At the recent Televisions Critics Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif., where the networks and the stars of new shows go to convince TV writers that the upcoming season won’t be the worst one they’ve ever seen (this is what passes for bright optimism), one could discern a pattern. Whether it was the announcement of a new version of ”The Twilight Zone” on UPN or the return of Phil Donahue (this time on MSNBC), it became clear that we’re entering a small boom in what you could call ”comfort television” – shows that featured familiar faces and premises.
Whether for reasons serious (the lingering fears of Sept. 11; the stock-market plunge) or frivolous (with so little free time, people gravitate toward safe, simple fare that’s just relaxing escapism), something’s going on. Consider these new entries, either now on the air or coming soon:
American Dreams (NBC) This fall-premiering comedy-drama hour also has a Dick Clark connection: It’s the fictionalized story of a couple of girls in the ’60s whose great goal in life is to become regular dancers on the Clark-hosted ”American Bandstand” in its heyday. I’ll reserve reviewing it until it formally premieres, but I will reveal that its formal trick is a good one: Frequently, the music is provided by clips of the actual music acts of the era (the Beach Boys, say), who are viewed through the studio camera, or on TV sets in the protagonists’ homes. Guaranteed nostalgia for baby-boomers.
”The $50,000 Pyramid” (syndicated) Now this looks like fun: This fall, squeaky-clean Donny Osmond, as cheerful and affable as the quiz show’s signature host, Dick Clark, presides over a new version of ”Pyramid,” one of the best, most involving game-shows ever. Certain celebs like Billy Crystal and Nipsey Russell used to be wizards at playing this game; I wonder who’ll prove to have talent for the lightning-round now? Sometimes it’s a star you’d never suspect. Maybe, say, ”That ’70s Show”’s Ashton Kucher or some poor devil from ”Third Watch” will prove to be a ”Pyramid” builder.