Who would have thought that "Good Sports" would be good?
After all, it looked like another one of those shows that banked on the real-life notoriety surrounding a couple of stars, not on their talents.But the Farrah Fawcett-Ryan O'Neal sitcom, which premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Ch. 5, is one of the best the networks have come up with this season.
Fawcett plays Gayle Roberts, a former model and Sports Illustrated cover girl who wants to be taken seriously as a broadcast journalist. She's a co-anchor on an all-sports network along the lines of ESPN.
It's been a decade and a half since she left television and "Charlie's Angels," but Fawcett still looks great. And, in light of the success she's had in dramatic telemovies, it's fairly surprising to see her on a sitcom - especially because she's essentially a straight man.
For this is O'Neal's show. And he may well have the greatest part since Candice Bergen became Murphy Brown.
O'Neal plays "Downtown" Bobby Tannen, a man whose talents have always been overshadowed by his self-destructiveness.
A star receiver on the Jets' Super Bowl champion team back in '69, Bobby is famous mostly for wasted talent. He once quit football to marry and manage the career of a juggling stripper. His return to the NFL was cut short, first when he punched out a reporter and then when he ended up in jail for tax evasion.
Now, he's a 42-year-old pizza delivery man.
But the on-camera death of Gayle's co-anchor leaves an opening at RSCN. Mr. Rappaport (Lane Smith), a Ted Turnerish cable mogul, spots Bobby on "Where Are They Now" and immediately tabs him as the new co-anchor.
"Good Sports" starts out slowly - until O'Neal appears on the screen. Bobby's first assignment is to co-host "Sports Chat" and he's out of his league.
"You prepared questions," a panicked Bobby says to Gayle. "Give me one."
Guest Kareem Abdul-Jabbar starts talking about his acting aspirations - he wants to play Othello and an undercover spy in the Kremlin.
"Right," Bobby says. "Nobody's gonna notice you walking around Moscow."
This and other comments about Kareem's "serious actor crap" bring the pair to verge of a fistfight.
Gayle, of course, can't stand Bobby. But not because he's completely unqualified for the job.
It seems that 20 years earlier, Bobby and Gayle had a rather extended date which included 48 hours in her apartment. Not only did Bobby neglect to call her after the date, but now he doesn't even remember her.
All of which sets up a sort of love-hate relationship we're told is based on Fawcett and O'Neal's off-screen relationship. (They've lived together for years and have a 5-year-old son.)
Throughout all, O'Neal's comic timing is wonderful. It hearkens back to his performance in "What's Up Doc?"
While they don't have a whole lot to do in the opener, the supporting cast shows promise as well. Lois Smith is great as Bobby's mother, still trying to make sure her child-like son is taken care of. Brian Doyle-Murry has some funny lines as producer "Mac" MacKinney.
And Smith is a comedic find as Mr. Rappaport, lampooning the television business in general and Turner in particular.
The series was created by Alan Zweibel, who also co-created "It's Garry Shandling's Show." With him behind the camera and O'Neal in front, maybe "Good Sports" isn't so surprising after all.