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TV REVIEWS : ‘GEISHA’ NOT THE LIFE OF THE PARTY

Times Staff Writer

If being a geisha was as boring as it’s made to look in “American Geisha,” the profession would have died out long ago.

Geishas are the Japanese women trained to work as hostesess and entertainers at parties and business meetings of Japanese men. The one played by Pam Dawber in the first TV movie of the new prime-time season tonight (9 p.m., CBS Channels 2 and 8) is so sullen and introspective that she’d probably bring down a convention of sake salesmen.

The movie is based on the experiences of an American woman who, in the course of studying the profession, was allowed to become an apprentice geisha and wound up writing a book about it. Loosely based, we may be certain: the name of Dawber’s character is Gillian Burke; the woman who wrote “Geisha” is Liza Crihfield Dalby.

Why does Burke want to study the geisha? “That’s what I do,” she tells one man. Of course.

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Actually, they’re the subject of her doctoral thesis in cultural anthropology. And does this woman know Japan? On her first date with an actor who performs in the classical kabuki theater, she keenly observes, “You’re very different offstage.”

That’s how deep writer Judith Paige Mitchell and director Lee Philips get in penetrating Japanese life and the clash of cultures.

“I am moving closer to the heart of the geisha,” Burke says at one point.

Right. And the Dodgers are moving closer to the National League pennant.

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The new syndicated series “True Confessions” is a soap opera for people who don’t have all week to watch one.

The series, which debuted this week on KCOP Channel 13 (weekdays at 11:30 a.m.), looks and sounds like a soap opera but doesn’t have a continuing cast. It’s an anthology show that sports some well-known performers but which deals in the same sort of stories.

So far, we’ve seen a woman (Anne Francis) deciding whether to have a mastectomy, a woman deciding whether to give up her life in the city for a man (Cesar Romero) in the country and a woman deciding whether to jeopardize her career by having a baby.

Call it “Unamazing Stories.”

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The installment on tap today is a bit different, featuring June Allyson in a suspense story with a surprise ending, but in any case, the series seems to be a celebration of the mundane--from its production quality to its writing.

There are no traces of the lurid, trashy or sensationalistic elements associated with the magazine True Confessions, from whose back issues the TV stories supposedly have been taken. That would have been more fun, if less “responsible.”

The producers apparently want viewers to come away with some moral from each episode, and Bill Bixby is on hand as host to deliver it. The concept works well enough on episodes like Monday’s about mastectomy, but it was downright silly Wednesday when he reported that the woman (played by Lauren Tewes) debating whether to have an abortion not only had had her baby but also had opened her own fashion business at home.

Some confession, huh?

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