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October 08, 2004

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Keyword News: [Richie Sambora]

By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist  |  October 7, 2004
It's my favorite kind of television: SBIG-TV. Programming that is so bad it's good.
The all-time SBIG champion was CBS's "Wolf Lake," set in a remote town in the Cascade Mountains where the teens were answering the call of the wild a bit too literally, by shape-shifting into wolves. The runner-up would have to be the equally brief-lived "L.A. Doctors," which one critic called "a medical series in which everyone -- even the tubercular patients -- looked remarkably healthy, as if they had just toweled off after a dip at Malibu Beach."

Comes now NBC's irresistibly awful "LAX," an ensemble show set at Los Angeles International Airport. (It's "L-A-X," by the way, never "lax.") It's a curious choice, since a major metropolitan airport, with its bad air, high prices, and random schnooks seeking to blow you up is the one place in the world you want to escape as quickly as possible. This hourlong "drama" on Monday nights is no exception.

"It seemed like a great venue to put a show in," explains "LAX" executive producer Mark Gordon, whose credits include "Saving Private Ryan," "The Day After Tomorrow," and "The Patriot." "We think of LAX as its own little city. People presumed it would be about all these terrible things that happen at the airport, but it's really about these people who are alive and human."

Well, yes. The cast members are astonishingly lifelike, as the Spy magazine writers used to say. The plot lines are somewhat limited, because after all, what happens in an airport? Drug smuggling -- episode two. Super-perilous in-flight "emergency" -- episode three. Terror alert -- episode four. If the ratings start to lose altitude, will the show's writers have to crash a plane? "We haven't written that episode yet," Gordon says. "We have to keep a balance between reality and not trying to freak the audience out."

Surprisingly, the ratings have been OK. The show has serious competition: ABC's soul-deadeningly slow "Monday Night Football" and CBS's popular "CSI: More Gory Graphics." (I think I have that title right.) Cognoscenti attribute the modest success of "LAX" to the sleek narrowbody that Gordon and his crew pilot into America's living rooms once a week: the woman The Los Angeles Times called the flocculent Heather Locklear.

Improbably cast as the airport's runway chief, Locklear storms around (airport groupies need to know that many of the exterior scenes are shot at the Ontario, Calif., airport) barking out orders like, "OK, we're re-staging on Auxiliary Seven! Go! Go! Go!" Faced with potentially hazardous flocking birds near the airport, Locklear blasts: "We wouldn't have this problem if we hadn't been forced to restore the [darned] wetlands." Word up, eco-meddlers!

In the most recent episode, Locklear kissed off a nerdy suitor with the line, "Fly from Burbank from now on -- I don't want you in my airport." The nonplussed nerd can only answer, "Man, is she hot."

Who can disagree? In the first episode, after an opening scene, the camera firmly declares its intentions by focusing on Locklear's tightly swathed derriere, before you see her face. The nominally 43-year-old actress comes with solid Bad Girl cred: She starred in the twin peaks of trash TV, "Dynasty" and "Melrose Place," and was once married to rocker/Internet porn star/walking tattoo parlor Tommy Lee. Locklear has since found domestic bliss with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, one of Cher's many exes. (Cher's exes; now that would be an ensemble drama worth watching.)

For the viewer, the dramatic tension in "LAX" consists of twiddling your thumbs through mindless subplots involving an alcoholic policeman or a phobic ramp worker until Locklear comes back on screen. Fox's shameless ratings-grabber "Man vs. Beast" featured an army of dwarfs pulling a DC-10 jetliner across the tarmac. NBC has gone them one better -- Heather Locklear is carrying a whole airport on her back!

NBC capo Jeff Zucker recently told "E! True Hollywood Story" about television's "Heather Locklear effect" -- "every time she shows up, there's success." Who knows? Maybe she could have saved "Wolf Lake."

"LAX" -- Monday night at 10 on NBC. Catch it before it crashes.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His
e-dress is beam@globe.com. 

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

Posted by riesambo at October 8, 2004 08:39 PM