that she's the tough, chance-taking member of the duo -- her Daddy coaches the 49ers -- while despite his bravado and bluster, he's close to a cowardly lion. But it's the Wizard of Oz himself that Max more closely resembles, as he has been twisting dials and pulling levers for years to keep his image much larger than his life.
Then there's the fact that Max writes books like that lady on CBS' Sunday night staple -- no coincidence since both this one and "Murder, She Wrote" have William Link as co-creator. Add the fact that the two of them will be an odd couple of detectives -- "Starsky & Hutch," "Cagney & Lacey," "Simon & Simon" . . . -- and the possibility of unresolved sexual tension between the two -- which has been used in too many shows to count -- and you understand why you might have a sense of deja vu when you watch this.
As for the mystery, it's not much of a challenge. There's one red herring painted in day-glo colors, a cliched female-in-jeopardy final scene, and a solution you can reach by using one of the oldest tricks in the prime time book -- pin it on the biggest name in the cast who's not coming back next week.
When "The Equalizer" was picked up for a weekly series, Woodward seemed not that pleasantly surprised as he reluctantly moved his work from the legitimate and sound stages of England to this side of the Atlantic. At least that was for a fascinating, existential, almost anti-hero of a character.
But now here he is back in what is essentially a competent but uninspired series. And while his pyrotechnic display of technique as he plays the broad strokes of this essentially comic character is by far the best part of "Over My Dead Body," it's clear that somewhere along the line Woodward began to like the size of those Hollywood paychecks.
"Over My Dead Body"
** A motorcycle-driving go-getter who answers to the name of Miss Black as obituary writer for a San Francisco newspaper teams up with an aging mystery writer to form yet another odd couple team of detectives.
CAST: Edward Woodward, Jessica Lundy
TIME: Fridays at 9 p.m.
CHANNEL: CBS Channel 11 (WBAL)