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'Sins' Will Not Soon Be Forgiven

February 10, 1986|TOM SHALES | The Washington Post

Television commercials are designed to be remembered. For about 20 minutes if the sponsor is lucky. Television programs are designed not to be remembered. In that sense, the CBS miniseries "Sins" was a triumph; it was a classic of instant invisibility. It went poof even as you watched it.

They make these things forgettable so they can recycle the dialogue, plot and characters again in a few weeks or months, and call it another new miniseries. They don't want to have to go to the trouble and anxiety of trying to create anything really new.

Besides, it is considered gospel that the TV audience likes familiarity over novelty. That's why much of the plot of "Sins" was given away in advance in promos and teases. Heaven forbid the audience be catapulted into shock by some daring variation on an old cliche. Better to deliver the cliches and to warn viewers in advance precisely which cliches are coming.

Around CBS, for whom "Sins" earned ratings that were not in the skyrocket range, "Sins" ought to be forgotten as quickly as possible, and industry insiders suggest every effort will be made to do so. "Sins" embarrassed CBS with its slack camp tackiness--not so much that the network wasn't glad to pocket a bundle in advertising revenues, of course. Still, it looked like an ABC show ("Lace" and that ilk), and though CBS has certainly aired plenty of trashy, dopey miniseries, the once-proud network really appeared to be groveling with this little trip to the gutter.

The low point may have been reached not during the show itself--which was one long protracted, if unintentionally funny, low point--but in one of the CBS promos for the three-part film's finale. An announcer promised, "Tonight, the shattering conclusion of 'Sins,' " while on screen we saw a man crash through a plate-glass window. Then the announcer asked, "Who will live? Who will die?" It was the Moldavian massacre from "Dynasty" all over again!

Looking for beneficial effects of deadly "Sins" isn't easy. But one that does rise to the surface is this: With "Sins" we may finally have reached the maximum saturation point where Joan Collins is concerned. Collins produced as well as starred in "Sins," and there couldn't have been a doubt in the world that the show belonged to her (and to her producer-husband, Peter Holm). Her name was above the title, or part of the title, and in CBS publicity a figure of her was the "I" in "Sins."

On talk shows, Collins freely admits that eight or nine years ago she was about as marketable a commodity as the buggy whip. Then came "Dynasty" and up went Collins, reviving the bitchy lady stereotype that many feminists would surely love to see retired.

To appreciate how furiously the merchandising of Joan Collins is proceeding, one ought to browse through the breathless press releases sent out by CBS to promote the show. Normally the public doesn't get to see these--only to read rewrites of them. But a swift gander at the headlines on these dispatches is a quick education in the arts of star-stroking and show biz hypography:

"Joan Collins Heads All-Star Cast in 'Sins.' "

"Joan Collins: Why She Chose 'Sins.' "

"Joan Collins Changes Her Look for 'Sins.' "

"Joan Collins Wears Producer's Hat For Her Miniseries 'Sins.' "

"A Different Joan Collins in 'Sins'--But Not Too Different."

" 'Sins' Another Milestone in Joan Collins' Reborn Career."

And a personal favorite, "Marisa Berenson: A Joan Collins' Fan."

It used to be that people said they didn't want to be a passing fad; now that's precisely what they want to be. And thus the encouraging part: that the Joan Collins' fad is indeed passing. Maybe she'll come around again in another hundred years.

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