ON AND OFF THE AIR:
* For a second year, the Arts & Entertainment basic cable network is attempting to bridge the dramatic gap between television and the stage.
Actress Lauren Bacall is host of the "General Motors Playwright's Theatre," which premieres tonight (at 9) with a production of Arthur Miller's "Clara," starring Darren McGavin and William Daniels. It's the story of a father (McGavin) who reacts to the murder of his daughter with hidden feelings of racism.
Three future productions of the series this spring (titled less commercially last season as merely "American Playwright's Theatre") include: "It's Called the Sugar Plum" by Israel Horovitz, "The Last Act Is a Solo," by Robert Anderson and "Unpublished Letters," by Jonathan C. Levine.
* Bridging another kind of artistic gap, CBS tonight is bringing to TV for the first time the 1989 film "Sea of Love," with Al Pacino as a cop who is smitten with a possible murder suspect (Ellen
Barkin), much to the chagrin of his partner (John Goodman).
Interestingly, the film has not been seen on cable because of a CBS deal with Universal Pictures to bring some movies directly to broadcast TV instead of HBO or Showtime first.
The consequence, however, is that home viewers will see a very different film than played in the theaters, or might be seen on cable. For broadcast standards, although significantly looser in recent years, will nonetheless require significant editing of "Sea of Love," for both sexual and violent scenes -- not to mention the cuts for commercials.
* In the Blast-From-The-Past department: Tonight on ABC's "Coach" (9:30, Channel 13), a show which has already salvaged Jerry ("My Mother the Car") Van Dyke, comedian Dick ("Laugh In") Martin begins a two-part guest appearance. He plays a one-time, girlfriend-stealing friend of Luther's (Van Dyke).
* And speaking of TV from the past, did anybody else think that Sunday's premiere of the new NBC show "Sunday Best" (at 7 p.m., Channel 2) marked another significant step toward the final divorce of TV from any connection to reality?
Oh, at times it was funny (such as the satirizing of "60 Minutes," airing opposite on CBS), and was even warm and fuzzy with nostalgia (with all those clips from previous series). It was cute to hear Carl Reiner say this was no cheap plug for NBC programming, but "a very expensive plug." And it was curious to note that regular Linda Ellerbee, whose dark-rimmed glasses and, ahem, size once bucked network news trends, has lost the specs and seems to have visited an image consultant after all.
But the show was not really about anything except TV. Real life, where are you?