Comedy avoids pitfalls of theater on TV

MEDIA MONITOR

March 10, 1992|By Steve McKerrow

Television clearly showed its theatrical roots in its earliest days, with many series performed as if on stage, before a couple or three cameras merely trained from different vantage points.

TV directors soon devised new ways of camera movement and actor blocking to make the living room medium seem much more vivid -- which is why bringing stage work to TV now seems stiff and overly "talky."

But the exercise still offers rewards, as in the latest presentation|

|TC tonight of "General Motors Playwrights Theater." In its third season, the series on cable's Arts & Entertainment spotlights young American playwrights.

The TV stage seemingly lends itself best to comedy, for tonight's "Avenue Z Afternoon," by Stephen DiLauro (at 9 o'clock) offers genuine laughs. Is it an insult to say the work plays almost as if written for TV? (Perhaps the credits of director Burt Brinckerhoff hint at the reason, for he has done a lot of series, including "The Bob Newhart Show," "Moonlighting" and even "Three's Company.")

The play also offers an odd couple pair of familiar stars: Lou Diamond Phillips ("La Bamba") and Anne Meara ("Fame, "Archie Bunker's Place").

He plays a Puerto Rican burglar named Clash, who soon learns to regret breaking into the Brooklyn apartment of Rose Finkler (Meara).

Will a little chicken soup straighten out the young would-be thug? Try it, you'll like it.

*

ALSO NOTABLE TONIGHT:

* Natalie Cole's recent romp at the Grammy Awards may get an instant replay at tonight's "Soul Train Music Awards," at 8 o'clock on WNUV-Channel 54. The singer is up for awards in four of the 12 categories.

The sixth annual presentation, inspired by syndicated television's long-running dance program, honors black musical artists. It can be seen live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, Will Smith ("Fresh Prince of Bel Air") and Vanessa Williams as co-hosts.

Cole joins two others, the rap group Boys II Men and rhythm and blues vocal quartet Jodeci, as nominees in four categories.

* "They don't get any worse than they get here," says a staff member at the Patton State Hospital for the criminally insane in California, the subject of the latest HBO "America Undercover" documentary, premiering at 10 o'clock on the premium cable service.

The key question under study: How do authorities determine when criminals sentenced to the institution rather than prison may safely be released?

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