NBC is touting its double shot of romantic TV movies, Danielle Steel's Palomino and Danielle Steel's Daddy, as an alternative to CBS' coverage of the World Series this week. According to an NBC press release, it's ''part of the network's ongoing counterprogram-ming strategy against sports.'' Gee, what's the rest of the strategy, NBC? Breaking into CBS' broadcasts of the Series with footage of Bob Costas reading from Harlot's Ghost?
Palomino and Daddy, both based on big, thick Steel novels from the past decade, share the same structure: The central character's marriage falls apart, and after a period of lonely suffering, an exciting romance with a new, far more ideal person makes life worth living again.
In Palomino, the central character is Samantha (Lindsay Frost of Mancuso FBI), a photographer whose husband (Peter Bergman) takes a powder in the movie's opening minutes. She: ''It's because I can't have a baby, isn't it?'' He: ''Now, you know things haven't been right between us for a while now.'' Translation: He's got a babe on the side.
Suffering and alone, our gal Sam takes an assignment from Life magazine to shoot a photo layout on ''the American cowboy.'' Searching for cowboys, Sam goes to a California horse ranch run by an old friend played by Eva Marie Saint, who at one point actually utters the line ''There's just something about a man wearing a Stetson.'' Saint's character introduces Sam to Tate, played with mustache-twitching male ripeness by Lee Horsley (Paradise, Matt Houston).
We know Sam and Tate will fall in love because, as happens on so many TV dramas this season, they initially hate each other's guts. Why? Because Sam tries to get Tate to pose for her photo essay and, well, durn it all, as one cowpoke says, Tate ''just ain't used to workin' around women.'' From there it's only a matter of minutes before they kiss and feel the urge to take a bubble bath together, the room illuminated only by a ring of flickering candles around the tub. Sigh...
With acting as mechanical as the plot, Palomino is tedious. A better, giddier time may be had with Daddy, which, in contrast to Palomino, features a man Step by Step's Patrick Duffy as its sensitive central character.
Both of these TV movies are directed by Michael Miller, but Daddy is the better soap opera. Duffy and Carter are superior sufferer-lovers, and while Browne's script features many more campy howlers than I've quoted here, the production itself never lapses into absurdity the way Palomino's loopy love scenes and florid triumph-over-adversity conclusion do.
Palomino and Daddy offer the escapism of idealized love, in which pain gives way to passion and people get the chance to rebuild broken lives. Done better, this is the stuff of Wuthering Heights, of The Great Gatsby of great fiction. Done this way, it's just counter-programming to baseball with exchanges like: ''With you, Oliver, I realize for the first time I am truly in love''; ''And Charlotte, for the last time I have fallen in love.'' Kate Mulgrew with a master's degree in literature couldn't diagram sentences like that. D