REVIEW / Business as usual in television's capital city

THE FIRST episode of Headhunters (BBC 1) last week will have had admirers of Doug Lucie, the writer, hanging on by their fingernails. Its first image was one of those moody, meaningful shots which zoom in to linger on a long stare, in this case that of Francesca Annis, who had just snipped a rose bloom with castrator's efficiency and was gazing pensively at her ruthless husband. What followed seemed to be not only standard genre stuff but standard genre stuff cannibalised from old standard genre stuff now resting in the television junk-yard. And how long had it taken to get to the screen? Dramas about thrusting businessmen with no ethics and soured marriages were big in the Eighties weren't they? Isn't all this stuff about the ugly voracity of capitalism a bit dated?

The script didn't help - an extraordinary anthology of cliches which made you wonder whether the whole thing was a subtle satire on the form or whether Lucie was merely condescending to the medium because he needed to mend his roof. 'OK, I'm going out on a limb here', 'Tell me about it', 'I've rather put my head on the block', 'I'm there for you', 'They're my friends, you could try to be civil', 'Whatever happened to loyalty', 'I suppose you must despise me'. All these and many more. It was like a K-Tel advert for Duff Dialogue Classics, complete with backing visuals in which immaculately dressed men and women hung round each other's office doors being sardonic.

Only in the final minutes, when a distressed victim of one of Simon Hall's personnel raids opened his veins in the executive washroom, did you sense that the thing might turn a corner. We were definitely round the bend by the end of the second episode and so was Hall, having succumbed to a moral conversion that made Saul of Tarsus look like a ditherer. This was altogether less predictable, proving, among other things, that Lucie hasn't lost his talent for vicious dialogue. The man who finally tipped Hall over the edge was Roger Garrison, a heroically nasty record executive with an oven-stripper mouth. 'What he knows about pop music could be written on Kylie Minogue's tits,' he sneers about a colleague at one point. At the end Hall sits and weeps in the garden, his faith in free enterprise shattered and our faith in Doug Lucie on the mend.

ITV has put its hands up in the face of David Jason's ratings firepower and handed over a two-hour slab of the Sunday schedule during which he can play the mildly dyspeptic Inspector Frost. His nip isn't as fierce as Morse's but where the script doesn't actually invite you to laugh he's much better at making you forget Del Boy and Pop Larkin than you might have expected. Elsewhere he uses that trademark double-take, with its tiny lift of the eyebrow, to excellent effect. Unfortunately the series is its own worst enemy, a good thing played at a pace which reminds you of Soviet funeral music.

The curse of Tomorrow's World (BBC 1) has claimed another victim. A few months ago they produced a special report on Moscow, with a chirpily optimistic sign-off, which they had to hastily rewrite when the Russian coup intervened. On Friday night their LA special was similarly wrong- footed; before the quake, the preview tape looked fine, including reports on LA's new Metro system and recent advances in seismic prediction - after the earthquake it had cracks big enough to lose a Buick in. They replastered in time for transmission but don't be fooled. If they want to come to your city, just say no.

Finally, an apology to NYPD Blue (C4), which I wrongly accused of a continuity error last week. Several viewers wrote to point out that the director was merely cutting from reflections in the bar to the scene itself, thus giving the impression of a reversal. So it was tricksiness on their part, not incompetence. My eyeballs have been reprimanded for seeing what it suited them to see and sentenced to three weeks of Pobol Y Cwm, without remission.

Some editions of Saturday's paper wrongly credited Thomas Sutcliffe with writing the television review. It was in fact by Jasper Rees

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