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GOBBLE, GOBBLE, UGH, UGH : The Turkeys Are Coming Home to TV Roost

Times Television Critic

All right, Pilgrims. Once again it’s that time of year, time for the annual TV Turkeys noting the industry programs, people and events in 1985 that deserve special mention at Thanksgiving.

Make that No Thanksgiving:

--"OceanQuest,” NBC. Remember how former Miss Universe Shawn Weatherby was introduced to all the fishies in the sea and how America was introduced to her outstanding physical attributes in this five-part so-called scientific documentary series? Remember how they lowered a caged Weatherby into the sea and how the sharks tried to get to her? And remember how you hoped they would?

--"Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Wrestling,” CBS. This is supposed to be a Saturday morning series for kids. But you and I know, after watching a few segments, that it was written by kids, and probably toddlers at that.

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What other excuse can there be for an hour of slop that is nothing more than an animated extension of all the ugly stereotypes found in professional wrestling, just the ticket for Saturday morning TV: The sneaky Oriental; the plotting, hook-nosed Arab in cahoots with the animalistic Russian, and the jive-talking black. And as an added Christmas bonus, you can find their replicas on store toy shelves, right next to Hulk.

--ABC News President Roone Arledge. It was Arledge, a longtime friend of the Kennedys, who personally killed a “20/20" segment strongly implying that Marilyn Monroe’s death may not have been suicide and linking her romantically to both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. Although Arledge contended that the segment was journalistically suspect, it was far less suspect, according to others at ABC, than his decision to yank it.

--"West 57th,” CBS. If you ever wondered what CBS News would look like as a music video, this was your ticket, and still may be when it returns later this season. “West 57th” represents a growing trend toward hip journalism at CBS, so hip, in fact, that the weekly news magazine contained lots of flash and dash, but no news. Now that’s hip.

The reporters--two guys (one of them an ex-Chicago deejay) and two gals really look like reporters, and that’s important. If you want my opinion, though, they’re really undercover government agents who will get their own prime-time action-adventure series if they don’t make it as a hip news magazine.

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--"America,” syndicated. If this is America, then give me Cambodia. What a worm this $22-million Paramount series has turned out to be, a weekday hour of such suffocating mindlessness that some purchasing stations almost immediately began burying it in time slots where it could harm them the least. Co-host Stuart Damon shortly vanished, leaving Sarah Purcell to bravely carry on beside laugh-a-second McLean Stevenson. Adlai was funnier.

--"Inday,” syndicated. Sort of a junior “America,” this weekday series began the season with four half-hour components, including one aridly hosted by Ron Hendren that tried to fool viewers by recycling old feature stories. It has since been trimmed to two, which, as anyone who has seen it knows, is still two too many.

--CBS. How’s this for priorities? CBS hires Phyllis George to co-host the “CBS Morning News,” then jettisons her and is forced to pay off her entire multimillion-dollar contract. While George is home in Kentucky receiving a fortune for a job she no longer holds, CBS cuts loose 74 legitimate news people, attributing its cost-cutting move to enormous legal expenses incurred in fighting an unfriendly takeover by Ted Turner. If CBS needed money so badly, it should have gotten a loan from George.

--"Hollywood Wives,” ABC. No superficial treatment here. Give Aaron Spelling and Jackie Collins credit for doing a little digging and finding the dirt beneath the slime. Remember the story, identical twins identically played by Andrew Stevens, clashing in a climactic finale after all the husbands of the Hollywood wives had been sleeping with other Hollywood wives?

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--"North and South,” ABC. This recent miniseries did boffo Nielsen business, apparently because viewers will watch anything that has more than one part, even when it’s David Wolper (“Roots”) ripping off a past movie classic. “North and South” was more bag of wind than “Gone With the Wind,” though, and more rots than “Roots.”

--Howard Cosell. No turkey deserves more plucking than Cosell, not so much for his best-selling book ridiculing some of his former ABC colleagues--that’s his literary right--but for being such a hypocritical boor on the book-promoting talk-show circuit.

Cosell--who so often boasts about his own fearless interviewing and blasts others for being soft--literally has a snit when questioned aggressively and challenged about areas of the book or his career. He is leaving ABC a hateful and bitter man. Good riddance.

One question: Who will replace this giant of journalism on “The Battle of the Network Stars?”

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