Abc’s 40th Anniversary Special

Announcer: Ernie Anderson.

With:
Hosts: Tim Allen, Brett Butler, Dick Clark, John Forsythe, Judith Light, Susan Lucci, Jim McKay, Craig T. Nelson, Bob Saget, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Strauss, Jerry Van Dyke, Barbara Walters, Henry Winkler.

Announcer: Ernie Anderson.

ABC shoots off a fair amount of rockets saluting its own landmark programs and skimming over categories as net flashes through the family album. If the spec lacks depth, it does lurch along with dispatch.

Instead of leading off with a biog of the net (that’s left to Barbara Walters at the show’s conclusion), the limited treasure chest bursts open with a bland Tim Allen monologue (Brett Butler later puts a good spin on her standup slot). Shots of the audience throughout the telecast reveal happy and amused ABCelebs and ex-ABCers seated at tables as if this is what they do on Saturday nights.

Henry Winkler observes, “Television is one of the last places where families function as a unit.”

After that wisdom, the program of hype gallops along with flash clips from sitcoms. Susan Lucci shows overdone soaps clips (including an appalling bunny-hop routine), Cybill Shepherd barely covers cops and detective programming , John Forsythe hosts amusing spots from “Dynasty.” And so it goes.

Assured host Peter Strauss speaks proudly of ABC’s pioneering by serializing books like “QB VII” in 1974 to create miniseries, though in 1969-70 National Education TV, before it became PBS, aired Galsworthy’s riveting “The Forsyte Saga.” The 26-episode smash BBC adaptation preceded the 1971 intro of PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre.

ABC’s two strong, long-lasting medical series of earlier years earn little attention: dynamic “Ben Casey” (Vince Edwards reportedly sits with the crowd) and reassuring “Marcus Welby, M.D.” (a flash of Robert Young’s face from the series is ABC’s only concession; not appearing in the audience or onstage, he goes unmentioned).

Scenes from worthies such as “Family,””China Beach,””thirtysomething” and “Life Goes On” help but belong in the near-contemporary bin — program’s basically concerned with what actors, producers, writers and directors have done lately.

But there are quick samples of sublime humor in snaps from “Odd Couple, “”Taxi” and “Laverne and Shirley,””Space Patrol” and loony “Batman.” Groundbreakers like “Outer Limits” or “Kolchak” don’t get much attention; it’s not what’s memorable, it’s what’s remembered.

Judith Light leads the way into ABC’s true innovation, the 90-minute “Tuesday Movie of the Week,” which launched new careers (Steven Spielberg’s stark “Duel” was an entry), salvaged others and showed what discipline, resourcefulness and dedication could come out of challenges.

Frank Gifford narrates an amusing study of changing “Monday Night Football” hosts, with Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell shown in a feeble mock disgreement.

Dick Clark recalls those simpler days of “American Bandstand” and displays a brief-but-uncertain liaison between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Pop music, covered fast, points up ABC’s lack of serious music interest.

Walters signals confidence and dignity as she eyes ABC News and its offspring , primetime root-around sessions. “Today the news is global,” she says. “There are no more lost horizons!”

The producers, director John Moffitt and writer Bruce Vilanchi have built-in problems of time, selection and editing. Still, it’s a mildly entertaining if surface survey as it charges down the decades. Just as with TV itself, too much is missing and nothing can be done about it.

Abc's 40th Anniversary Special

(Sat. (21), 8-10 p.m., ABC)

Production: Taped at ABC TV Center, Hollywood, by Moffitt-Lee Prods. Exec producers, John Moffitt, Pat Tourk Lee; supervising producer, Nancy Kurshner; producer, Phil Savenick; co-producer, Harry Arends; seg producers, Kevin Miller, Bruce Bailey, Jeff Savenick, Marcia Lewis-Smith; director, John Moffitt; writer, Bruce Vilanchi; special material written by Barbara Walters.

Crew: Music, Glen Roven; production designer, Bruce Ryan.

Cast: Hosts: Tim Allen, Brett Butler, Dick Clark, John Forsythe, Judith Light, Susan Lucci, Jim McKay, Craig T. Nelson, Bob Saget, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Strauss, Jerry Van Dyke, Barbara Walters, Henry Winkler.

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