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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The Dog Days and Nights of Summer

July 09, 1990|HOWARD ROSENBERG

The mongrels of Monday.

NBC, in pairing snubbed series pilots "Poochinski" and "Turner and Hooch," calls this a "Two Dog Night." But actually it's a three-dog night if you include the new CBS summer series "Prime Time Pets."

And a four-dog July so far, if you throw in last week's airing of "The Jackie Bison Show" on NBC.

Suffice to say that "Prime Time Pets" (debuting at 8:30 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, before returning later this week in its regular 8 p.m. Friday time slot) is a generally harmless, if inanely scripted alter ego of some of the more benign animal footage on ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos." An even earlier ABC ancestor is "Those Amazing Animals" from 1980-81.

Yes, tonight it's the pool-shooting dog, the gas pump-guarding goose, the dog-riding ducks, the soap opera-watching cockers, the kitten-nursing Doberman, the Labrador retriever that tends a physically impaired boy and so on and so on. Name your performing animal and you get it during this half hour, hosted by Wil Shriner.

But what is this ? Here comes the show's bubbly roving reporter Dorothy Lucey--whose last major roving assignment for her regular employer, KCBS-TV Channel 2, was her memorable sweeps series on sleaze--informing us that "Dean and Bobbie don't mind keeping their cats in the home." Are we talking about some beautiful human beings or what?

And here are these great naturalists Dean and Bobbie with their cats--an adult lion and an adult tiger, caged off together in the living room. And isn't that a cute little tiger cub romping on the rug? Living-room zoos are such fun.

Just how is it that these magnificent animals came to be squeezed together in a small space inside a private home? Isn't there a law against this? Don't bother me, boy, it's time to move on to the Ping-Pong-playing house cat.

And listen, if your hamster tap-dances, send in the video.

"The Jackie Bison Show," a pilot that didn't get picked up, was an animated spoof of show business through the eyes of a talk-show host who just happened to be a bison. Aren't they all?

His announcer was Larry J. Lizard, his girlfriend Jill St. Fawn, his humor mostly of the cheap play-on-names variety, eclipsing the few genuinely funny moments in a format paying homage to "The Jack Benny Show."

Jackie (the voice of Stan Freberg) was billed as "America's beast of buffoonery." One of several on NBC, as it turns out.

NBC could provide neither "Turner and Hooch" nor "Poochinski" in time for review. The former (8 p.m. on Channels 4, 36 and 39) spins off from the Tom Hanks theatrical movie of the same name. Turner is a fastidious cop, Hooch a big old messy dog. Turner and Hooch work together.

In "Poochinski" (8:30 p.m.), a straight-arrow cop named McKay is jolted when his late partner, that slob Poochinski, returns in the body of a talking English bulldog seeking to find the man who murdered his human self. McKay and Poochinski work together.

Actually, NBC could merge these two shows into a single spectacular titled "Hoochinski."

It's not that TV isn't loaded with some very wise programs showing wild animals in their natural habitats, only that the humans-as-animals theme, and vice versa, has an even longer, hairier tradition.

Even though Gentle Ben the bear and super dogs Rin Tin Tin and Lassie didn't talk as we do, they were invested with some of the highest of human traits, such as incredible bravery and astonishing intelligence. Good old Lassie once not only fell in love with a male collie, but was also consistently psychic, always seeming to know exactly when it was time to leave the cozy house and go pull little Timmy out of the river.

Mr. Ed the horse did talk like us, and sing like us, too.

However, the series that few who saw it will forget--and NBC would like to--is "Manimal," which lasted three months into the 1983 season, endearing a minuscule segment of America to a man for all skins--a suave, handsome superhero criminologist able to transform himself into any animal the occasion demanded. Give him time for a few contractions and some heavy breathing and he could be a snarling panther, a hissing cobra or a silently observing hawk.

He never did catch Frisbees as a dog, however, disqualifying him for "Prime Time Pets."

Still, he's missed. NBC should bring him back as "Manimalinski."

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