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On The Air
Author: Tom Shales
Date: 10-14-82

What Television Needs Is More Bette Midler Specials

What television needs is - well, there are so many things. How about another Bette Midler special? Midler really is overdue. She has a two-special contract with NBC, the first one was seen in 1977, and she hasn't started work on the second one even yet.

"It was a contract for two specials, but at my whim, you know, at my leisure," says Midler, "so I never got around to doing that second show. I'd like to do one before the year is out. I'd like to do SOMETHING before the year is out."

Midler is between TV specials and between movies, but she is not between records (her new one is called "No Frills") and certainly not between books, since she is currently on a ten-city tour to trumpet "The Saga of Baby Divine," an ingenuous verse fable she wrote over the past two years. And so Midler is appearing on local talk shows around the country, and the "Today" show, too, but she's just talking, not singing and dancing. Television needs some: singing and dancing, some: momentary relief from the: screaming tires and the cackling laugh tracks. ' Midler's first special was: a hoot, a howl, and a delight, and it won an I Emmy. She opened the show emerging from a giant clam and singing "Oklahoma!" with a troupe of Polynesians, remember? She remembers. "I was' chubby," she says. The special was called "01' Red Hair is Back." . Now, 01' Red Hair is blonde, but otherwise unchanged - at 5' 1, still charming, disarming, sassY, brassy, and happily crazy after all these years.

During a visit here, she kept jumping up: from the sofa in her hotel suite to run into the bathroom and try on one of her new hats, "I think every lady author should wear a hat," she lectures, "It's a mark of distinction," Most of the hats look teleported in from the '40s or '50s and most have veils, "I'm dying to start a trend," she says. "Deep veiling,"

There's no keeping this game gal in one place for very long, Her TV appearances are always full of surprises. On a local Washington talk show, she advised against taking vitamins on an empty stomach because when she does that, she said, "I get the runs." And she sparkled brightly a couple of years ago when Barbara Walters came to call with her shopping bag full of nosey questions. At one point Midler told Walters, "Get out of my house," but she was only

"I enjoyed doing her show," says Midler. "She leans in, you know. She's always leaning in. It was fun. I kind a like her. At least she doesn't intimidate me. I think she's pretty kind. She doesn't really go for the throat. And she never made me cry, which some of them have. Rona Barrett always used to love to watch me mess up. I miss Rona - sort of. I don't think she realized how funny she was. But she always used to talk about my home life ,and I always used to break into tears."

Although Midler has to be homogenized a little for television, as most things do, her earthy brashness is unmistakable. The musical-variety special on TV, meanwhile, has fallen into terrible times in recent years; what few still exist are usually the result of some sharpy agent's clever contract arrangements with a network. Though she can't sing or dance, Cheryl Ladd gets a musical special because somebody made a smart deal for her. Midler says she hopes to leave Hollywood and move back to New York because the heavy smog from the deal-makers' cigars is beginning to choke ber.

"They don't have what it takes any more, and they're all in, you know, the deal-making business," she groans. "It has nothing to do with the product itself. They throw that stuff out in the marketplace, most of them, and just pray."

The sooner Bette Midler comes bouncing back to television, the better.