Richard Crenna’s savvy Gotham cop is comfortable as an old shoe, but it’s William Shatner’s nasty Broadway producer who breathes life into this seventh in a series of CBS dramas about durable Manhattan detective Frank Janek.
Shatner takes a blustery cliche character, a spiteful, hated theatrical producer, and makes the show seem a little empty when he’s not around to sneer and scowl. That’s because the rest of the production, centered upon the gruesome murders of seven theatrical agents in the producer’s Soho apartment building, is largely a muddle.
Segueing among several red herrings, most of whom are involved in rehearsing a Broadway musical that looks like an anemic “Chorus Line,” the script is high on atmosphere (Sardi’s, limos, wet Manhattan boulevards) but flabby on plot and characterization.
Prime example of flab is a sidebar romance between Crenna’s Lt. Janek and lawyer Helen Shaver. Every time they’re casting moonbeams prior to finally slipping into bed, he’s interrupted by a phone call from police headquarters about another cadaver.
Janek’s resolution of the murders, calculated to unfold at a glittery theater party, is improbable, psychological gibberish that actually points the accusatory finger at the victims’ apartment building! Don’t ask.
For all its bloody mayhem, action is minimal, talk is bountiful. On the plus side, besides the sniveling Shatner and Crenna’s sleepy-eyed gumshoe, director/exec producer Robert Iscove marshals better-than-expected supporting perfs from Janek’s knockabout crew of flunkies (hyper Cliff Gorman, no-nonsense Cynthia Martells and particularly Phil Bosco’s sweet naive cop).
The scenario by Gerald Dipego and Edward DeBlasio is adapted from a story by William Bayer, who created the original Lt. Janek miniseries, “Doubletake.”