TV REVIEWS : Faux Pairings Hurt 'Sinatra Duets'

Singer Luis Miguel is describing how his "duet" with Ol' Blue Eyes isn't actually a first, since, like everyone, he used to sing along with the great one's records in the car, shower, etc.: "Actually, I've sung with Frank Sinatra--he just doesn't know about it!"

The question is, does Sinatra know about it even now?

There's no concrete evidence that he does in "Sinatra Duets," an hour special airing on CBS tonight that's basically an infomercial for the Chairman's two much-hyped "Duets" albums, the second of which is newly released. As is well-known, Sinatra cut his half of all the duets live in the studio with an orchestra, leaving his superstar counterparts, many of whom he has never met, to overdub their parts weeks or months later.

Enjoying the faux-tandemness on record requires a not-insurmountable suspension of disbelief. On TV, the attempted illusion of togetherness is just awkward as hell--at times, comic.

Very much a cipher in his own special, Sinatra appears to have had little participation beyond allowing himself to be filmed singing some of these numbers in the studio or in concert; onto this footage, guest stars such as Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin and Neil Diamond are, yes, superimposed.

Director George Schlatter does about the best he can given that Sinatra couldn't or wouldn't shoot material exclusively for this special, but it gets a little creepy when Sinatra's concert footage has been noticeably sped up or slowed down in spots to make his lips match the recordings. Or when Patti LaBelle, Frank Sinatra Jr., et al. mug and gesture as if there really were someone standing next to them.

It's interesting enough to see the bits of a still-strong Sinatra working in the studio that you come to resent the parade of digitally imposed partners.

Anything here for more discriminating fans? Absolutely: several swell montages of vintage TV and movie clips, which spotlight a succession of younger Franks sharing legitimate camera space with (among others) Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Dinah Shore and--most pricelessly--a rare role-reversal duet with Elvis on "Love Me Tender" / "Witchcraft."

* "Sinatra Duets" airs at 10 tonight on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).

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