CBS, which used to be called the "Tiffany's of networks," introduces a new low in low-rent programming tonight.
The network has a package of five new late-night series, which it is calling "Crimetime." The shows replace "America Tonight," CBS' ill-fated attempt to compete with ABC's "Nightline." The first of the action-adventure series "The Exile" premieres tonight at midnight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11).
"The Exile" looks cheap, is cheap and, worst of all, is no fun. Ironically, it is set in Paris, which should at least help in the looks department.
It doesn't. This is a French and Canadian production, which proves France and Canada can make even cheaper-looking television than America. No gorgeous backdrops with the city of Paris looking down on a scene. Nothing back-lit with characters in profile against the Seine.
It's shoot-'em-up, punch-'em-out and never, never linger over dialogue. It's an import with actors you've never heard of and scenes you'll never remember. Compared with this, ABC's revamped "Mission Impossible" looked like "Dr. Zhivago.
"The Exile" features American undercover agent Jon Stone (played by Jeffrey Meek) working in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. Stone has been betrayed by someone in the U.S. government and framed for murder.
Two friends help Stone fake his own death. Stone then secretly works with them on cases of international intrigue.
Tonight's opener is about a Russian general defecting. The general knows who set Stone up. Will the KGB get to the general before he defects? Will Stone find out who betrayed him and clear his name? Will anyone be watching CBS late-night by summer?
"The Exile" will air every Tuesday. Here's a quick look at some of the other new series.
*Wednesday: "Scene of the Crime." It comes from veteran producer Stephen J. Cannell. It's an anthology series, which means new star, new story, new writer everyweek. Not available for preview.
*Thursday: "Fly by Night." Another Canadian import. This one is about a charter service with only one plane and a crew of three -- two wacky guys and one wacky gal. There's supposed to be comedy and action-adventure as they laugh and love their way across the Atlantic, doing good as they change time zones.
The plot of Thursday's opener is almost too convoluted and slap--- to follow. As for the humor, maybe it will play funnier in Canada.
*Friday: "Dark Justice." This is the flat-out crackpot show of the year. Ramy Zada (who?) plays Nicholas Marshall, a judge by day and a vigilante on a motorcycle at night. The vigilante metes out the justice that the judge -- hamstrung by such things as civil rights -- can't dispense from the bench.
CBS ought to be ashamed of putting this show on the air in light of our society's current re-evaluation of how we feel about law enforcement officers acting outside the law in dealing with suspects and criminals.
*Monday: "Sweating Bullets."
Not available for preview.