"Eddie Dodd" is a dud.
That's the bottom line on the new series starring Treat Williams, which ABC is subbing for "thirtysomething" starting tonight at 10 on WJZ-TV (Channel 13).
The series, which will run six weeks before "thirtysomething" returns, stars Williams as the title character, a defense attorney who takes cases nobody else wants. Dodd is a former student activist from the 1960s who has not lost the idealism or the fire in his belly. The series is based on the 1989 feature film, "True Believer," which starred James Woods.
In tonight's episode, Dodd winds up defending a former lover (Susan Blakely), who killed her husband in what she says was a mercy killing. She disconnected the life-support system that had kept her husband, a victim of Lou Gehrig's disease, alive.
Though she says she did so at the request of her husband and only because she loved him, the district attorney calls it first-degree murder -- or "murder one" as they say in such television courtroom melodramas.
Dodd goes to trial with no precedents to justify his client's behavior. His sole defense is that he feels what she did was right, even though the law says that what she did was wrong.
Guess who wins?
(Hint: Remember this is a television melodrama, and it's central premise is what a great and unorthodox attorney Dodd is.)
"Eddie Dodd" is not a total junker. On the plus side is Williams, an appealing actor who, in fact, used to be a very good actor. Remember the feature films "Hair" and "Prince of the City"? Williams never cranks his performance up anywhere near that level here. But, in his defense, Laurence Olivier probably could not have done more with this script.
Tonight's pilot is also pleasant to look at. The photography features lots of neon, three-o'clock-in-the-morning saloons and dusty courtrooms backlit by long shafts of sunlight through Federalist windows.
But the good looks of Williams and the photography do not translate into great taste for the hungry television viewer. In fact, the look of tonight's hour is typical of the show's overall confusion. What we see is mostly private-eye film noir, an attractive look, but not an appropriate one for a show about a crusading, former-activist attorney living and loving in the '90s.
"Eddie Dodd" is ABC's attempt to take some of the steam out of NBC's "Law & Order," a far more engaging show about the criminal justice system. "Eddie Dodd" may be smart counterprogramming. But it's a dumb show.