Networks roll out tried-and-true plots for night of sweeps


May 04, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

What a perfect night of sweeps programming -- kamikaze scheduling, ripped-from-the-headlines true crime stories, nostalgia, hype, and gender and ethnic angst.

"Tribeca," at 9 tonight on WBFF (Channel 45), is one of TV's five lowest-rated shows week after week. But tonight, Melanie Mayron ("thirtysomething") makes it one of the more interesting shows to watch, especially if you are female, Jewish or both.

Mayron wrote, directed and stars in tonight's episode about relationships, both sexual and generational. It's urban, Jewish, and there's lots of angst. It also has some very funny moments.

If you think you've heard that tune before on TV, you have: "Northern Exposure," "Seinfeld," "Flying Blind" "Mad About You," Love and War."

But you've heard it only from the guy's point of view. Furthermore, in the sitcoms mentioned, which are produced by men, the Jewish guys are married to or involved in relationships with gentile women. That has caused some controversy within the Jewish community because of potential messages about intermarriage and Jewish women.

Tonight's episode of "Tribeca" offers a look at the madness of BTC relationships from the other side of the Great Gender Divide.

Mayron plays an architect named Maggie who slams on the love brakes when her boyfriend, Joseph (Richard Lewis), wants to move in with her.

Joseph responds by saying he's not interested in "going slower" and that maybe they should end the relationship. She says, "Fine." He says, "Fine, fine." And nothing is fine again until the final two minutes of the show.

In between, Maggie's grandmother (Rita Karin) moves out on her boyfriend (Eli Wallach) and in with Maggie. Meanwhile, Maggie's best friend (Carol Kane) finds herself "set up" on a date with Joseph. It's part sitcom, part "Crossing Delancey."

A warning: Don't go looking for a great plot or great directing. As a writer and director, Mayron is a good actress. But it's funny, occasionally touching and, in terms of gender, an hour well spent with TV

On ABC and CBS, the ratings war starts at 9 tonight with the duel of the Brian Dennehys.

While Dennehy moves to center stage in part two of "Murder in the Heartland" on ABC, he also stars as a cult leader in CBS' "Prophet of Evil" on WBAL (Channel 11).

If you can't get enough of David Koresh, this is the film for you. Dennehy plays Ervil LeBaron in this fact-based drama about a Utah cult leader who teaches his followers to kill.

Dennehy's performance makes LeBaron into a fascinating figure in his cheesy, too-tight, polyester shirts, Elvis sideburns, smug sexuality and sense of mission.

But the entire budget must have gone to the salaries of Dennehy and William DeVane, who plays the cop trying to put LeBaron behind bars. This is a very low-rent picture.

While the script keeps referring to the big cult LeBaron has, we never see more than six or seven members. And the direction seems like that of a recent film school graduate still overwhelmed by amber tint, shafts of sunlight and frames that feature tilted floors. Such techniques have nothing to do with the story and eventually become a distraction.

Still, there's sex, murder and lots of biblical passages in "Prophet of Evil." In other words, it has all the makings of a made-for-TV movie hit.

Finally, there's "The Return of Ironside" with Raymond Burr on NBC. Viewers in Baltimore won't get to see it tonight because WMAR (Channel 2) has an Orioles game. But I'm here to tell you I have not been this underwhelmed by a "return of" movie since "The Return of McCloud." Or was it "The Return of Hello Larry" with McLean Stevenson?

No, I remember, it was "The Return of Love Boat," with special guest appearances by Charo and Jim Nabors, who played married college professors burned out from the stress of their ground-breaking studies in semiotics and nuclear physics. After a brief fling with Gopher, Charo . . .

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