To see how far the broadcast networks have fallen in quality during the last decade, tune in "Missing Persons," starring Daniel J. Travanti, at 9 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).
Ten years ago, Travanti was an ensemble player in "Hill Street Blues," a big-city police drama with its own distinctive visual style and a superb cast. It was a show cops loved for its realism and depth, and critics loved for its drama, class and intelligence.
ABC's "Missing Persons" also stars Travanti as a big city cop. This time he runs a missing persons department for the Chicago Police Department.
That's where the similarities end. If "Hill Street" was a Rolls
Royce, "Missing Persons" is a motor scooter. If "Hill Street" was the QE2, "Missing Persons" is a dinghy -- and not a particularly seaworthy dinghy at that.
This is a series that, like a lot of turkeys, won't see Thanksgiving.
Travanti plays Lt. Ray McAuliffe, an aging detective who was shot on the job and offered early retirement because of his injuries. But instead of leaving the force, he took a job behind a desk directing one of the most unappealing group of investigators ever assembled for prime- time TV.
The lieutenant is something of a jerk. And his team runs the gamut from dopes to hot dogs.
In tonight's two-hour pilot, the team tries to locate a missing female college student, a resident of a nursing home and a baby. It's no accident that all three are female -- it's a show that thrives on women in jeopardy, women needing this team.
In the office itself, one of McAuliffe's crew is a young woman who he never allows to leave the building to investigate a case. He "needs her" in the office, he says repeatedly.
What he really needs is for her to get his coffee, get his files, smile at him and make him feel important. What both McAuliffe and this incredibly wimpy investigator, played by Jorjan Fox, need is job counseling, not a prime-time TV series.
But perhaps the worst thing about the two-hour pilot -- which has one woman stashed in a car trunk and another woman's belongings stashed in another car trunk -- is that it's boring. Predictable. Tedious. Teeth-achingly monotonous. (I think I'm finally starting to get in touch with my real feelings here).
The producers have taken out the violence, the gun play and car chases. But they forgot to replace it with plot twists, authentic characters and moments of drama, humor, irony, suspense -- of anything we remember from The Hill.