‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Stacks the Deck

TV or not TV. . . .

BANKABLE: “Unsolved Mysteries” is turning into an annuity for NBC as it marks its 100th edition Wednesday.

Once a sleeper, the reality series hosted by Robert Stack, former star of “The Untouchables,” now is just a flat-out smash.

In the last four weeks, for instance, the unshowy but rock-solid series has demonstrated its clout--ranking 3rd, 16th, 8th and 10th in the ratings.


You can bet, however, that without the poker-faced Stack, one of TV’s quiet legends, the series would fall off sharply.

The anniversary show is a special two-hour outing--part of an all-reality night for NBC. Following “Unsolved Mysteries” is a Maria Shriver interview special with Michael Douglas, Nolan Ryan and Luke Perry of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

BREAKFAST CLUB: The good on-camera chemistry between “Today” anchors Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric is finally paying off.

When “Today” beat “Good Morning America” for the first time in more than two years during the week of Feb. 3-7, it was simply the culmination of a steady comeback.


“GMA” is still potent, of course, and may well start up another victory string.

But “Today” has pulled closer to reclaiming its No. 1 spot in the morning since Couric replaced Deborah Norville last year. The venerable NBC series tied “GMA” for the lead four times in recent months.

And for the first six weeks this year, “Today” is only one-tenth of a point behind “GMA” in the ratings--and equal in audience share, with each show attracting 20% of the tune-in.

The Couric hire is probably the best move by NBC News President Michael Gartner since he took over the job.


CRIME WATCH: Notable performances in tonight’s “Law & Order” by Allen Garfield as a defense lawyer and Barbara Barrie as the grieving mother of a murdered young woman.

But there’s more--a lot more, involving serious moral issues--in this consistently adult, intelligent and unpretentious series that NBC has wisely already picked up for next season.

LONG SHOT: Well, who would have guessed it? Of all people, Paul Tsongas has turned out to be one of our favorite TV political folks as the New Hampshire primary rolls around today.

No flashy television maneuvers for Tsongas. Strictly business. And definitely of little appeal to the Hollywood power brokers--one of the best of all possible recommendations.


Alas, Tsongas has nowhere near the charisma of Mario Cuomo, whom we caught speaking at Harvard on cable TV the other day. But then, as a television force, Cuomo--still a holdout in the presidential race--makes all the Democratic candidates looks like midgets.

The nice thing about seeing the no-nonsense Tsongas day after day on television is that, although he has little chance of attaining the White House, he has definitely established himself as a public servant of formidable potential for any administration.

AMAZING GRACE: We’ve always loved the Boston Celtics, but never more so than when Larry Bird joined-in wonderfully in the ceremonies retiring Magic Johnson’s jersey Sunday on NBC.

CROSSFIRE: Like Richard Nixon, Mikhail Gorbachev is now out of office, and if I were a producer, I’d be trying to pair them in a weekly TV think tank on international affairs.


Nixon, by the way, will appear on C-SPAN’s “Booknotes” show for two hours to discuss his new tome, “Seize the Moment,” with the channel’s founder, Brian Lamb. The first hour airs Sunday and the second on March 1--at 5 and 8 p.m. each day.

NEWS BREAK: KABC Channel 7 has always had the best regional stringers of any local TV station. But imagine the station’s surprise when a weather-watching viewer, identified as Dave Aaron, phoned in a terrific report on rain conditions in the Yucaipa area during a KABC news special shortly after noon Saturday.

Anchors Christine Lund and Harold Greene were clearly impressed. Me too. Check him out. Sign him up.

It was a good report overall, with solid contributions from Linda Breakstone in Malibu and Rick Romero in San Juan Capistrano--plus coverage of the fire at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services administration building at Figueroa and Temple.


TOUR OF DUTY: James Blancarte, who represents Maclovio Perez, thinks we should have mentioned the longtime KCBS Channel 2 weather guy in our recent piece about the importance of establishing familiar on-camera faces at the station. He’s absolutely right.

DRAWING BOARD: Molly Ringwald will star on ABC March 29 in the TV movie “Alison: The Ali Gertz Story,” about “a young heterosexual woman who contracted AIDS in a single romantic encounter.”

TRUE TO FORM: Now what network would put on a TV movie called “LIVE! From Death Row”? Fox, right? You got it. The April 3 film deals with televised capital punishment. Come to think of it, not a bad title. Bruce Davison stars.

EYE-OPENER: Caught the 1983 comedy concert “Bill Cosby: Himself” on Bravo cable Saturday night, and what a stunning precursor it was. It was done the year before “The Cosby Show” debuted on NBC, and it dealt, as the series later would, with his view of family life.


It’s a given that Cosby is a superb storyteller, but this particular performance was also pretty gutsy in sticking with wholesome material that went totally against the racier social currents of the time--just as his TV series later did.

JOKERS: Sometimes we feel we are being stampeded by the millions of wanna-be stand-up comedians on TV. But we did see a couple of really stylish young comics on “An Evening at the Improv” on Arts & Entertainment the other night. One is Jann Karam, a woman blessed with talent, looks and the gift of restraint. The other is Jerry Bednob, billed as “The Turban Cowboy” because of his self-directed India gags. Remember the names.

BEING THERE: “We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are."--Gene Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek.”

Say good night, Gracie. . . .