Television: Smart Money

Among television's vast lexicon of unwritten rules there are three inviolable tenets: 1) don't offend minority groups—they write letters; 2) don't tell sick jokes—they offend critics; 3) don't knock the hero—the audience identifies with him. Failure to obey these laws is punishable by death—for the show, and sometimes for the career of the creator. The result, inevitably, is a season like the present one—limp scripts and look-alike actors, the halt leading the bland.

No wonder then that the industry is confounded by the outsized success of NBC's Get Smart! Thumbing its nose at the rule book, Smart features an impossibly...

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