Where does reality stop and fiction begin in television viewing? It is becoming harder to tell.
Last week, the CBS series "Murphy Brown" thoroughly blurred the distinction by featuring a group of real TV news figures attending fictional Murphy's (Candice Bergen) baby shower. And then at least two of the real newsies -- CBS' Paula Zahn and NBC's Katie Couric -- talked about it the next day on their networks almost as if the shower had been real.
Tonight brings another curious reality warp, for the TBS cable network has shelved a planned episode of "The Brady Bunch" out of respect for the memory of Robert Reed, the lead actor in the series who died last week.
The show in question was one of five this week (at 7:05 nightly) billed as showing "the darker side of America's perfect family" (in connection with the publication of "Brady" actor Barry Williams' book "Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg").
Tonight's scheduled episode involved a plot in which Mike Brady (Reed) was suspected of philandering. But TBS announced last week it will sub the episode with a more innocuous outing, in deference to Reed's passing.
But why? Robert Reed was not Mike Brady, who was merely a fictional character on TV. And even if the character had been cheating on his wife (played by Florence Henderson), it was just a role for actor Reed. How could it reflect badly on his memory?
Indeed, based upon a Baltimore interview with Reed a few years ago when he acted in a production at the Morris Mechanic Theatre, it seems likely he might have reveled in a depiction of Mike Brady as a little less than wholesome. Reed's memories of the series were not the warmest, for he felt it lacked substance.
ALSO NOTABLE TONIGHT:
* That baby shower for "Murphy Brown" was the prelude to tonight's season-ending episode, when she finally gives birth after a long labor (at 9, Channel 11).
* Two other CBS series also offer final episodes of the year.
"Evening Shade" actually has two outings: one in the usual 8 p.m. time slot and another after "Murphy" at 9:30. In the latter, former football player/broadcaster Don Meredith appears as a sports show host with whom Wood (Burt Reynolds) has a grudge bowling match.
"Northern Exposure" (at 10) goes traveling in time -- specifically, back to 1909 as the series regulars play roles depicting the founding of fictional Cicely, Alaska. (Getting back to the earlier fiction/reality point, viewers should know the show's usual filming site of Rosyln, Wash., was moved to near Redmond, Wash., where the Klondike mining town was re-created on a future housing subdivision site.)