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September 25, 1985|HOWARD ROSENBERG

It's slanderous, if not treasonable, to name "America" after America. They might as well smear manure on the flag. Or put arsenic in apple pie. Or say John Wayne was a sissy.

A more appropriate name would be "Slobovia."

"America" (3:30 p.m. weekdays on Channel 2) is the creation of Woody Fraser, who holds the record for helping develop series with "America" in the title: "Good Morning America," "Speak Up, America," "America Alive" and "Talk Back, America."

And now this.

Seldom has such awesome witlessness and stupidity been present in a single series. For an hour a day, the Mortimer Snerds take over. This is "bozovision," a trendy syndicated magazine series on the cutting edge of last year's hot trends.

"America" is Paramount's $22-million gamble that daytime viewers are so desperate they'll watch anything. But it's the local station executives who seem desperate.

This is the fall's most expensive, ballyhooed and anticipated syndicated series. It arrives at a time when network stations increasingly need fresh syndicated programs to counter the growing strength of independent stations, but also a time when program alternatives are shrinking because fewer prime-time shows are surviving long enough to become syndicated.

Hence, more than 100 network stations are airing "America." They're hoping that Stuart Damon, Sarah Purcell and McLean Stevenson will be a more effective lead-in for their local newscasts than such tired reruns as "Barnaby Jones" and "Quincy." And they're praying that Paramount will pull the same rabbit out of the hat that it did with the successful "Entertainment Tonight."

Although a few stations have exiled "America" to the wee hours of the morning, as if to hide it like an embarrassing family skeleton, most are deploying it five afternoons a week, plus adding a weekend "command performance."

An oldie format--wall-to-wall life styles and celebrities--has been face-lifted, rouged up and promoted as if it were radically new. Radically old is more accurate.

The satellite delivery of "America" is supposed to give the show immediacy--you know; if an actress has runny mascara, "America" will rush out with a camera. But there was nothing on the first batch of episodes that couldn't have been taped in advance or held until 1990.

Hold on to your hats! "America" gives you this kind of pertinent information that you can't live without:

--How a woman with 12-inch curling fingernails does her ironing.

--How to become an underwear model.

--How to find romance in a department store. For this one, "America" dug up a sociologist who teaches real-life Barbies how and where to find the real-life Ken of their dreams in Bullock's and other stores. The necktie department is good, the electronics department better. Oh, brother.

There he was, this Knute Rockne of department-store matchmaking, exhorting four of his airheads to prowl for prospective hubbies: "Let's go find a mate!" And there he was again, coaching one of them how to make a connection with a guy at the answering-machine counter.

"You say to him, 'What do you think of this model?' " Now that is clever.

Another highlight was a report on a Dallas toy fair by an "America" correspondent who was so vacuous you kept looking for a windup key in her back. The piece ended with her and a toy buyer serenading Purcell: "We love you, Sarah, we really do."

Later in the week, the nation awaited breathlessly while the ponderous Stevenson shrewdly coaxed David Hasselhoff of "Knight Rider" and Catherine Hickland of "Capitol" into disclosing that they "were just a couple of people who fell in love and . . . got married."

Meanwhile, a hair-restoring segment intro was so infantile that even Stevenson and Purcell couldn't keep a straight face. "Well, we're giggling here," Purcell said, "but this is serious business to many people." Unfortunately, this is not a show for serious business.

Still later, as the excitement soared to an excruciating pitch, Damon told Robert Blake that he would pray for the success of Blake's new series, "Hell Town." And later still, Purcell interviewed members of the studio audience who, astonishingly, were still awake.

Paramount has recruited Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Rona Barrett for periodic appearances. But it's pinning its hopes for "America" on the appeal of the three hosts. Uh oh. Stevenson, Damon and Purcell go together like bacon and eels.

What little energy "America" has is because of Purcell, the "Real People" star who, based on her level of excitement on this series, could have fun sitting alone in a raft in the Pacific Ocean. Can she really be enjoying herself that much? The "America" scenario calls for her to moderate a supposedly humorous rivalry between "General Hospital" star Damon and the electrifying Stevenson, who seems to be struggling just to keep his eyes open. Rivalry? You might as well try making fire by rubbing two sponges together.

That didn't stop Channel 2 anchorwoman Colleen Williams from babbling on and on about how great "America" was during a recent 5 p.m. KCBS newscast. Was her self-serving promotion (the bigger the audience for "America," the better the lead-in for the ensuing Channel 2 new block) part of her news function? Was she replacing Channel 2 entertainment critic Gary Franklin?

Hardly, for on another newscast several days later, Franklin excoriated "America," noting in particular its interviews with such hashed-over subjects as Don Johnson of "Miami Vice."

"But Gary," anchor/critic Williams protested in a squeal following Franklin's review, "he's hot!" Franklin looked amused.

But there was more. On a later newscast that evening, "America" took another hit from Channel 2 commentator Bill Stout, who blasted Rona Barrett for indicating on the premiere that sexism had something to do with Phyllis George's problems as co-anchor of "The CBS Morning News."

Isn't this exciting? Stay tuned, America.

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