Danny Arnold is the producer responsible for "Barney Miller," so when he shows up with a new sitcom, you tend to pay attention. It's called "STAT," it's set in the emergency room of a hospital and it premieres tonight on ABC at 9:30 on Channel 13 (WJZ).
Your intrepid television critic has to admit that his eyes were not glued to the tube when "Barney Miller" showed up in January 1975. By the time I got around to appreciating that show, Barney and the gang had their characters down as smooth as a Sam Snead golf swing. It was habit-forming to watch a bunch of polished pros in action every week.
But maybe somewhere back there, they had to take some lessons to get those swings that smooth. Arnold and his writing staff might have stumbled into the rough a few times until they hit the groove that kept "Barney Miller" below par for more than seven seasons.
And that's the feeling you get from "STAT." There's some talent here, but it's still hitting the ball all over the place. If it gets a chance to settle down a bit, this might be a consistent money winner. Unfortunately, tonight's premiere exhibits little but the show's flaws.
Dennis Boutsikaris, who was in "Dream Team," is Dr. Menzies, the chief of this big-city hospital emergency room. Alison LaPlaca, who stole the show in Fox's "Duet," is Dr. Newberry, one of Dr. Menzies' employees. Their odd-couple relationship -- he's a beard-and-blue-jeans hang-loose kind of boss, she's by-the-book, up-and-comer kind of doctor -- is clearly going to be at the center of the show.
But tonight, the main joke -- about a man with mysterious stomach pains who comes into the emergency room and is soon joined by his very pregnant wife -- is so hackneyed and obvious that you would think it was the product of a weekend duffer and not an old pro like Arnold.
Even the supposedly oddball little bits look like they came from the used shtick bin. These were the moments that made "Barney Miller" so special, but tonight it's the wallflower from the business department who's got a crush on Menzies with predictable misunderstanding. Another segment with a nervous surgeon works better, but the I'm-good-looking-and-know-it resident has been done before, and better.
That's the bad news. The good news is next week's second episode. The way it takes its multi-leveled main story through the half hour while spinning off unpredictable sparks of comedy in all directions is reminiscent of a good edition of "Barney Miller." This one has a tuxedoed gentleman coming into the emergency room asking for Newberry. She's all aglow because she has just brought a patient back to life by pumping his heart with her bare hands. The guy in the penguin suit is her date for the evening. They're headed to a charity ball just as soon as Newberry can finish with her next patient, whose problems prove that she's not the miracle worker she thought she was just moments before.
The woman from the business department and the nervous surgeon are nowhere to be seen, but you do get a psychiatrist and his doctor-poseur patient, a type-A doctor who brings himself to the emergency room with some undiagnosed ailment, and a couple of other oddball moments. And, in the end, you even get a touch of "Barney Miller" poignancy, as both Newberry and Menzies are forced to examine their professions and their relationships, if only for a moment.
The future of "Shannon's Deal" is uncertain, as NBC has kicked it all over the schedule and now has it competing for its natural audience with "thirtysomething" on Tuesday nights and not getting very high numbers.
So, enjoy it while you can. Tonight's two-hour version, on Channel 2 (WMAR) at 9 o'clock, is another polished gem that again reveals the murkiness of justice.
Written and directed by Tom Rickman, who wrote "Coal Miner's Daughter," with a score by Wynton Marsalis, this is a "Chinatown" set in the Korean community. Jack Shannon's secretary, Lucy, is caught in a holdup and shootout that looks like a case of the police being in the right place at the right time, but firing one too many shots as a stray bullet kills the proprietor of the shop.
However, aided by a neighborhood legal entrepreneur -- a nice turn by Tony winner B.D. Wong -- Shannon uncovers layers of complexities that refuse to line up neatly in rows of good and evil. Jamey Sheridan is again fine as Shannon while Elizabeth Pena turns in her best work as Lucy.