Light vehicles transport some veteran performers

Side By Side CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. Stars: Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Danny Thomas, Morey Amsterdam. Writers: Rosemary Edelman, Sheldon Keller, and Ed Kaplan, based on a story by Rosemary Edelman and Anthony Velona. Director: Jack Bender. Producer: Rosemary Edelman. Laura Lansing Slept Here NBC, Monday, 9-11 p.m. Star: Katharine Hepburn. Writer: James Prideaux. Director: George Schaefer. Producers: Prideaux and Schaefer.

Demographic research indicates persons over 65 represent a growing segment of our population. ``Golden Girls'' has proved the universal appeal and commercial viability on television of, let's say, maturity. So it is only natural that both NBC and CBS have come up with prime-time comedy specials about cute and eccentric senescence.

``Side by Side'' and ``Laura Lansing Slept Here'' have several things in common: They are both corny, well-intentioned, protective, condescending, simplistic good fun.

Their major strength is that they allow oldtimers like myself and youngsters brought up on television to see brilliant veterans still in action today and remember once again the peak performing moments of these fine mature artists.

`Side by Side'

It is indeed a privilege to watch comic pussycats Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Danny Thomas, and Morey Amsterdam sharpen their talented claws, even if it is on a predictable couch like ``Side by Side.''

The premise is that three long-time buddies, discarded by society as ``too old,'' band together to start a firm which manufactures stylish clothes for older people.

What follows is a completely predictable chain of events - their start-up trials, delivery tribulations (including TV's first standing-still truck pursuit) and eventual victory over all obstacles (including Korean cheap labor).

The plot has moments of pathos with just a touch of bathos. But there's comedy, too. Each of the veterans gets to do at least one familiar schtick.

If ``Side by Side'' draws tears from viewers, chances are they will be tears of nostalgia for the funny old days that used to be, for the funny traditional performers who are too rapidly disappearing from our lives.

`Laura Lansing Slept Here'

``Laura Lansing Slept Here'' is a custom-tailored vehicle for four-time Oscar and Emmy Award-winner Katharine Hepburn. She plays a flamboyant novelist who tries to prove that she can lead a normal life by moving in with a typical middle-class family. Of course, she changes their lives, just as they change hers. And, like all unbelievable, artificial fables, they all live improved, intertwined lives happily ever after.

Hepburn is, well, Hepburn. Latter-day Hepburn, that is. I yearn for the brisk, sure-footed, hard-headed, firm voiced Hepburn of ``The Philadelphia Story'' and ``The African Queen.'' But what one gets now is a different Hepburn, a brave memory of a former veteran, still bold and assertive but so much more soft and vulnerable. Her performance is at moments painful to watch, and the thought occurs to me that some superb vintages are perhaps best left on the shelf.

But, in the end, I find myself caught up in the unique experience of watching a once-in-a-lifetime performer like Hepburn manage to triumph over her own disability as well as an incredibly simplistic storyline.

``Laura Lansing Slept Here'' represents the victory of mature charm and determined talent over mediocre material.

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