With so many performers on hand, it's no surprise that "The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Arts" has a showman's sense of saving the best for last. Unfortunately, tonight's telecast (9 p.m. CBS) saves the worst for first.
To be sure, the honors are a distinguished celebration of performing artists' achievements. This, the 24th annual presentation, recognizes Jack Nicholson, Van Cliburn, Julie Andrews, Luciano Pavarotti and Quincy Jones. The gala, a fund-raising benefit hosted by Walter Cronkite, was taped Dec. 2 before an audience that included the president and first lady.
But this affair, the hoitiest of the toitiest, leads off with a tribute to Nicholson that, if you take away the star power, might as well have been done by a high school audiovisual club. It begins with some laudatory words from Warren Beatty, followed by a short taped biography and a few film clips.
Then, more back-slapping from three other stars: All Nicholson can do is sit quietly and have the adulation heaped upon him.