MERCIFULLY, no one dies in the television version of the movie version of Erich Segal's classic. At least, no one did in the premiere Wednesday night. In fact, except for the inescapable music, the five embarrassing minutes of handholding closeups and the unabashedly happy ending, this night-time soap opera's first offering was surprisingly bearable.
To the relief of some and the disappointment of others, "Love Story" has absolutely nothing to do with Harvard or ice hockey or leukemia. Each week will bring a totally independent one house show, usually along the traditional lines of boy meets girl, and so on. The title of the series--a publicity gimmick from the producers who also created TV's "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"--and the movie's theme music will be the only recurring features in the format.
Michael Landon--eternally, Little Joe Cart-wright from "Bonanza"--wrote and directed the first episode "Love Came Laughing." Reunited for the leads were Bonnie Bedelia and Michael Brandon, the newlyweds of "Lovers and Other Strangers." Brandon plays an uncommitted and unemployed young cynic, who, tied to his hypochondriac mother, is slipping into an easy, sleazy barroom existence until Bedelia moves in alone on the first floor of his apartment building. She is lovely and she is willing, but, although not dying, she is five months pregnant by an old boyfriend. For a young love's trial by fire, this is probably the next best thing.
After the initial shock, Brandon decides he is still in love. They frolic in amusement parks, get caught in a spring shower and just sit around feeling the fetus kick. Their love grows stronger.
When the baby comes, they decide to keep him and drive off in a convertible to Las Vegas to be married.
What saves this garishly sentimental first love story are entertaining exchanges between the. hypochondriac mother and her sarcastic son. Landon displays a slashing wry sense of humor that in another context might have been brilliant.
Of course, next week brings another writer, and the only reliable prediction is that there will be a comparable amount of handholding and the same flood of embarassing displays of emotion. In the coming episode, the girl's tragic flaw is that she is too rich. What can I say?