'Milton Berle' show . . . minus Milton
In the 1940s and '50s, the ''Texaco Star Theater'' was television's top variety show . . . starring Mr. Television, Milton Berle. Now the pilot project for a revival of the series, Texaco Star Theater . . . Opening Night (NBC, Saturday, 8:30-10 p.m.) has lots of television personalities going for it . . . but not Mr. Television himself.
Not only is Texaco reviving the series, but it is attempting to revive the old custom of the sponsor inserting its name in the title to get some free publicity (nevertheless, we must give credit to Texaco for also sponsoring the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on radio and television).
The new ''Texaco Star Theater'' is ostensibly a salute to the American musical theater and, in deference to the theater, includes scenes from ''Annie'' and ''A Chorus Line'' and manages a grand finale with ye olde faithful Ethel Merman belting out ''Before the Parade Passes By.''
But the other show tunes are sung by TV personalities - and ones who are series-less right now or with series whose end is in sight - in an obvious effort to make Broadway appeal to television viewers. In fact, the show could have been called ''Ten TV Personalities in Search of a New Series.''
There's Ken Berry of ''Mayberry R.F.D.,'' Debbie Allen of ''Fame,'' Pam Dawber of ''Mork & Mindy,'' Robert Guillaume of ''Benson,'' Ann Jillian of ''It's A Living,'' John Schneider of ''Dukes of Hazzard,'' Loretta Swit of ''M*A*S*H,'' and Joe Namath of what-was-the-name-of-that-series? All of these people sing and dance acceptably, in many cases like surprisingly talented amateurs.
And there are also the familiar faces of Donald O'Connor, Bernadette Peters, Sammy Davis Jr., Zsa Zsa Gabor, Steve Allen, and Carol Burnett. Finally there are the superpros - Placido Domingo and Ethel Merman putting across show tunes with all their professional skill and talent.
What's missing? More real musical theater personalities. And, of course, Milton Berle. The behind-the-scenes-party format, instead of the MC format just doesn't seem to be worth the trouble.
So, welcome back, ''T Star Theater.'' Executive producer Marty Pasetta, who in the past has done many awards shows and most recently, the Voice of America's ''Let Poland Be Poland,'' has put together a fine package which tries perhaps just a bit too hard to attract the mass TV audience to a basically stage-oriented salute. It's 90 minutes of pleasant entertainment. Just don't expect all that and Milton Berle, too.