Television is changing our notion of entertainment in strange ways.
A few weeks ago, Michael Landon went on the "Tonight" show to talk about his impending death. (He died of cancer July 1). And his performance was -- literally -- reviewed in some publications.
Tonight at 8 on the The Nashville Network (TNN), Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore, former lovers, sit down in front of the cameras for 90 minutes during which they mainly discuss their famous love affair of yesterday.
A terminal illness and a love affair are pretty private stuff. But television has changed our notions of privacy and intimacy. We feel more connected to some TV actors and characters than we do our own blood relatives. We feel it only natural that they should sit down on a couch in the great electronic living room most of us adjourn to each evening and share their lives with us -- even if we suspect much of it is only quasi-confessional, phony talk-show talk aimed at promoting their latest concert or film.
Landon wasn't making phony talk-show talk, though. Nor is the 70-something Dinah Shore in tonight's show, which was taped last month.
The great appeal of this show is the near-universal fantasy it plugs into. Who hasn't daydreamed about sitting down with a former lover and revisiting the relationship? Other appealing aspects are the celebrity of Shore and Reynolds, who's now 55, and the fact that Shore, who has been in our living rooms since 1951, is very easy to like.
Fans of Shore's will love her tonight. The surface structure is Dinah Shore, talk-show host, interviewing Burt Reynolds, talk-show guest. In that regard, she asks him questions about his career, which in itself is not too exciting.
But, then, in the middle of a question about the film, "Deliverance," for example, she'll wander off into a wistful, melancholy memory of going to dinner with Reynolds at a New York restaurant after the screening of that film. She'll remember looking out over the city lights and thinking how perfect things were and how they would never be this way again, because he was about to become a star.
You can mock it as "misty, watercolor memories of the way we were," but there's something touching about the way she tells it. There is also something endearing about the way she sees his career through the eyes of someone who loves him: She believes a great actor rather than a guy who threw what talent he has away on "Smokey and the Bandit."
She tries to talk about feelings; he talks about the two of them "doing it" in the old days. They cry. They hug. Their passion remembered is our entertainment on a slow July evening in Television Land.