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The latest in television news the week of October 5, 1990

The latest in television news the week of October 5, 1990 — The unpredictable future of ”The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” the production costs of ”The Cosby Show,” and more

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Hard Times for Hardware
The sci-fi thriller Hardware is in trouble with the censors — again. In August the film had to be recut because the Motion Picture Association of America threatened to slap it with an X rating; now TV ads for the movie are causing a stir. Last month ABC and CBS rejected 30-second spots for Hardware that contained a fleeting and blurry image of a couple (actors Dylan McDermott and Stacey Travis) making love. ”Personally, I didn’t find the ad offensive,” says Matthew Margo, vice president of program practices for CBS. ”But we felt it was likely to offend a significant portion of the viewing audience.” Some network insiders have suggested — off the record — that the film’s producers sent the networks deliberately provocative ads to generate free publicity from a censorship controversy. ”That’s not the case,” says Hardware producer JoAnne Sellar. ”All you have to do is look at the ad. It’s not offensive at all. It’s a futuristic sex scene that’s less than a second long.” Sellar had the offending scene removed from the ads, but censors at NBC don’t understand what the fuss is about: ”You’d be hard-pressed to call it a sex scene,” says Rick Gitter, NBC’s vice president of advertising standards. ”We thought it was some sort of alien creature.”

A ratings rap
It was touted as the big hit of the fall season, but so far NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, starring rap star Will Smith, hasn’t quite delivered. The sitcom’s premiere episode on Sept. 10 finished 16th for the week in the ratings — not a bad start. But the Sept. 17 episode came in 40th, slightly behind CBS’ new comedy series Uncle Buck, its Monday-night competitor. Those somewhat disappointing Nielsen numbers have led to TV industry rumors that Fresh Prince executive producers Andy and Susan Borowitz may soon be looking for new jobs. ”If I were them, I’d start praying,” a producer of another series said recently. But the Borowitzes, husband and wife, aren’t typing up their résumés yet. ”We’ve been very pleased with the ratings,” says Andy Borowitz. ”And so has the network. We just got a call from NBC the other day about doing another series [in addition to] Fresh Prince. So they’re not disappointed at all.” Adds Susan Borowitz: ”We really think the show has legs. Just give it some time. Give it a chance.”

From Millie to Fanelli
The first time Ann Guilbert starred in a weekly sitcom, Kennedy was in the White House and the Beatles were still playing Hamburg. But now Guilbert — better known as Millie Helper, Rob and Laura Petrie’s next-door neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show — is giving network television another chance. After more than 20 years working in regional theater, the 61-year-old actress has returned to television on NBC’s The Fanelli Boys, as a mother with four grown- up sons living at home in Brooklyn. ”It’s the only TV role I’ve been offered in a long time that I really liked,” Guilbert says. ”She’s a wonderful ethnic character.” Guilbert is also looking forward to getting Millie out of her image. ”People have been associating me with that role forever — it gets kinda boring after awhile,” she says, sounding very much like, well — sorry — Millie.

The High cost of Cosby
NBC’s The Cosby Show isn’t just the most successful sitcom currently on the air — it’s also the most expensive, according to figures compiled by Variety. The trade magazine’s Sept. 17 issue reported that NBC pays a whopping $900,000 per episode for the show (a figure that includes licensing fees, production- staff salaries, and actors’ pay). That, says Variety, is $325,000 more than each episode cost NBC last year. It’s also $300,000 more than NBC pays for Cheers, $350,000 more than CBS pays for Murphy Brown, and $350,000 more than ABC pays for The Wonder Years. In fact, Cosby costs the network almost as much as most one-hour dramas: ABC’s Twin Peaks, for instance, costs $950,000. Where does all the money go? A source at Variety says a lot of it goes straight to Cosby; this is the first season of his new deal with NBC. Says Cosby spokesman David Brokaw: “We absolutely refuse to discuss the finances of The Cosby Show.”