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‘Candid Camera’ Loses Focus On Good Humor

John Martin New York Times Syndicate

CBS taps a venerable franchise for a February ratings sweeps special when it airs “Candid Camera Looks at Love” at 8.

Message to CBS: “Candid Camera” is past its prime. Alan Funt began his antics a half-century ago on radio. When the series was at the height of popularity, it captured hilarious reactions of people “caught in the act of being themselves.”

These days, it’s a different story.

Some of what Funt’s son, Peter, has come up with lately simply isn’t very funny. Other stunts seem cruel.

Tonight, Peter poses as a wedding designer who (with brides-to-be in on the gag) has women model gowns with ridiculously short hemlines. He then tries to persuade mothers and fathers that the dresses not only look chic but would look better if they were shortened.

The fathers look embarrassed, then angry, trying hard not to blunt their daughters’ enthusiasm. I didn’t feel like laughing at any of the victims.

Other stunts seem to prey on people who are made to look stupid.

One woman asks shoppers to watch the husband she has been leading around on a dog leash. The joke, it seems, is that there are people in this world so dumb they’ll do anything you ask. Just keep filming and you’ll get a couple of keepers.

Sure, there are some funny moments in this hour. But they are thin and forgettable. Maybe it’s time to cap the lens on “Candid Camera” and get on to fresher material.

Highlights

“Doomsday: What Can We Do?” FOX at 8: FOX takes the strategy of playing off viewer fears to the extreme, presenting five scenarios for the end of the world. Will it be a meteor? Nuclear war? A killer virus? Global warming? A megaquake?

Experts comment as the possibilities are dramatized. Who needs it? Bart Simpson should get word to FOX executives: “Don’t have a cow.”

“Sabrina, The Teenage Witch,” ABC at 9: Kids will get a kick out of this Valentine’s Day episode in which the council of witches puts Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart) through a quiz-show routine to determine if Harvey (Nate Richert) is her true love. Peter Marshall (“The Hollywood Squares”) guest-stars.

“Millennium,” FOX at 9: This sounds more like an “X-Files” plot. Black (Lance Henriksen) is unnerved when a killer begins repeating his crimes, despite the fact he’s still in prison.

“20/20,” ABC at 10: Barbara Walters interviews members of Ronald Goldman’s family and Elizabeth Taylor.

“Homicide: Life on the Street,” NBC at 10: Neil Patrick Harris (“Doogie Howser, M.D.”) gueststars as the suspect in a campus murder. Also, Pembleton and his wife (Andre Braugher, Ami Brabson) meet with a marriage counselor (Linda Dano, “Another World”).

Cable Calls

“Love at First Sight,” MAX at 6:30: This 1997 British TV movie weaves film clips with footage of real-life couples talking about love. The documentary ends with a poignant, though overlong, story of an American soldier who met the woman he would later marry when he liberated a Nazi concentration camp.

“Tony Bennett: Live By Request,” A&E at 6, repeated at 10: The Emmy award winner performs his second Valentine’s Day concert in which viewers around the world request songs via an 800 number and the Internet. The performance takes place at Sony Music Studios in New York City.

“Isn’t It Romantic?” AMC at 6 and 9: There’s a certain charm that shines through as you hear the stories of Hollywood couples Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter; Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson; and Charlton Heston and his wife, Lydia. It’s part celebrity puff and part sound advice on how to make a marriage endure.

Talk Time

“Tonight,” NBC at 11:35: Actor Michael Biehn, fitness guru Richard Simmons and singer Babyface.

“Late Show With David Letterman,” CBS at 11:35: Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and political adviser George Stephanopoulos.

“Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” ABC at 12:35 a.m.: Author-commentator Tony Brown, Dana Carvey, Suzanne Somers and author Marianne Williamson.

“Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” NBC at 12:35 a.m.: Actor Richard Harris and comedian Jake Johannsen.

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