AST FRIDAY, CBS took the high road in China by interrupting the "Dallas" season finale for live news reports from Beijing.
CBS has a peace offering for soap fans. It will carry a 3 1/2 -minute synopsis of the finale's missing scenes before its 9 p.m. Friday movie, "High Road to China." No joke. That was the scheduled movie.
The "Dallas" finale was truly suspenseful. I taped it, so it had an extra cliff-hanger. I set my VCR for 65 minutes. I wasn't sure that was long enough to see if J.R. would get shot again. I dropped "Dallas" after Patrick Duffy (Bobby) returned to the show, took a shower and washed away a whole season as a bad dream. Friday was a good time to catch up. Here's a synopsis of what I learned:
J.R. (Larry Hagman) divorced Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) and married a woman young enough to be a TV co-anchor.
Bobby has a funny new hairstyle and is scared because J.R. likes his new woman.
Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) is still accident-prone. He has learned he may be the father of a child with an old flame, Afton (Audrey Landers).
Lucy (Charlene Tilton) still looks funny when she puts that little body into a sophisticated cocktail dress.
It is a bad time to be a character actor in Hollywood. Ian McShane, George Kennedy and Andrew Prine are now "Dallas" guest stars.
Dan Rather is a camera hog.
CBS News' first interruption came when Bobby was about to give Cliff's secretary a gift bought during his recent trip. Susan Spencer recapped the Beijing events and concluded that, "It appears government patience is running out."
When we returned to "Dallas," there was no time for a thank-you from Cliff's secretary.
McShane, who plays Sue Ellen's English boyfriend, was telling her: "I think I love you more than anybody I felt capable of loving. Let's ride into the sunset together."
I wish CBS had stayed with Susan Spencer a little longer. The scene cleared up a mystery. I wondered what happened to McShane, who disappeared from "War and Remembrance" after escorting Pam Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant) around the Soviet Union.
Now I understand. He had a date with Sue Ellen. He also appeared in Sunday's finale of "Miami Vice" as a dictator.
I wanted to tell Sue Ellen not to trust this guy. But she obviously can take care of herself these days. She gave J.R.'s new wife a friendly lecture about independence.
When Cliff went off looking for Afton, I began looking for Susan Spencer to reappear. No such luck.
Soon, Sue Ellen was explaining her romance to her young son, John Ross (Omri Katz). "You're not going to marry that English guy, are you?" asked John Ross. "Is he that bad?" replied Sue Ellen.
Presumably, we'll find out his answer in the synopsis. Last Friday, it was censored by the Chinese coverage. Spencer returned to narrate a hotel scene where a CBS news executive was attempting to persuade Chinese officials not to cut off CBS' satellite feed.
"We think turning off a satellite transmission is a very serious prospect," said CBS' Lane Vernardos.
You bet. Serious enough to interrupt the finale of "Dallas."
"If we suddenly go off the air, there will be no mystery as to what happened," said Spencer.
Yup. Either the Chinese cut the satellite or CBS head Larry Tisch wanted to see the end of "Dallas."
Just about the time Spencer had exhausted her ad-libbing, Rather came to the rescue. He shook hands with the Chinese officials, was very polite to them and then gave an excellent summary of the earlier proceedings.
"For those who find it hard to follow, welcome to the club," said Rather.
For a second, I thought he was talking about "Dallas."
Rather was very calm as he walked into the CBS control room and narrated some startling pictures. Chinese soldiers looked confused as the demonstrators handed them flowers.
"You can see it all in (a soldier's) face," said Rather. "He seems to be asking, 'Is this what I got into the army to do?' "
It certainly was what Rather got into television to do -- to document history as it happens.
When we returned to "Dallas," Bobby was talking to his girlfriend about some crank calls she was receiving. It was a night for calling. Channel 4 got several calls protesting the confusing interruption of "Dallas."
After a long delay, Bobby was in McKay's (George Kennedy) office arguing over who was making the crank calls.
My tape ran out after that scene. A colleague told me J.R. was shot again, but in a different way. Sue Ellen's boyfriend is a movie director and she had him shoot a movie that puts J.R. in a bad light. Sue Ellen won't release the film unless J.R. gets out of line.
And Rob Lowe thinks he has problems.