Video: Cars, Computers and Coptermania

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On new action shows, the hardware has all the best lines

They never complain. They never forget their lines. They have no agents or egos. They are composed of moving parts, but their parts are rarely moving. They are sex objects who do not object to being handled, symbols of power whose judgments go unquestioned, the most impersonal of actors in the most personal of media. They are the new stars of prime-time network television: machines.

Helicopters, cars and computers dominate such action-adventure shows, as Magnum, P.I., Matt Houston, Trauma Center, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Cutter to Houston and The Fall Guy. Coptermania is the current craze. The air waves are bristling with blades, and gyrating, swooping chase sequences have become as common as the earthbound, four-wheeled variety. ABC's new series Blue Thunder (derived from the movie of the same title) features a mean, blackbottle fly of a police chopper that is essentially an aerial machine gun equipped with supersnooping devices. Next week CBS launches Airwolf, about a supersonic CIA attack helicopter that is invisible to radar. One of its pilots, Ernest Borgnine, decorously refers to it as "she," as if it were a more temperamental version of the flying nun.

The helicopter is the logical extension of all those charging and leaping cars that really yearn to fly. The longtime love affair between TV and the automobile is still revving. The Dukes of Hazzard, an endless demolition derby masquerading as a plot, features a 1969 Dodge Charger called General Lee whose owners minister to it as the Lone Ranger did to Silver. (Just as the cowboy could kiss his pony but not his gal, the new auto-cowboys make much of caressing the curves of their hoods.) The latest incarnation of the car as creature is NBC's Knight Rider, a computerized, talking Trans Am that is a lineal descendant (with a slight Freudian twist) of the grouchy 1928 Porter that haunted Jerry Van Dyke in My Mother the Car. Sleek and soigne, the car (with the sexually ambiguous name of Kitt) engages in flirty repartee with its pretty-boy driver, Michael Knight.

While the machine may be a new star, the star has often been a machine disguised as a person. On My Living Doll, Julie Newmar was a robot who camouflaged her engineering as sexual equipment: her breasts encased solar batteries. Lee Majors as The Six Million Dollar Man was simply state-of-the-art beefcake. Now an ABC show of stupefying banality called Auto-man offers a fluorescent, blond Superman who is summoned up by a wimpish computer jock in moments of crisis. Automan owes more to I Dream of Jeannie than to computer science, however. Another new show, NBC's Riptide, has something for every armchair technocrat, including a klutzy orange robot with a display screen in its chest and a silly grin on its mute face.

The robot serves its three private-eye associates as a mobile data bank and uses its sensitive radar to warn them of approaching danger (usually a helicopter).

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