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Times Staff Writer

Such is the mercurial nature of television that the hottest writer-producer in town today didn’t even get his previous show on the air. Such is also the nature of the medium that now that he is hot, ABC has decided to let the earlier attempt be seen.

“Long Time Gone,” airing at 9 tonight on Channels 7 and 42, is the series pilot that Glenn Gordon Caron wrote and produced for ABC in 1984. The network’s programming executives didn’t buy it and sent Caron off to work up something else.

He returned with “Moonlighting.”

Looking at “Long Time Gone” now, it’s easy to see why ABC wasn’t thrilled with the show but would have been anxious to maintain a relationship with Caron.

On the down side, the principal character is thoroughly dislikable. Try as actor Paul Le Mat might to give him a goofy sort of charm, he can’t hide the fact that the guy is lazy, irresponsible, gambles beyond his limits, hasn’t seen his son or contributed child support since he ran out on his marriage nine years earlier and is basically inept when functioning at all as a private detective.


The plot turns on his decision to take custody of his 11-year-old son (Wil Wheaton) for two weeks, but it’s hardly magnanimous. His ex-wife pays him $500 to do it.

The guy’s a loser, in other words--not unlike “Moonlighting’s” David Addison in some respects, except that he doesn’t mask it by being hip, bright or manic.

On the upside, however, Caron’s script for “Long Time Gone” features some of the same clever writing and sassy disregard for detective show tradition that characterize “Moonlighting.” It also was directed by Robert Butler and produced by Jay Daniel, both of whom subsequently worked on “Moonlighting.”

And it is riddled with TV references--from “Leave It to Beaver” and “My Three Sons” to “MASH” and “Simon & Simon”--reflecting Caron’s awareness that television, however good or bad, is part of our common heritage.

Happily, thanks to ABC’s decision to stick with Caron even though “Long Time” was long gone, “Moonlighting” has joined that cultural heritage.