Engaging 'Changes' takes on title game in ratings battle

April 01, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Cheryl Ladd outdoes herself in "Danielle Steel's Changes," tonight at 9 on WMAR-TV (Channel 2).

That means you may love or hate the movie, depending upon how you feel about Ladd as an actress.

Personally, I think calling her performance one-note is too kind by about three-fourths of a note.

But aesthetics is not what "Changes" and much of prime-time television is about tonight -- one the nuttiest nights of the year.

It's about counterprogramming -- and, boy, are NBC, CBS and ABC counterpunching each other tonight.

The catalyst for all the programming stunts is CBS' telecasting the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament, Duke vs. Kansas, starting with a pregame show at 8:30 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11).

Not only does the NCAA basketball get a big audience, it gets an upscale one with lots of college grads. But, like most major sports events, it is an audience that includes more men than women, according to A.C. Nielsen.

Last fall, NBC came up with the idea of counterprogramming the World Series on CBS with something the network thought would appeal to many women. NBC put made-for-TV versions of a couple of Danielle Steel books against baseball, and the ratings were terrific.

Which is why NBC is putting Ladd and Steel up against tonight' championship game. One for the women, one for the men. As old-fashioned and, perhaps, sexist as some might find that thinking, that's the way it played in October.

But to make things even crazier, ABC is throwing out its regular Monday lineup and counterprogramming for kids. ABC is offering "Full House," a Friday night hit, at 8 tonight on WJZ-TV (Channel 13). At 8:30, it's "Who's The Boss?" -- a Tuesday show. At 9, another Friday show, "Family Matters," airs. "Baby Talk," "Coach" and "Anything But Love" follow.

"Family Matters" is the No. 1 show in all television for viewers under 18. "Full House" is right behind.

Is there anything in "Danielle Steel's Changes" to recommend or condemn it besides Ladd?

For those who did not read the best-selling book, "Changes" is about Melanie Adams (Ladd), a TV network anchorwoman and single parent totwo teen-age girls. She lives in New York.

While on assignment in Los Angeles, she meets a rich and handsome widower, Peter Hallam (Michael Nouri), who happens to be a very rich and famous heart surgeon. He has two teen-age boys, a teen daughter and a housekeeper.

They fall in love. She's offered the network's morning show (like Deborah Norville). She turns it down (unlike Deborah Norville) to move to Los Angeles with Dr. Hallam. They marry. They run into all kinds of hurdles and heartbreaks.

Although Nouri may be an even more limited actor than Ladd, there is something engaging about this film. You turn it on, you won't walk away.

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