TV or not TV . . .
THE GAMBLER: "He considered himself a failure at 40," said John Ritter.
"He had all these odd jobs and couldn't hold them. And then he gambled everything on this one children's book."
The book was "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." The author was L. Frank Baum. And Ritter is starring in his life story Monday in an NBC film co-produced by his company.
A quiet force on the Hollywood scene, Ritter will also star in the first three episodes of the splendid sitcom "Anything but Love" when ABC brings it back early next year. His company co-produces that show, too.
The Baum story, "The Dreamer of Oz," is told in flashback through his widow (Annette O'Toole), who encounters a reporter at the 1939 Hollywood premiere of the film "The Wizard of Oz."
And though the NBC tale is a drama, there are fantasy sequences that include such characters as the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.
"There's computer animation," Ritter says. "What was thrilling was that we had Robert Baum, Frank's grandson, as the technical adviser. And he had so many first editions. We tried to be as authentic as we could."
In "Anything but Love," meanwhile, Ritter is a womanizing photojournalist who comes between magazine writers Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis.
"Just as they're about to consummate their love relationship," Ritter says, "I show up. I make a play for her. I would like to teach her the facts of life as I know them."
An ABC spokesman says "Anything but Love" could return quite soon: "It's easy to plug in because it's a known quantity."
THINK TANK: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is finally reacting to the poor showings of the Emmy Awards on the Fox network.
A blunt announcement from the academy says a committee "was called together after low ratings and mixed reviews of the Sept. 16 Emmy telecast on Fox to re-think, re-design and review many aspects of the awards and the telecast."
Among the reported ideas is switching the Emmy show away from the tough, new-season program competition and airing it in late August.
But that was done in 1988, to avoid competition with the Summer Olympic Games, and the Emmys simply got lost in the dog days--and vacation month--of August.
The hard fact is that the TV academy went into the ratings dumper with the Emmys when it accepted Fox's shrewdly concocted high bid for the show, knowing full well the young network could not provide as big an audience as ABC, CBS or NBC.
And with Fox struggling with its new shows this season, there is not much likelihood of major audience expansion in the immediate future for that network.
While ABC, CBS and NBC are also struggling to retain viewers, their audience base is much larger. And the only way the Emmys have a chance to improve their ratings substantially is by being back on one of the Big Three.
At this stage, also, Fox no longer needs the Emmys to help establish its identity.
The Fox-Emmys deal has gone sour, and what the awards need--besides a change of channels--is some real showmanship and a glamorous plan to bring back the glitter.
Being in the thick of new-season competition is a plus, not a minus, for the Emmys. It adds to the excitement. It's the network impact and production that count.
NOTEBOOK: Don't forget, that controversial program "Abortion Denied: Shattering Young Women's Lives" airs Friday at 7:05 p.m. on superstation TBS.
TOP OF THE LINE: PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" marks its 20th anniversary in January. Has there ever been a greater TV series than this showcase that has given us "Upstairs, Downstairs," "I, Claudius" and "The Jewel in the Crown"? No, there hasn't. How about a round of applause? And a nod toward host Alistair Cooke.
GOING HOME: Those potent ratings show just how smart Christine Lund was in returning to her old station, KABC Channel 7. At least three other stations were after Lund, who wanted to come out of retirement--KNBC Channel 4, KCOP Channel 13 and KCAL Channel 9--but whether by chance or design, she wound up where she belonged, with a built-in audience of former viewers.
NEAT GUY: Fox's Sunday lineup has lost its punch without "The Simpsons"--but the network's Chris Elliott is good company in "Get a Life" as a young man who refuses to grow up.
GENIUSES: Doesn't everybody who thought that "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" would be a smash hit--NBC, Madison Avenue and yours truly--look pretty foolish now? You bet. It'll never happen. Too bad, because the star, Will Smith, really has the goods.
LOSS LEADER: When Thanksgiving dinners wiped out that "Cosby" rerun, it only showed the series' value to NBC. The network's ratings collapsed. That "loss" could be worth plenty to "The Cosby Show" at negotiating time.
BEING THERE: "You know what makes this country great? You don't have to be witty or clever, as long as you can hire someone who is."--TV anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Say good night, Gracie.. . .