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(Page TV WEEK-6 )

COVER STORY | NEW FALL SEASON


'Fortune Hunter' 30 years late, dreadful, sexist and very Fox


ROBERT P. LAURENCE
Television Critic

04-Sep-1994 Sunday

Fortune Hunter

For this, Rupert Murdoch expects America to desert "60 Minutes"?

Sorry, Rupe. "Fortune Hunter" is not the after-football hit you're looking for. But it is, in your own unmistakable style, a fairly sleazy program to be on so early in the evening.

Murdoch's Fox network rang up some major headlines a few months ago when it outbid CBS for NFL games, leading some critics to speculate that having football on Sunday afternoons, with games running until 7 p.m. or so on the East Coast, would help Fox build Sunday prime-time ratings.

That conclusion was based on the notion that viewers drifting semiconscious in a post-pigskin afterglow would be too stupefied to hit their remote-control buttons and find another channel, but it ignored a couple of basic facts.

First, NBC has been broadcasting Sunday-afternoon football for 30 or 35 years and still is looking for a Sunday-night winner. So much for the theory that viewer inertia automatically produces hit shows after football games.

Second, Fox will need something other than drivel to keep the football fans watching once the games are over. The reason Sunday-afternoon football led to Sunday night ratings for CBS can be easily explained: "60 Minutes" is a great show.

"Fortune Hunter" is drivel.

Already dubbed "Junk Bond" by critics who watched a short clip tape in July, "Fortune Hunter" is a shameless James Bond wannabe, complete with a lead actor (Mark Frankel) who speaks in a clipped British accent, not far from Sean Connery's Scottish brogue.

In the role of international adventurer Carlton Dial, Frankel even identifies himself in the classic Bond manner: "Dial. Carlton Dial." He struts around in a tuxedo and seduces sexy female spies.

He's armed with an array of high-tech secret weapons, including magic contact lenses that transmit everything he sees back to a TV screen at headquarters. He even looks a little like the young Connery. Or like his not-quite-as-handsome kid brother.

But the James Bond craze goes back 30 years or so, back through several changes in social and political fashions, particularly in relations between men and women, with the result that the brand-new pilot episode of "Fortune Hunter" already plays like a scratchy, ill-informed rerun.

Here's the gimmick. Dial works for Intercept, a private, high-tech organization whose business it is to find stuff. This week, he's finding a new secret weapon, Frostfire, which turns its targets into something resembling freeze-dried Folger's crystals.

It's the sort of thing Alfred Hitchcock called the "McGuffin." Made no difference what it was called; it was simply the device on which the plot was hinged. The Frostfire, therefore, is important only because it gives Dial an excuse to travel to exotic locations where he will meet suave, vicious archvillains and bed bodacious blond babes.

Chris Sarandon plays the unscrupulous arms trader whom Dial encounters at a casino in Tangier, and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson is the blonde of the week, possibly a Russian spy (can they still afford spies?), possibly the daughter of the inventor of the gadget.

She's waiting for Dial with a bottle of champagne when he enters his hotel room.

"The bellboy let me in," she says.

"Hooray for the bellboy," grins the agent.

After a few minutes of conversation, she asks, "Can I trust you to be on my side?"

"On your side, back or front, however you're most comfortable," he says with a leer.

Later, when the villain ridicules Dial's apparently puny weapon, he responds: "It's not the size of a man's gun that matters, but how he uses it."

Let's face it -- we should not be surprised that Rupert Murdoch, the publisher of the New York Post and several other tacky tabloids in England and Australia, puts this sort of smarmy stuff on the air at an hour when children are sure to be watching.

That doesn't mean we have to leave the set tuned to the Fox channel.

"Fortune Hunter"

A new spy adventure series starring Mark Frankel. 7 p.m. Sunday, XETV, Channel 6.

* * two stars


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