It's Steel vs. Duke and Michigan

April 06, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun TV Critic

Rape, blackmail, drug addiction, romance, mystery, a child dying young and a devoted mother swimming with the show-biz sharks in Hollywood to provide for his medical care. Spunky heroines, noble heroines, long-suffering and brave heroines -- all winning in the end.

You've got it, Danielle Steel is back, and NBC's got her tonight at 9 on WMAR (Channel 2) as counterprogramming to the Duke vs. Michigan basketball game on WBAL-TV (Channel 11).

You know the drill by now. CBS or ABC airs a major sports event, and NBC counterprograms with a made-for-TV version of a Steel novel. The idea is: Men watch the sports; lots of women watch Steel.

At first, lots of critics said this was outdated, sexist thinking. Then the blockbuster ratings came in, and lots of critics said, "Hey, great idea." The full title of tonight's TV movie is "Danielle Steel's Secrets." Steel gets her name in the title because she delivers the goods. The highest-rated TV movie of the season is "Danielle Steel's Daddy," which aired in October against baseball, was seen in about 20 million households nationally and 200,000 households locally.

It would be hard to imagine a TV movie of more froth and less substance than one about the backstage goings-on of a TV serial like "Dynasty." But that's what "Secrets" is about -- the individual secrets of five actors who are brought together to star in the pilot of a prime-time serial called "Manhattan." The big stars are Stephanie Beacham -- who actually starred in such a series, "The Colbys" -- and Christopher Plummer as the show's producer and father figure.

"Secrets" is a glitz-o-rama with gowns, jewels, big houses and female fantasy versions of men. But give it 10 minutes, and you might start caring about Steel's heroines, against all your better instincts. Give it 20 minutes, and you might find yourself rooting for them, against any hope of switching to CBS and doing any serious rooting for Duke or Michigan.

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