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HOWARD ROSENBERG

No Secret: Jess Marlow To Return To Channel 4

October 15, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG

It's Jess Marlow "who's coming home" to KNBC Channel 4 Nov. 24.

KNBC has launched a mystery ad campaign to promote the return of the calm, reasoned Marlow to Channel 4 as a commentator on its 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts to succeed Jack Perkins. Newspaper ads show the facial outline of an unidentified man beneath the headline: "Guess Who's Coming Home?"

According to knowledgeable sources, Channel 4 can't identify Marlow or announce his signing because of a technicality in his contract with KCBS Channel 2, which doesn't expire until Nov. 22.

So the door continues to revolve. Marlow was a top anchorman at Channel 4 for 14 years before defecting to Channel 2 in 1980. He left Channel 2 this year after rejecting a large cut in his reported $700,000 annual salary, but his contract continued to remain in force. He also objected to the station's new fragmented, softer news format that would have trimmed his air time.

Neither Marlow nor Channel 4 management would comment on the prospects of Marlow rejoining KNBC. He's scheduled to arrive at the station, however, in time to catch the end of the important November ratings period.

It remains to be seen if, in purely commercial terms, Channel 2 did the right thing in giving Marlow incentive to leave. It's also uncertain whether he can command the same respect as a commentator that he did as an anchorman.

All that aside, it's nice to have him back.

WHO'S SHOW? TV's funniest, most inventive, most everything you've-ever-wanted-in-a-sitcom sitcom--and one that NBC rejected--ends its six-episode run on Showtime cable with a half-hour that will have you wheezing. A word of caution: If you have asthma, do not watch "It's Garry Shandling's Show."

Here's better news.

Showtime has ordered another dozen episodes of Shandling's show, which airs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays. It will go into reruns after tonight's episode, with the new segments scheduled to begin in mid-January.

There's nothing else on TV remotely like this wonderful nonsense.

Starring the bachelor Shandling as himself in a fictional setting that's supposed to be his home, his show is a sitcom within a sitcom within a sitcom. It's like one of those boxes that hides a series of smaller boxes.

A stand-up comic and former comedy writer, Shandling is a match for David Letterman in mastering the exquisitely absurd. With loosey-goosey, self-effacing wit, he uses the entire studio, on both sides of the camera, to act out whimsical fantasies about his uphill attempts to cope with life. He's vulnerable, but no schnook, fighting adversity to a draw.

It's hard to describe Shandling's expression, either a smiling frown or a frowning smile.

Best of all, his show is unpredictable, the product of brilliantly scripted spontaneity that has you believing that he could pack up and do the same show in your living room. He's apt to stop at any time and speak to the camera, crew or studio audience.

Taking more and more chances, "It's Garry Shandling's Show" just gets funnier and funnier, and even its few failures are interesting.

Shandling and producer Alan Zweibel wrote last week's episode, a parody of "The Graduate" that put away yours truly. It seemed that the hot-blooded mother of Garry's girlfriend, Elaine, was named Mrs. Robertson a la Mrs. Robinson. The episode included a send-up of Mike Nichols' famous between-Mrs.-Robinson's-legs shot, and Norman Fell attempted to convince Garry that he played the landlord in "The Graduate" as well as the original landlord on "Three's Company."

Written by Janis Hirsch, tonight's episode is even more creative and eclectic and almost as hilarious. It's built around Jodi Jones, a real-life employee of a Texarkana, Tex., cable company who won a Showtime affiliate contest to appear on Shandling's show. Really, she's legit.

She appears on the show as herself, introduced by Shandling and obviously terrified in front of the cameras as part of an ingeniously banal plot about Garry's infatuation with an oversexed woman (not Jodi). You just have to see it.

Shandling's good supporting cast includes Geoffrey Blake, Molly Cheek, Scott Nemes and Michael Tucci. Other key behind-the-scenes people besides Sweibel include executive producers Brad Grey and Bernie Brillstein ("Buffalo Bill"), co-producer Vic Kaplan and director Alan Rafkin.

Above all, though, it's Garry Shandling's show.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: There were reports that last season would be the last for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." No such luck. It continues to be TV's longest-running ghoul, mummified, ghastly and trancelike, somehow surviving even in death.

Saturday's season premiere--featuring guest host Sigourney Weaver and the inevitable new cast members with impressive comedy credits--was about as bad as TV could get and as funny as Weaver's "Alien" movies.

"Saturday Night Live" XII is more evidence that a cast is no better than its script and that, after a dozen years, it's time to embalm this sucker and bury it once and for all.

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