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Driving Miss Daisy

Alfred Uhry's story of a elderly Southern gentlewoman and her black chauffeur, set in mid-'50s Atlanta, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play and multi-Academy Award-winning film. Playwright Uhry should have quit while he was ahead; this series pilot is "failed" in more than one sense.

With:
Cast: Joan Plowright, Robert Guillaume, Saul Rubinek, Theresa Merritt, Hillary Bailey Smith, Mary Nell Santacroce, Anne Haney, Zoaunne Le Roy, Toni Gillman, Ivar Brogger.

Alfred Uhry’s story of a elderly Southern gentlewoman and her black chauffeur, set in mid-’50s Atlanta, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play and multi-Academy Award-winning film. Playwright Uhry should have quit while he was ahead; this series pilot is “failed” in more than one sense.

Episode made headlines earlier this week when an organization called the Media Image Coalition of Minorities & Women protested its image of blacks based on a copy of the script.

International cast features English actress Joan Plowright — Lady Olivier — playing Daisy Werthan like Frances Bavier’s Aunt Bee. Canadian Saul Rubinek fares only slightly better as her son, Boolie, who had hired Hoke Colburn (Robert Guillaume) to drive Miss Daisy around town.

Guillaume is forced to spew archaic dialogue like “Ain’t we lucky the hot weather done broke” with a straight face, which may substantiate Media Image Coalition’s charges that such lines perpetuated “an archaic, negative stereotype” (Daily Variety, Aug. 18). Language might be apt for the period, but here it smacks of “Amos & Andy.”

Daisy’s Jewishness is underplayed in pilot, which spends inordinate amount of time introducing characters and relationships, ending with a visit to Atlanta by Eleanor Roosevelt (Toni Gillman).

A political liberal, Daisy has a showdown with mah-jongg partner Beulah (Zoaunne Le Roy). Though thoroughly racist, Beulah had evidently earned Daisy’s friendship right up to this confrontation.

Uhry’s script is rife with sitcommy lines like Hoke’s asking Daisy, if she and her friends play mah-jongg, “You think that rich Chinese widows play poker all the time?”

Tech credits are far better than the material deserves, though laugh track is (of necessity) oversweetened. Uncredited music track makes heavy use of Hans Zimmer’s theme from the “Daisy” film; several scenes find Daisy and Hoke yakking it up in her vintage car.

Regulars, in addition to Plowright, Guillaume and Rubinek, include Theresa Merritt as stereotypically plump black cook Idella and Hillary Bailey Smith as Boolie’s flighty wife. Daisy doesn’t like her.

As Gomer Pyle might say, “Surprise, surprise.”

Driving Miss Daisy

Fri. (21), 8-8:30 p.m., CBS-TV

Production: Taped in Burbank by the Zanuck Co. in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producer, Richard Zanuck; producer, Frank Pace; director, Will Mackenzie; script, Alfred Uhry, based on his stage play; creative consultant, Uhry.

Crew: Camera, George Spiro Dibie; editor, Jerry Davis; art director, Ken Johnson; sound, John Hicks; music, uncredited; theme by Hans Zimmer.

Cast: Cast: Joan Plowright, Robert Guillaume, Saul Rubinek, Theresa Merritt, Hillary Bailey Smith, Mary Nell Santacroce, Anne Haney, Zoaunne Le Roy, Toni Gillman, Ivar Brogger.

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