Review: ‘Legend to Legend Night’

Even allowing that most awards shows are little more than excuses to round up a bunch of recognizable faces, NBC's "Legend to Legend" spec is perplexing. A guest list in search of a concept, it's a pretty shabby affair, winning points chiefly for being firstrun in a week that's extra-heavy on repeats.

Even allowing that most awards shows are little more than excuses to round up a bunch of recognizable faces, NBC’s “Legend to Legend” spec is perplexing. A guest list in search of a concept, it’s a pretty shabby affair, winning points chiefly for being firstrun in a week that’s extra-heavy on repeats.

Show, taped at the Wiltern Theater in October, features a roster of celebs whose names might have been pulled from a hat. “Legendary” status of honorees is justified by a reading of awards they’ve been given, collectively: In addition to expected Oscars, Grammys and Emmys, acts are said to have won lifetime achievement and other awards from Lincoln Center, American Film Institute, Kennedy Center and — huh? — a Lowell Thomas Journalism Award.

Showing some self-control, the producers draw the line at crediting memberships in the Literary Guild and the National Geographic Society. The next time around, though, some of these stars may be honored for having appeared on “Legend to Legend.”

Each viewer will have a different idea as to who belongs on the dais; plucky host Katie Couric gives the impression that she’d rather be in New York prepping for “Today.”

“Can you believe the stuff (the producers are) making me do?” she asks the audience at one point. One thing they make her do is introduce exec producer Fred de Cordova as a legend. “He’s gonna kill me for this,” Couric gulps, but fortunately the band was ready, armed for just such an off-the-cuff eventuality with sheet music for “The Tonight Show” theme.

The presentations are inconsistent. Some presenters are introduced with clip montages of varying pertinence; some even give live performances. Gregory Peck, on the other hand, is simply introduced as the star of “Roman Holiday” before introducing a sequence of James Stewart clips and then anticlimactically announcing that Stewart was “a little under the weather” and thus not present.

Bob Newhart is cut off in the middle of an amusing monologue, while Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett get to sing two songs each (one plugging Bennett’s new album). Wynonna is seen in a clip from a Fresno concert, interspersed with some documentary-style footage, followed by a live performance of two bluesy numbers. Barbara Mandrell, the purported legend, gets only one song, her 1983 hit “In Times Like These.”

Angie Dickinson introduces Eva Marie Saint; any connection between the two is left unexplained.

Mathis, who often proclaims that the singers who influenced his own style are all female, is an unusual choice to introduce Bennett.

Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly are a better match, by virtue of the years they spent together on the MGM lot.

Several participants offer thanks, though it’s unclear what for or to whom.

Tech credits are good, with a special nod to production designer Roy Christopher and art director Chris Idoine for making the Wiltern look so good — and its stage so capacious.

Legend to Legend Night

(Tues. (28), 8-10 p.m., NBC)

Production

Taped in Los Angeles by NBC Prods. Executive producer, Fred de Cordova; producer, Bruce McKay; film sequence producer, Doug Stewart; director, Paul Miller; script, Kenny Solms; lighting director, Kieran Healy.

Crew

Editors, Ron Barr, Alan Carter; film tribute editors, Thomas Dean Donnelly, Kathy Tanney, Ellen Goldwasser, Megan Mellbye, Doug Stewart; art director, Chris Idoine; sound, Ed Greene; music supervisor, George Duke; production designer, Roy Christopher.

Cast

Host: Katie Couric.
With: Muhammad Ali, Tony Bennett, George Burns, Angie Dickenson, Gene Kelly, Sugar Ray Leonard, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Mathis, Bob Newhart, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, Eva Marie Saint, James Stewart, Wynonna.
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