'Traps,' George C. Scott, may ensnare young, old

March 31, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

A sixtysomething-twentysomething, grandfather-grandson crime fighting team?

Holy demographics, Batman!

"Traps," which stars George C. Scott and MTV's Dan Cortese, looks like it was created with considerable calculation, one eye firmly on audience demographics.

But don't let that keep you from checking it out.

While the combination of Cortese and Scott doesn't always click in tonight's premiere on CBS, there are more than enough moments to make this series too good to be dismissed out of hand.

First and foremost is Scott, who plays retired police chief Joe (Traps) Trapchek.

In tonight's pilot, Joe is called in to consult on a string of serial killings and winds up as a kind of chief emeritus, continually lending a handon tough cases. Joe also winds up helping his grandson, Chris (Cortese), a hot dog of a detective who's long on promise and short on wisdom.

Of course, the relationship is cliched and sentimental.

The old man has wisdom, the kid has the legs.

They quarrel and look as if they will never be able to get past generational differences, but suddenly find that they need and love each other.

Scott is such a tremendous presence on screen -- he did, after all, win and then refuse to accept an Oscar for "Patton" -- he can almost make you believe in whatever his character believes in.

The 25-year-old Cortese, whose sole acting experience was on the cable soap opera "General College," holds his own with Scott, no small feat.

Cortese is perhaps best known for his work as host of "MTV Sports."

Maybe the nicest touch of all in "Traps" involves Joe Trapchek's personal life.

His wife, Cora, played by the gifted Piper Laurie, is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

She has days when she is vague -- she forgets, for example, where the casserole dishes are, what year it is, that her only son was killed in the line of duty as a police officer.

Having a character with Alzheimer's is a daring and risky proposition for the never-get-too-heavy world of prime-time network drama.

Creator Stephen J. Cannell -- whose credits range from "Rockford Files" to "Wiseguy" -- deserves an Emmy for having the sensitivity as a writer to make you care about Cora.

The question is whether a large enough audience will care to keep this series on the air past its six-week tryout.

The idea of demographic packaging is a good one, and it goes beyond just twentysomething-sixtysomething in this case. By virtue of his work in films and 1960s' TV series, like "East Side, West Side," Scott has strong appeal for boomers as well as older viewers.

Scott, Laurie, Cortese, Cannell, plus Lindsay Crouse as a police commander -- if "Traps" doesn't find an audience, it won't be for lack of talent or potential breadth of appeal.

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