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CBS’ Crime Time After Prime Time: A Mixed Bag

April 2, 1991 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ The promise of CBS’ ″Crime Time After Prime″ strip of five late-night, action-adventure series starting tonight was that we’d have an alternative to Johnny, Ted and Arsenio.

These hour-long series, CBS suggested with a nudge-nudge wink-wink, would offer intelligent, adult-oriented shows shot on film with ″strong characters, smart writing and prime-time production values.″

CBS also threw around terms like ″high-spirited sexual tension,″ (sic) ″stark intrigue,″ ″intensity″ and ″nail-biting tales.″

Would you settle for brooding hunks in tight jeans and large, strapping women in short skirts and tight sweaters? Alas, you’ll have to.

Originally scheduled to debut Jan. 21, the shows were put on hold and CBS’ ″America Tonight″ extended due to the Gulf War.

Previews of most of this week’s premiere shows were not made available, but some rough cuts from December’s pre-previews survived. And they’re certainly soporific enough to merit discussion.

Tonight’s entry is the, um, stark intrigue of ″The Exile,″ with brooding ″Search for Tomorrow″ hunk Jeffrey Meek in the title role. (Note to purists: check opening title sequence for hero’s hilarious flinches when firing blanks).

The premise is that the Cold War ends with good-guy double agent John Phillips framed for murder by a top-level ″mole″ at his old, CIA-type agency.

When his masters try to kill him, he gets the only two people he trusts - the chief of his agency’s Paris bureau and a French counterintelligence chief - to fake his death.

He’s a man without a name, without a country, who can never go home until he clears himself. And, despite the presence of the large intelligence community in the French capital, he can traipse around Paris without fear.

This requires a suspension of disbelief verging on a general anesthetic.

″Do you have a listed number?″ asks the damsel in distress.

″I don’t even have a listed name,″ our hero blithely answers.

Now THAT’s writing (unfortunately, that episode doesn’t air tonight).

Wednesday night’s ″Scene of the Crime″ is to be an anthology crime- suspense series under the imprint of ″Rockford Files″ producer Stephen J. Cannell.

The pre-preview episode, scripted by Cannell, was a bewildering succession of red herrings padding out a half-hour story. Cannell also works as host of the series, ala Hitchcock and Serling. Hope for better scripts.

Thursday night’s entry, ″Fly By Night,″ stars the strapping Shannon Tweed as the none-too-ethical founder of the luxury Slick Air charter service, run by two pilots (John David Elliott and Francois Guetary) with checkered pasts.

″Fly By Night″ and ″Sweating Bullets,″ Monday night’s entry, are to provide the high-spirited sexual tension, if you’re into that sort of thing.

″Sweating Bullets,″ stars brooding hunk Rob Stewart as private eye Nick Slaughter (honest, folks, that’s what it says), a former Miami DEA agent scraping by in atmospheric old Key Mariah, Fla.

His partners in adventure are an ambitious entrepreneur (Carolyn Dunn) and a diving shop owner (John David Bland). Presumably one or both will provide the sexual tension.

The best of the brood, and the scariest premise, is Friday night’s ″Dark Justice,″ which stars brooding hunk Ramy Zada as a judge ″who upholds the letter of the law by day, but at night adopts a secret identity to ensure that criminals who go free on technicalities are brought to justice.″

Death squads, anyone?

In Friday’s episode, he goes after the ″yuppie killer,″ a hit man who drives a BMW and wears Armani suits. High-minded stuff, eh? Still, it has plenty of chase scenes and gun fights and explosions.

If these shows are artistic failures, it may be because of their genealogy. Except for ″The Exile,″ they are set in the United States but filmed abroad: ″Sweating Bullets″ in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; ″Fly By Night″ in Vancouver, B.C., and the Cote d’Azur; ″Scene of the Crime″ at Cannell’s Vancouver studios and in Paris; and ″Dark Justice″ in Barcelona, Spain.

They’re also co-productions with foreign partners, using foreign crews and production people who have a share in creative control.

That means we’re not seeing Americans’ customary fantasies of U.S.-made TV. Instead, we’re seeing how TV ″creative people″ from other countries see our culture and ourselves.

If that thought threatens to keep you awake late nights, you know what to do.

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Elsewhere in television ...

DIGITAL MUSIC IN CABLE TV: Digital Music Express, a 30-channel, 24-hour, commercial-free digital music service, went on the air March 24 for 400,000 cable customers in the Seattle-Tacoma area, San Francisco, and California’s Orange County. The music’s audio quality equals a top of the line compact disc player and, its backers say, is transmitted by a signal that remains digital all the way from the studio to the home receiver.

Digital Music Express says it has agreements with companies representing 20 million basic cable subscribers across the country. The service is created by International Cablecasting Technologies Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif.