Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

The 1991 Fall TV Preview Friday

The 1991 Fall TV Preview Friday — All of the information you need on this seasons new and returning shows

Posted on

Princesses
It’s The Odd Couple meets Designing Women: A trio of very different characters — a lovable Midwestern goof (Julie Hagerty), a clever Englishwoman who truly is a princess (Twiggy Lawson), and a savvy Brooklyn nag (Fran Drescher) — share a roomy New York apartment. They laugh, they cry, they stick up for each other in big old mean Manhattan. Sounds like a snoozer, but it’s not: By the end of the first episode, these actresses have each established a distinctive comic style and bounce jokes back and forth with practiced ease. Could be the sleeper of the season.

Behind the scenes
Although even programmers at competing networks told Entertainment Weekly they liked Princesses, executive producer Barry Kemp says CBS didn’t jump at the show. ”I don’t know if it’s ever easy,” he says. ”Were they enthusiastic? Yes. But there were discussions. These days everyone is very cautious in the decision-making process.” That caution has persisted; CBS is treading lightly over whether Drescher’s character is a generic ”princess” or a Jewish-American one. Drescher shrugs it off. ”I’m sure all the people who are asking if this show is going to be offensive are actually finding it funny,” she says. ”I’m going to play her as sexy and fun-loving — she’ll be a stereotype of a wonderful woman.”

Chance of survival
Against ABC’s formidable Family Matters, only fair. Last year, Evening Shade nearly died when CBS launched it in this time slot.

Brooklyn Bridge
Here’s something unusual for this season: A nostalgic situation comedy, Bridge is a gentle yet sharp-witted chronicle of a multigenerational Jewish family in 1950s Brooklyn. The show centers on 14- year-old Alan (Danny Gerard) and his views on his working-class clan; you can expect lots of references to Ebbets Field, penny candy, and mah-jongg. At his best, the show’s creator, Family Ties‘ Gary David Goldberg, may be able to summon up the detail and laughs of a solid Neil Simon play (in fact, young Gerard starred in Simon’s Lost in Yonkers). But when Goldberg’s show is weak, we’ll probably be hoping that CBS preempts it for ancient episodes of another old-New York show, The (no relation to Gary) Goldbergs.

Behind the scenes
CBS is touting Brooklyn Bridge as the quality offering of its fall season, and in fact, Entertainment chief Jeff Sagansky bought the series on the basis of a single script. ”I feel about this show the way I did about Evening Shade,” he says. ”We didn’t see anything — we just had Burt Reynolds and said yes. It’s special.” Since then, Marion Ross (Happy Days) and a host of New York stage actors, including Gerard, Peter Friedman, and Louis Zorich, have been hired, but the real star of Brooklyn Bridge is its creator. This summer, CBS took the unprecedented step of running commercials in which Goldberg walked across an abstract backdrop talking about the series, and set designers have worked hard to re-create Goldberg’s grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment. Still, Sagansky is cautious. ”It’s probably the one show I’m most concerned about,” he admits. ”I don’t know what we’ll do if the audience doesn’t find it. We’re not going to break up Monday nights. We’d have to find something else to play with.”

Chance of survival
It’s a bad sign when the head of programming worries about the time slot before the first show airs, but if Bridge lives up to expectations, CBS will be patient.

Step by Step
America in 1991 could probably be divided into two distinct camps: one that thinks the prospect of a sitcom starring Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers parenting a Brady Bunch of kids sounds like fun, and one that thinks Step by Step is probably a persuasive argument for nuclear meltdown. No matter which side you’re on, you must acknowledge that Step has a number of things going for it: Duffy and Somers are energetic and not unbelievable as newlyweds, each bringing three children into the marriage; most of the tykes are cute without being cutesy; and the production, courtesy of hit masters Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett (Full House, Family Matters), moves the proceedings along with admirable, if not ruthless, efficiency.

Behind the scenes
After a dozen years and about as many funny lines in the role of Bobby Ewing, Duffy’s comedy potential was largely unknown when he was cast in Step by Step. ”I thought, he’s a Dallas person and he’s probably not very funny,” admits Somers. ”But then I got the sense that (underneath) those deep, meaningful looks on Dallas all those years lurked a very funny guy. Patrick is a natural. There are tricks you learn when you’re doing a sitcom, and he’d watch, and I’d see in the next scene he’d be doing it.” Says Duffy, ”Every time I did something right I was encouraged. I think I’ll get even better.”

Chance of survival
Unless something goes very wrong, most industry watchers predict that Step by Step will be the season’s one sure hit.

The Carol Burnett Show
Last season, Burnett did a half-hour sketch show for NBC, which, while never approaching the heights of her beloved old CBS variety hours, was undeniably well-crafted and enthusiastically performed; Burnett proved, in short, that she’s not resting on her legend. This makes her return to CBS all the more promising, and Burnett has said she’s considering doing the sort of slapsticky movie spoofs that were the high points of her old hour.

Behind the scenes
If anyone can revive the moribund variety-show format, Burnett can. This is a remarriage that both she and CBS badly want to succeed. So the network has given her the Friday time slot long occupied by Dallas, and plenty of time to come up with a winning formula: That’s why, rather than preempting Burnett several times for postseason baseball, CBS isn’t launching the show until November. That first episode (obviously, Burnett wasn’t required to make a pilot) will be highly anticipated: Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg, Elliott Gould, and Sandra Bernhard have reportedly been lined up as guests. And CBS is counting on the star’s popularity to draw guests of that caliber in the future. ”Carol,” says producer Matt Williams, who worked with Burnett on Carol & Company, ”is the quintessential pro.”

Chance of survival
Too close to call — a can’t-lose star in a can’t-win TV genre.

The Ultimate Challenge
Here is a reality series that offers glimpses of daredevil stunts from all around the world. Heather Thomas (The Fall Guy) and Mike Adamle (American Gladiators) are the hosts, and Adamle will also participate in a weekly ”First Person Adventure” segment in which he’ll do things like ride rodeo bulls and join the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Why do we get the feeling the ultimate ultimate challenge will be staying awake through this show?

Behind the scenes
Thomas isn’t worried that Challenge’s stunts will inspire any young imitators. ”No — if a kid can get hold of a car, a helicopter, and three tons of explosives, more power to them,” she says. Nor is she worried about the almost-certain savaging the series will get from reviewers. ”They can beat the s— out of us, I don’t care,” she says, laughing. ”A critic never got me a job.” Good thing she has a thick skin — Fox may view Challenge as stopgap programming, a time filler that only has to last until January, when Fox will abandon Friday nights entirely and program Wednesdays instead.

Chance of survival
Fox executives are slow to pull shows off the air, so this should stick around until the end of the year, but not beyond that.

Flesh ‘N Blood
David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) portrays a Southern con man who proves to be the long-lost brother of a Baltimore lawyer (Lisa Darr). He moves into her apartment with his two children and proceeds to sponge off the nonplussed lawyer. Not a very charming premise, eh? But Keith single-handedly makes Flesh ‘N Blood worth watching. While the writers seem to think that the mere mention of pork rinds is hilarious, and the jokes are frequently on the unfunny level of isn’t-poor-white-trash-funny?, Keith invests his Arlo Weed with such glowing good spirits and furrowed-brow nuttiness that you can’t look at anyone else when he’s on-screen.
Behind the scenes
Since he first came to prominence in An Officer and a Gentleman, Keith has been more familiar to moviegoers than to television viewers; nonetheless, he’s hoping to stick around for a while. ”I love doing TV so much that you’re not going to read about me wanting to leave in two years to do movies,” he says. ”Hell, I’m making enough to live on. I’ve never enjoyed myself more.” And Keith isn’t worried that his portrayal of an occasionally dim-witted son of the South will rankle viewers. ”It’s like Gomer Pyle,” he says. ”That offended some people. But Gomer wasn’t retarded. He had this great big heart, and he was funny. Andy Griffith was my all-time favorite show. They made Southerners look like real people, and I can’t tell you how important it was to me. This character is not an intellectual, but he’s a good guy, and loyal and has a sense of family and fair play.” He also has great genes: Flesh ‘N Blood comes — as NBC is tirelessly reminding viewers — from the creators of Cheers.

Chance of survival
Blood will need a stronger lead-in than NBC’s wan Dear John; how audiences react to Keith’s over-the-top character will determine the show’s fate.

Reasonable Doubts
This drama pulls off the tricky notion of casting Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) as a hearing-impaired assistant district attorney without making her deafness seem like a TV-show gimmick or a plea for sympathy. What it doesn’t pull off is the idea that Mark Harmon (St. Elsewhere) can be a believable hard-boiled police detective-his flat line readings squelch the sarcasm in his wisecracks, and every time he squints to fix a criminal with a tough-guy stare, we assume he’s popped a contact lens. They’re paired to crack tough cases; at first they hate each other, but by the end of the pilot they respect each other. Don’t all prime-time stars?

Behind the scenes
Harmon and Matlin first met each other several years ago, during a Life magazine photo session commemorating Paramount’s 75th anniversary. ”I walked in and said, ‘Oooh, there’s Mark Harmon,”’ says Matlin. ”Oh my God, he is so handsome. No one knew me. And I’m thinking, he’s single — at the time — sexy, handsome, and we hit it off. I’m very lucky to work with someone I like.” In fact, NBC is expecting the chemistry between Matlin and Harmon to play a major role in Reasonable Doubts. ”It’s a cop and a lawyer, which sounds limited, but we think this one is different,” says NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield. ”It’s driven by the characters’ relationship, not situations.” So will Harmon and Matlin become lovers? ”No, no,” says series creator Robert Singer (Midnight Caller). ”They can trust each other, and that’s the basis of the relationship. It’s not a sexual love thing.” Yet.

Chance of survival
Curiosity should insure a big audience initially, but since Miami Vice was canceled, NBC’s track record with Friday-night crime dramas has been dismal. Up against ABC’s 20/20, Reasonable Doubts will have to place at least a strong second.

Palace Guard
Here’s counterprogramming for you: Palace Guard has essentially the same setup as Reasonable Doubts. In this one, D.W. Moffett (Black Widow) and Marcy Walker (Santa Barbara) are teamed to provide security for an international chain of luxury hotels. He’s a former thief, she’s a former B-movie queen; at first they hate each other, but…you know. Moffett relies far too frequently on a smirk that won’t quit, but Walker does a good job of transforming her afternoon-soap vulnerability into prime-time assertiveness without seeming merely prim. And don’t worry, Santa Barbara fans — Walker’s trademark thick blond hair is intact, and it still falls sultrily across her left eye with remarkable precision every time she turns her head.

Behind the scenes
On daytime TV, she starred for years as the put-upon Eden Capwell in NBC’s Santa Barbara. By the time she left the show, Emmy-winner Walker had been hospitalized and kidnapped more times then she could remember. ”I can’t believe that girl could get insurance after a while,” she quips. ”By the end I had four personalities, and I left town (disguised) as my dead homosexual brother Channing, shot my mother in the head, and was driven off by my Slavic limo driver” — played by her new boss, producer Stephen J. Cannell, in a cameo. So the slightly convoluted premise of Palace Guard was hardly going to make her laugh. ”You tell me to swim with sharks at this point and I’ll do it,” she says.

Chance of survival
CBS is convinced that Palace Guard is the kind of TV Lite that viewers want on Fridays but if it can’t beat Reasonable Doubts, it’s probably a goner.

Changes in Old Shows
It’s common for babies to grow so quickly that you can’t recognize them from year to year, but the same fate doesn’t usually befall their parents. Nevertheless, when ABC’s Baby Talk returns, single mother Maggie Campbell will look a lot less like Julia Duffy (who fled the show’s infantile humor for CBS’ more sophisticated Designing Women) and a lot more like Duet‘s Mary Page Keller. Keller’s costars will also be new arrivals to the critically lambasted series: Scott Baio will play Maggie’s boyfriend, and Polly Bergen will play her mother.

The coming season of ABC’s Perfect Strangers will feature the marriage of Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) and Jennifer (Melanie Wilson), while NBC’s Dear John will reveal details of a divorce, as viewers learn that Kirk’s wife left him for a woman.

Jomarie Payton
Family Matters

One of her costars is Jaleel White, who, as Steve Urkel, is TV’s reigning nerd. Another is Reginald VelJohnson, TV’s reigning bombastic dad. That’s pretty fast comedy company, and it’s a tribute to Family Matters‘ JoMarie Payton that she not only keeps up with these guys but can one-up them as well. Payton, 41, plays Harriette Winslow, the sane mom in a house that’s anything but. She’s skilled at delivering a meaningful stare and has a way with a wisecrack, often at the expense of husband Carl: ”Remember the time you put in that bathroom for your mother? You ran the gas line into the toilet. The first time she flushed, it blew her into the basement!”

Harriette — and Payton — first came to TV prominence as the tart-tongued elevator operator on ABC’s Perfect Strangers. Before landing the part, Payton had been working in a travel agency and thinking of quitting acting. ”I wanted a house and a nice car. I told my mom, ‘I’ll give it one more year.”’ She got the house. The car. And a hit series that’s fun to work on. ”The secret to our happiness,” she says, ”is that we all know our competition is not with each other. Our competition is on NBC and CBS.”

Like Harriette, Payton can deliver a sharp line. (About recently changing her professional name from Payton-France to just Payton, she says, ”I dropped the man and the name!”) And, also like Harriette, Payton is a mom. But her 7-year-old daughter, Chantale, is quick to remind her that she really isn’t Harriette at home: ”She always says I’m much nicer to the kids on TV. And she’s right. If I lived with those kids, I would be telling them off!”
Written by: Alan Carter

Comments