In the midst of glitzy game shows, steamy soap operas, and tattletale talk shows, two new programs stand out: Barbara DeAngelis, a self-help talk show, and A Closer Look, a news show anchored by Today's Faith Daniels. The two programs are smart, if uneven, attempts to do something different.
By daytime TV standards, Barbara DeAngelis is a real bargain. While Phil and Oprah and Geraldo and Sally all have to trot psychologists onto their respective talk shows if they want to engage audiences in a little daytime therapy, DeAngelis is a smiling host and accredited psychologist all rolled into one. This Los Angeles-based author (How to Make Love All the Time) and lecturer roams around the circular set of her show asking questions and dispensing advice.
''Are you ready for marriage or not?'' ''Are you a recovering rescue-holic, always trying to rescue your man from his bad habits?'' ''Do you keep hoping to turn your husband's wardrobe from nerdysomething to thirtysomething?'' All of these questions are opening salvos from recent Barbara DeAngelis programs: She asks, and the audience offers testimony that illustrates her points. In commercials for her show, DeAngelis says that while other hosts just deal in problems, she suggests solutions. That's not just hype: It's a relief to tune in a daytime show and hear people moving past the usual endless, depressing litany of complaints.
As a novice talk show host, DeAngelis has already become a lot more relaxed and polished since she went on the air in January. She has a tendency toward cutesiness, frequently referring to marriage, for example, as ''the M-word'' and that ''rescue-holic'' stuff is a bit much. The good doctor also recently introduced an audience member as ''someone who's listening to the ticking of her biological clock.'' (You know, Barbara, I think that's actually just that liverwurst sandwich I had for lunch. ) But DeAngelis' worst trait is also her most endearing: ''Am I right?'' she'll ask the crowd after making a point. As people softly murmur their assent, DeAngelis bellows happily, ''Of course I'm right!'' You gotta love that kind of self-confidence.
Curiously, audience members tend to psychobabble more than the psychologist herself. ''I was convinced that if I could be a good enough communicator,'' said a woman of her unloving boyfriend, ''if I nurtured him enough, I could change him.'' What's best about DeAngelis is that she doesn't waffle her advice is straightforward: ''Love him for who he is now,'' she told that woman, ''not who you might make him into tomorrow.'' Otherwise, DeAngelis said with admirable bluntness, you might be better off dumping this guy. So far, to its host's credit, Barbara DeAngelis hasn't trafficked in the sort of sensational themes or offbeat guests common on other daytime talkers (she hasn't had a ''Housewives Who Worship Goldfish'' theme show).
While DeAngelis strives to create a relaxed, chatty atmosphere, A Closer Look is a serious half hour. Faith Daniels has said in interviews that she wants to give substantive news reports to the women who constitute a large segment of the daytime TV audience, and in this, she has succeeded. Daniels' show premiered in January just as the Persian Gulf war was starting, and she spent her first week talking to many different kinds of women: those whose husbands had gone off to the war and enlisted women about to ship out themselves; women who were in the process of mobilizing a peace movement to stop the war and women who wanted to show their support for it. These profiles made you realize how few women's opinions you were hearing in the networks' war coverage.
In recent weeks, A Closer Look has offered reports ranging from one about the unreliability of Pap smear test results to advice on how to avoid car repair rip-offs. (As an automotive illiterate, I was interested in that one but disappointed: ''Find a mechanic you trust'' was the show's salient advice.) As an interviewer, Daniels is serious verging on grim; she won't compromise her integrity by loosening up a bit. And the show has a tendency to be technologically busy, moving from a studio guest to a filmed segment to a satellite interview at a jumpy pace.
But the willingness of both shows to grant daytime TV watchers some brains and common sense is gratifying; it would be nice if their different brands of gimmick-free chat became ratings hits. Barbara DeAngelis: B+ A Closer Look: B