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TV REVIEWS : 'Empty Nest' Looks Like Good Place to Nestle Down

October 08, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

The peacock is the early bird as NBC continues to get the fall-season jump on ABC and CBS--this time with the premiere of a zingy, zesty comedy called "Empty Nest" following the return of "Golden Girls."

Airing at 9:30 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39, "Empty Nest" introduces Miami pediatrician Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan), a mid-50ish widower who lives alone, but within frequent visiting range of his two bickering eldest daughters. Carol (Dinah Manoff) is a neurotic divorcee whose closest relationship is with her talking scale, and Barbara (Kristy McNichol) is a bubbly cop.

The overbearing next door neighbor (you thought there wouldn't be one?) is a cruise ship officer named Charley (David Leisure of "Joe Isuzu" fame) who steals scenes with sneers and snide one-liners.

Also living nearby, as it turns out, are the characters from the hit "Golden Girls," who will drop in every so often to help the Golden Boy with his social life and--NBC hopes--his Nielsen ratings.

Co-executive producer Susan Harris delivers a funny script and Jay Sandrich directs smartly for tonight's promising (if unbearably loud) pilot, in which Mulligan is at his self-effacing best and Manoff especially impressive as the bitter and miserable Carol.

Plans call for Harry to spend some of his time at home, some at the office where he's insulted by his hillbilly nurse La Verne (Park Overall) and the rest fending off single women. The first of these arrives Saturday in the person of his medical colleague and frequent dinner partner Eva Barrett (Grace Zabriske), whose marriage proposal becomes an ultimatum.

Expect perfect bedside manner, not sarcasm or romance, from the nurses and physicians of "Group One Medical," the five-times-a-week syndicated series premiering at 4:30 p.m. today on KNBC Channel 4 and promising "real doctors, real patients (and) real-life problems."

Technically, that is true. But the reality is somehow diminished when those real doctors and real patients are working on their real-life problems while wearing heavy TV makeup in front of big cameras on a soundstage in Glendale.

The format calls for three highly qualified doctors--Judith Reichman, Donald Raphael Henderson and Michael Gitter of Los Angeles--to treat and discuss medical problems with three actual patients each half hour.

For starters, Dr. Henderson consults cardiologist Dr. Jeremy Swan in connection with a heart transplant patient who objects to being examined so often. Dr. Reichman calms the fears of a 42-year-old woman who is five months pregnant. And Dr. Gitter examines a 29-year-old woman complaining of fatigue ("As a doctor, I first owe it to you that we're not overlooking the common things").

Presumably, there is an audience for this kind of program. But the half hour is often dry and only occasionally compelling.

On the positive side, "Group One Medical" seems to offer meaningful medical information within the framework of entertainment, but not meaningful enough, apparently, to prompt Channel 4 to move the program from its 4:30 a.m. Monday-through-Friday time slot. (It also airs at 3:30 p.m. Sundays.)

If a two-episode sample is any indication, meanwhile, the elite doctors of "Group One Medical" also collectively possess a gleaming temperament and infallibility that may meet the public-relations goals of the medical community, but doesn't always square with the reality encountered by the average patient.

We move now from super doctors to "Superboy"--the series premiering at 7:30 tonight on Channel 4.

Meet somewhat dense Clark Kent the collegian (John Haynes Newton), who is working as a reporter on the Shuster University paper along with photographer T.J. White (Jim Calvert), whose father is editor of the Daily Planet. Fellow student Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) is also on hand, ready on cue to be impressed by Superboy. And who should surface on the premiere but that arch villain Lex Luthor (Scott Wells), as Shuster's plotting senior class president.

Rebuffed by Lana, he delivers a line destined to become a classic: "Nobody talks to the president of the senior class that way, NOBODY!!!"

Surely nobody is taking this seriously, not writer Fred Freiberger, director Reza Badiyi or any of the cast in the first episode, which has that square-peg Superboy foiling Lex's insidious plan to steal the coveted Jewel of Techacal from Lana's archeologist father.

But the tongue-in-cheek intent is never quite realized, and falls even flatter in a future episode made available by the production company.

By the by, when Clark goes behind bushes to become Superboy, where has he been hiding his costume? Under his regular clothes? With that flowing cape, not a chance. So where? Maybe "Superboy" is a mystery.

Up, up and away!

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