'Good Sports' could be a winner with its mix of comic play-by-play and pop culture sensibility


January 10, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles--"Good Sports" has its problems. It is nothing if not uneven.

But it also has Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal, some of the funniest sitcom moments of the year and the most savvy pop culture sensibility since "It's Garry Shandling's Show."

Furthermore, there's an almost irresistible prurient appeal to the show, because of who Fawcett and O'Neal are -- real-life roommates who were once two of America's hottest sex symbols.

That's enough to give "Good Sports," a new CBS show that premieres at 9:30 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), a shot at being the first sitcom hit of the season.

The show is about an ex-model and an ex-jock who work as co-anchors at the desk of an all-sports cable channel, ASCN. Think ESPN.

Actually, as tonight's episode opens, only Gayle Roberts (Fawcett) is working at the anchor desk. But when her co-anchor dies on the air, management brings in "Downtown" Bobby Tannen (O'Neal) as her desk mate. Tannen is a burned-out, once-upon-a-time ladies-man who long ago played wide-receiver for Joe Namath and the Jets.

It looks like hate at first sight when Roberts sets eyes on him. Then we find out they have a "history" -- but only she remembers it. And the more she remembers it, the more she hates him.

By the time they sit down to do an on-air interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (playing himself), she can no longer contain her contempt and rage. The scene is a delight.

But what really makes this show so smart are the constant pop culture references from a script by Monica Johnson and Alan Zweibel, who created the Shandling program.

At one point, the head of ASCN (Lane Smith) tells a group of underlings that Tannen's appeal is that "he harks to a carefree time -- you know, Woodstock, 'Love Story' . . ." O'Neal, of course,

really did star in the latter.

At another point, the network owner takes Tannen on a tour of the cable operation. "There's my 24-hour comedy channel," he says, pointing to a single comedian standing on a postage stamp of a stage. The comedian is doing an impersonation of Richard Nixon. Smith played Nixon to great acclaim in ABC's "The Final Days." The show is filled with such references.

Lane, by the way, plays such self-referential material superbly, using body language and vocal inflection to let the audience know exactly when the script is winking its eye at us and inviting the viewer to join in the inside joke and sense of shared culture. Fawcett plays light comedy with a surprisingly deft touch. O'Neal as a frayed pop icon makes a nice target for Johnson and Zweibel. He's good enough to be both obnoxious and vulnerable.

"Good Sports" is good entertainment television.

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