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Landon Legacy Honored With Specials

TV or not TV. . . .

FATHER AND SON: Michael Landon Jr. is the director of tonight’s two-hour NBC tribute to his late father, “Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love.”

The broadcast, says Michael Jr., 27, salutes “my father’s legacy” and the “impact” of his family-oriented shows.

For three decades, hardly a new TV season started that didn’t feature a series with the elder Landon, from “Bonanza” to “Little House on the Prairie” to “Highway to Heaven.”

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And now, in a bittersweet coincidence, this official opening week of the 1991-92 season will feature two specials recalling the veteran actor, who died July 1 of cancer at age 54.

On Friday, CBS will present “US,” the two-hour pilot of what was to be Landon’s latest series, a drama about a wrongfully convicted man who is released from prison after 18 years and tries to reconcile with his father and son as he travels the country as a newspaper columnist.

At the story’s heart, CBS notes, is the “bonds that fathers and sons should have.”

Of the two specials, only three days apart, Michael Jr. says: “I feel that my father’s work made an incredible impact on America, and I think maybe the networks realize that.

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“And I think that we’ve also come to an end of my father’s legacy in terms of the kind of programming that he made--in the way he handled issues and family. A lot of critics would consider his work saccharine. But I feel that just because he had happy endings and stressed the good side of people instead of the dark side, people yearn for his type of work. And he could do it.

“The feelings you got from his work were very warm. They left you feeling good.”

Michael Jr. is also one of the hosts of tonight’s show, which begins at 8, as is his sister, Leslie Landon.

According to Michael, whose tribute to his father is “the first thing I’ve directed,” the program includes all of the late actor’s children; a biography of the star; his films “that reflected his own experiences as a child”; his early career; highlights of his series and interviews with his performer friends.

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Michael says the special came about when “I was approached by an old writer friend of my father, Dan Gordon, who proposed the tribute” and eventually wrote the script: “I approached my family to see what they felt, and everybody was interested and wanted it to happen.”

Jeff Sagansky, president of CBS Entertainment, says the late actor “wanted ‘US’ shown” and that Friday’s pilot is being aired “on the night it would have premiered as a series.”

For Michael Jr., tonight’s tribute has been “a big job.”

“I’ve always wanted to direct,” he said. “I’ve been a camera assistant. I’ve studied acting. I’ve studied directing at the American Film Institute. I acted in a syndicated two-hour (TV remake) of ‘Bonanza.’ I’ve been a cinematographer for documentaries and commercials.”

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Michael Jr. lives in Calabasas, has been married for nearly four years and became the father of a girl a month ago: “She was born just two days before this project started.”

GIANT: It was a privilege and a joy to read the TV columns of newspaperman and novelist John Crosby, who died Sept. 7 at age 79. He wrote about TV in its early years for the New York Herald Tribune, without snobbishness, pretense or arrogance. Oh, could he write.

Many of us who were growing up there at the time were fortunate to be educated about this new medium by Crosby and Jack Gould, his counterpart at the New York Times. We are forever indebted to them both.

ROOTS: The year was 1983, and “Cheers” had just finished its first year on NBC. Do you know how it did in the ratings? It ranked a miserable 74th for the entire season among 98 series, tied with a CBS sitcom called “Ace Crawford, Private Eye.”

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It was only because of NBC’s patience with a show it believed in that “Cheers” was able to hang in there and begin its remarkable climb to the top--a lesson for every programmer in the business.

“Cheers” begins its 10th season Thursday, and it continues the cliffhanger in which Sam Malone (Ted Danson) asks Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) “to become the mother of his child,” as NBC quaintly puts it. We have been asked by NBC not to give away Sam’s personal dilemma, so we won’t.

Now, as for “Ace Crawford, Private Eye"--all right, couch potatoes, who and what was it? Well, it was another Tim Conway shortfall--this one lasted less than a month--in which he played a detective who solved crimes through blind luck and amazingly helpful accidents.

Come to think of it, Conway would be great as a character in “Cheers.”

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TWO FOR THE ROAD: There’s nice chemistry between Sharon Gless as a public defender and Ed Asner as her new co-star, a reactionary investigator, in CBS’ “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” which airs Thursdays.

CASTING: Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, whose remarks about masturbation caused a furor on the Emmy Awards telecast Aug. 25, guest-stars on the two-part season premiere of NBC’s “Night Court” this Wednesday and next, playing an obnoxious district attorney. I can’t seem to find an appropriate comment here.

Gottfried’s remarks on the Emmy show, you’ll recall, were edited for the tape-delayed broadcast in Los Angeles, but were seen elsewhere.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Producer Vin Di Bona of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” says he’s sending a talent scout to scour high school and college classes, “telling them what we want and letting them go crazy.” He’s also cutting down on host Bob Saget’s jokes and adding up to 20% more clips to each outing: “They drive the show.”

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WEIGHING IN: Why is Oprah Winfrey richer than Croesus? Well, her fifth anniversary show last week drew 57% of the audience in Chicago, 51% in Philadelphia, 43% in New York and 35% in Los Angeles. Now, if she’d only relax and enjoy being pleasantly plump, which is how she looks best. She’s a handsome woman.

UPWARDLY MOBILE: NBC’s rebounding “Today” show finally caught ABC’s “Good Morning America” in the week ending Sept. 6--tying the top-rated series.

BEING THERE: “I want it all ."--Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) in “Maude.”

Say good night, Gracie . . . .

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