NBC, in its ongoing counter-programming strategy against major sports on other channels, throws a Danielle Steel tear-jerker up against "Monday Night Football" tonight.
Airing at 9 p.m. here on Channels 4, 36 and 39--but directly opposite ABC's Cincinnati-Buffalo matchup in most parts of the country--"Palomino" is about a scorned New York wife and photographer (Lindsay Frost) who finds renewed romance with a cowboy (Lee Horsley) on a horse ranch out West.
In the drowsy teleplay by Karol Ann Hoeffner, the heroine loses her man, survives a paralyzing injury in a fall off a palomino, turns the ranch into a kiddie camp for handicapped children and wins back her lover in a finale that literally ends with the pair trotting into the sunset.
The network's target is women, whom it hopes will watch this insipid soap while the men enjoy the game in another room. If you think that's depressing, NBC had measurable success when it aired three other Steel romances against big sports events last season.
As TV entertainment, the two hours don't stack up against the action in a half-hour daytime soap opera. The highlight of Michael Miller's pedestrian direction is a love-making scene between the shimmering blond Frost and the dark, Marlboro-dude Horsley that seems to endure a full minute, with backs and thighs glistening against the white sheets.
Older viewers, on the other hand, can focus on the discreet bunkhouse love affair between ranch owner Eva Marie Saint and scruffy, aging cowhand Rod Taylor. In both sets of romances, it's the men who are professionally and socially inferior and the women who have the power and the money. But love conquers class.
All of this is so vapid, tepid and transparently cynical that all we can hope for is a racier adventure when NBC airs yet another Steel opus, "Daddy," against the World Series game on Wednesday night.