Earlier this year, a little trifle called "Extreme" came and went on the ABC schedule without anyone seeming to notice. It starred James Brolin as the leader of a rescue team of sexy young hotheads in a ski resort town.
Now, NBC is uncorking "High Sierra Search and Rescue" on Sunday. There are only three differences between this and "Extreme": no snow, a more cumbersome title and Robert Conrad as its star (although, technically, that may not really qualify as a difference).
Conrad, still the quintessential tough guy at age 60, leads a volunteer rescue team in Bear Valley, a quaint little town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with nary an anti-government, gun-toting survivalist in sight.
As with "Extreme," the supporting cast tends to be interchangeable, attractive young faces, as the producers unconvincingly attempt to expand the viewer demographic beyond Conrad's audience. The sole exception is Morgan Duffy (Dee Wallace Stone), whom the writers have seen fit to give a distinguishing characterization. Unfortunately, she's a flake.
In Sunday's premiere, a load of spoiled, irresponsible rich kids come to town, but, for some reason, the script decides to ignore them and focuses on the ostensibly nice one of the bunch, who promptly enters into an improbable relationship with the town sheriff and then falls off a mountain.
The second episode, airing Wednesday night, is about a forest fire that can't decide whether to go out and how it wreaks havoc with the town orchestra's practice sessions.
The writers seem perversely determined to cook up the most assertively stupid plots possible and are shameless in cheap bids for poignancy. The first two episodes alone feature an autistic savant child, a young man who needs an inner-ear operation and an elderly woman with agoraphobia.
Conrad is reliably gruff, albeit with a sensitive side this time around. The rest of the cast has its hands full just trying to look like something more than day players.
"High Sierra Search and Rescue" isn't nearly as terrible as "Extreme," but, in this case, that isn't necessarily a good thing: Give me howlingly campy over blandly mediocre any day.
\o7 * "High Sierra Search and Rescue" premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39). It normally will be seen thereafter on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., but the local air time will be 10 p.m. on June 14 because of an NBA playoff game earlier in the evening.