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Thursday, November 25, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Voorhees

Hagman's `Staying Afloat' Is In Danger Of Sinking

Unless NBC gets some new writers, it should add a third word to the title of Larry Hagman's new series - "Staying Afloat" - Barely.

The series kicks off with a two-hour pilot, at 9 p.m. tomorrow on KING-TV, and future episodes will be a part of NBC's "Friday Night Mystery" package. But while it's pleasant to have Hagman back doing comedy, after his long stint with "Dallas," this effort is so limp, so desultory in its acting, so needlessly complicated in its writing that it seems about twice as long as its scheduled two hours.

The premise seems workable: Hagman plays a high-living millionaire who discovers his money is gone. In order to hang onto his luxurious yacht he throws in his lot with the feds who use him as front man in a sting operation involving the sale of illegal arms.

As you can clearly see, "Staying Afloat" isn't going to be long on innovation or imagination. If it's going to float, instead of sink, it's going to require style, cleverness, wit and repartee. It's also clear that writers Michael Sadowski and Bob Shayne are not the men for the job.

It takes so long for them to set up the premise of "Staying Afloat" that one has lost interest before the real story begins. In addition the writers have saddled Hagman's character with a stuffy butler and a cat who contribute nothing: Lose 'em!

And while they had an bright idea in making the leading fed a likable nerd to contrast with Hagman's playboy image, director Eric

Laneuville allows Gregg Henry to perform the role without any subtlety. The potential is there for Hagman and Henry to become an appealing oil-and-water duo. But it doesn't happen this first time around. Maybe next time if there is one.

Bright spots

With most of TV given over to children's cartoons the next few days, it's a relief to discover anything else. One bright spot is "So You Want to Be?," a children's program debuting at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow on KSTW-TV. While it's full of bells and whistles - apparently producers don't believe children will watch unless there's complete visual chaos - the content is an intelligent approach to various adult occupations, giving kids a chance to consider what they might be when they grow up - and the work required to achieve it.

And a more than welcome relief from cartoons is "The Borrowers," an award-winning British TV movie, based on Mary Norton's children's books, that uses first-rate actors (Ian Holm and Sian Phillips among them) to dramatize the story of the "little people" who live beneath the floorboards in an English country house. It premieres at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday on TNT, with the second half airing at the same times Sunday. There will be additional airings in December.

It's such a beautifully done film - funny and exciting and as engrossing for adults and children - it's too bad Turner Broadcasting saw fit to break it into two parts with lots of interruptions by comic Richard Lewis whose babblings interrupt the mood of the piece. Films this good don't need a "host." But don't let that deter you from seeing what is likely to become a film classic.

Video notes

A&E is airing all 12 hours of its "Year in Provence" series today, beginning at 5 a.m . . . C-SPAN has a "History of the Oval Office" special that includes a tour by President Clinton, at 7 a.m. today . . . NBC shows the 67th Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, at 9 a.m. today on KING-TV . . . KOMO-TV has an ice-skating special, "Holiday Festival on Ice," featuring Rosalynn Sumners among others, at 3 p.m. today . . . A&E has a two-hour concert, "Pavarotti in Paris," tonight at 6 and 10.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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