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HOWARD ROSENBERG

A Weekend Of 7 Prime-time Debuts

September 25, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

A ll of prime time could be titled "Beauty and the Beast"--with emphasis on the latter. In this case, though, it's the name of a rather nice new fantasy series (as if the rest of TV were reality).

"Beauty and the Beast" debuts at 10 tonight on CBS (Channels 2 and 8), one of seven prime-time arrivals stacked through the weekend, including Sunday's unpre-viewed "Dolly" on ABC.

This would be a heckuva blind date. But match a lovely young woman with a man/beast--actually, he looks like a two-legged lion in a cloak--and what do you get? A modern fairy tale, of course--one emphasizing beauty of heart over beauty of exterior.

The beautiful heroine is Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton), whose face is disfigured by slashers. The heroic beast is satin-voiced, funny-faced Vincent (Ron Perlman), who finds Catherine battered and unconscious, and takes her home for chicken soup and doctoring.

Home is not a split-level with shutters. Vincent lives in a secret underground world with his adoptive father (Roy Dotrice), a brilliant recluse who has found privacy in a vast complex of tunnels and chambers (oh, those tunnels and chambers) beneath New York City. You'd think he'd prefer a place in the country.

You do wonder about the other people living down there with them (crashers, cousins, what?). Not a lot, though, for this is urbane whimsy, gnome time for adults--a sweet, sentimental, romantic, well-acted, likable hour (it's regular time slot will be Fridays at 8 p.m.). The first show is sensitively written and directed by Ron Koslow and Richard Franklin, respectively.

Yes, Catherine does resume her life on ground level, where plastic surgery erases those facial scars but not the emotional link to the noble, soulful, love-smitten Vincent, whose super-strength and telepathic powers will come in handy every time she gets into a jam. Which may be often.

Week after week of Vinnie predictably to the rescue? A grim prospect, but we shall see.

Speaking of prospects, J. L. (Fatman) McCabe is my kind of hero, a DA who has a unique card to play. If he can't beat you, he can always sit on you.

Joe Penny and William Conrad star in "Jake and the Fatman" (three guesses which one is Conrad), premiering at 10 p.m. Saturday on CBS. It's regular time will be 9 p.m. Tuesdays.

Jake (Penny) is a cool, womanizing special investigator with J. L. (Conrad), who owes his omnipotence in court to his girth, apparently, and to his bulldog, Max. In other words, he wins because, well, the scripts say he wins.

This is Conrad at his biggest, but not his greatest. Saturday's episode was unavailable, but I did catch Tuesday's, in which two murderers seek to hide their secret romance by cavorting in public. It's that kind of show.

So is NBC's "J. J. Starbuck," which gets a special 90-minute premiere Saturday at 9:30 p.m. (on Channels 4, 9 and 36). Its regular time is 9 p.m. Tuesdays opposite Jake, Fats and Max.

Count on the networks for surprises. Here's something unusual: Dale Robertson in a cowboy hat (you were expecting a yarmulke or skullcap?).

As a Texas billionaire industrialist/private eye who travels the nation solving cases gratis, Robertson is yet another of TV's big-quirks/small-story characters, the gimmicks and plot merging into a single cornball. He doesn't walk, he ambles, like a man with saddle sores down yonder.

On TV, everyone wants to be a private eye. Next season it could be Brent Musburger. This season, it's J. J., rolling down the highway in his classic Lincoln Continental convertible, the twanging philosopher spewing truisms he heard from his ol' daddy.

Forget about Saturday's story, featuring Bill Bixby and Patty Duke as a couple of killers. Executive producer Stephen J. Cannell, who wrote it, did. Suffice to say that J. J. is busy yupping it up in Beverly Hills like a hog after slop, solving a murder with no information, gaining temporary custody of the victim's son merely by making a few phone calls. Forget about that and listen to what J. J. has to say about life:

"You'll always find a man who'll try to look like an owl right after he made a jackass outa himself."

If the tail fits. . . .

If J. J. is not be TV's first yodeling private eye, the old buckaroo is surely its first cowboy trauma surgeon. They may even be the same person.

In ABC's "Buck James," premiering at 10 p.m. Sunday (on Channels 7,3, 10 and 42), we get Dennis Weaver as the rancher head of a Southwest hospital trauma unit who does his things his way. Though nice looking, it's pretty much drivel, with Weaver speaking a sort of Chesterese, a la his days on "Gunsmoke."

Buck: "Don't drop dead before you're dead." Didn't J. J. say that?

Weaver is a solid actor who can bring credibility to even a pat, predictable character like Buck, who divides time between the ranch and the scalpel while advising his son on a dispute with a neighbor and battling anti-Semitism at the hospital. Whew!

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