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Shreds of 'Truth' in patchy series debut


So, there was ABC with one of the more promising pilots of the fall season in "The Naked Truth," with Tea Leoni, when this little problem arises.

The guest star in the pilot is former Guess? jeans model Anna Nicole Smith, and several of the more questionable jokes are about her 90-year-old multimillionaire husband, J. Howard Marshall, and whether or not he is too old to father a child. Questionable becomes downright tasteless, though, when Marshall dies last month -- after the pilot had been filmed at a cost of $1.5 million.

What to do? Ditch the pilot and eat the $1.5 million, or risk offense by mocking a guy who just died?

Viewers will get to see how ABC handled the dilemma when "The Naked Truth" premieres at 9:30 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2). Would you be shocked to learn the Disney-owned network did not eat the $1.5 million and compromised by cutting all references to Smith's dead husband, thereby making the key story line and big scene all but incomprehensible? Whither goest art, indeed.

I tell you this for two reasons. One, knowing something about what's not there makes for a richer viewing experience in this case. And two, to advise that you don't judge this series by tonight's cut-and-paste pilot. Leoni's a terrific comic actress who might have enough talent to make the show's overworked premise fly.

Like Fox's "The Preston Episodes," about a former Ivy League professor who finds himself working at a sleazy celebrity tabloid, "The Naked Truth" stars Leoni as Nora Wilde, a former socialite who finds herself working at a sleazy celebrity tabloid. Yes, it's exactly the same notion of refined sensibility getting its nose rubbed in raw life.

Interestingly enough, of the two, Disney-ABC's "The Naked Truth" is a little more raw than Fox's show, which goes against the grain of the two corporate images. Besides several raw remarks about the size of Smith's breasts, the big scene takes place in a gynecologist's office where Leoni's character tries to steal a urine sample from Smith.

It might have even worked if viewers understood the full background, including the tabloid editor's incredulity at Smith's 90-year-old husband making her pregnant. But, like I said, that part's now on the cutting room floor.

You probably won't be shocked to find out that Wilde gets the sample. Her next assignment: Go to Minnesota and photograph a potato that bears a striking resemblance to Liza Minnelli.

I think ABC should have passed on Smith after her husband died and taken Wilde straight to the singing potato. The penny (by network television standards) saved in airing tonight's jury-rigged pilot could cost them millions of viewers who are left confused and disappointed.

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