Apparently the idea behind this sitcom was to look at life through the eyes of a smart, sensitive 14-year-old girl named Dorothy Jane (Olivia Burnette) as she gazes in amused horror at her crazy, eccentric, working-class family. But Dorothy Jane’s family — four younger children plus a ditzy but earnest mom (Connie Ray) — isn’t very crazy at all; the mother’s efforts to give her kids a better life are in fact amusing and touching. As a result, Dorothy Jane comes off as rather churlish and humorless — the show’s writers have their work cut out for them with this character. Oh, yes: Baby boomers will note the comforting presence of William Schallert — Patty Duke’s sitcom dad long ago — playing a kindly boarder in Dorothy Jane’s house.
Behind the scenes
Somewhere out there is a roughly 35-year-old man named Steven Floyd Torkelson who made quite an impression 29 years ago when he shared his bug collection (and a first kiss) with Lynn Montgomery, who created this sitcom. Although he inadvertently gave the show its name, he’s not responsible for the stories, which come from Montgomery’s childhood in an eccentric Southern family. (Her maternal grandmother — who lost on TV’s Queen for a Day — was particularly inspiring.) But translating those memories hasn’t been easy; after the pilot, two Torkelson kids were recast. ”It’s the most difficult call you have to make,” says executive producer Michael Jacobs, who will oversee both The Torkelsons and another odd TV family — the Sinclairs of ABC’s Dinosaurs.
Chance of survival
Its time slot, following NBC’s Golden Girls, gives The Torkelsons a shot at success — especially since its sentimental humor may appeal strongly to older viewers.
Produced by the creators of The Golden Girls and Empty Nest, Nurses follows the careers of five funny-but-wise, cynical-but-compassionate health-care providers. The humor runs toward flip wisecracks and dubious taste; one nurse, nervous about a date that evening, asks a colleague, ”Do you think I could lose 10 pounds in five hours if I took all the laxatives in the pharmacy?” If you were a patient, would you want her administering your dosage? The show has two clear assets among the nurses: Stephanie Hodge, who was tough and clever in the little-seen My Talk Show last season, and Jeff Altman (Pink Lady and Jeff), who might finally turn his wacko attitude and rubbery face into the stuff of TV stardom.
Behind the scenes
Nurses, says series creator Susan Harris, are ”the unsung heroes of medicine. God help you if you’re in the hands of a doctor — you’re lucky if he spends 10 minutes with you and knows your name, while nurses are saving lives.” Okay, so now that we know Nurses won’t win any medals from the American Medical Association, what will the jokes be like? Harris is promising a less zany sitcom than NBC may expect from the pilot. ”We’ll do shows,” she says, ”that will make you cry.” Harris also warns viewers not to look for too many visits from the Miami residents of The Golden Girls and Empty Nest. ”It’s not really necessary because we have such a strong cast,” she says. ”You do that when you’re in trouble, mainly.”
Chance of survival
Pretty good. The show’s producers, who provide half of NBC’s Saturday-night lineup, have considerable clout with the network.
Here’s one that could go either way. Michael Chiklis stars as big-city police chief Tony Scali, ”an accessible, warm, regular kind of guy,” according to ABC. He’s a dream bureaucrat: hands-on, bursting with common sense, willing to bend the rules, devoted to the opera. This commish could, in short, have been an insufferable pain, but Chiklis — who never got much of a chance to radiate charm when he played John Belushi in Wired — quickly establishes that he really is a beguiling fellow. Having cast the right actor, The Commish will rise or fall on the rigor and originality of its cop-show writing, no small task.
Behind the scenes
Executive producer Stephen J. Cannell (Wiseguy, The A-Team) based The Commish in part on Tony Schembri, a real-life commissioner of police in Rye, N.Y., who has served as a consultant on other Cannell series. But finding an actor to embody Schembri on-screen wasn’t easy. Cannell first took the series to CBS, but couldn’t cast the title role to the network’s satisfaction. One of those who rejected the part, Paul Sorvino, didn’t want to relocate to Vancouver for the series, and instead took a role on NBC’s New York-based Law & Order. But Sorvino offers Chiklis a vote of confidence. ”The kid is better than I ever would have been,” he says. ”He has Tony down perfectly.”
Chance of survival
Not bad. The competition (Sisters and P.S.I. Luv U) holds little appeal for male viewers, who made a less likable cop, Hunter, a success in this time period for years.
P.S.I. Luv U
In the grand tradition of Reasonable Doubts and Palace Guard, here’s another hour-long show in which two attractive people are thrown together to catch crooks and progress from hate to love in the time it takes to broadcast a pilot. Greg Evigan and Connie Sellecca star as a former cop and former crook teamed by a Palm Springs security company. Evigan strolls through the show with an easy smile resting contentedly above his chiseled chin — nothing else is required of him. And it’s easy to see why Sellecca backed out of Baby Talk to appear in P.S.I.: She’s showcased like a superstar, and the two-hour premiere frequently seems like a 120-minute demonstration intended to prove that she has good legs. The demonstration is awfully convincing but tedious after the first half-hour or so.
Behind the scenes
Sellecca’s last job on a series lasted one episode; after filming the pilot of ABC’s Baby Talk, she quit. Nonetheless, P.S.I.‘s veteran producer Glen Larson (Magnum, P.I.) had no trepidation about hiring her. ”You’re lucky if you find someone who believes in a project and is willing to speak up, and who has good instincts,” he says. ”Hers are pretty good, but, yes,” he adds, smiling, ”I think we’ll have our hands full at times.” CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky was similarly diplomatic on another subject: Who will watch a series whose heroes are so dumb that to hide from organized criminals, they take jobs as investigators? ”I just see this as the kind of show,” he replied, ”that people who stay home on Saturday night will like.”
Chance of survival
It’ll be a cold day in Palm Springs before this becomes a hit.
Changes in Old Shows
It’s no accident that this season three Saturday-night series — The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Nurses — will be set in Miami. For the networks, Saturday has become the Florida of the TV schedule — a place where old shows can quietly retire after years of dutiful service. So it is with ABC’s Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains, which move to Saturday (though not yet to Florida) as they enter what almost certainly will be their final seasons. Viewers can expect both sitcoms to wind up at the altar by season’s end; Boss‘ Tony and Angela will end eight years of foreplay, and a wedding for Mike Seaver (Kirk Cameron) is rumored as well. Pains will also introduce a new character, a homeless teenager played by Leonardo DiCaprio (TV’s Parenthood).
The seventh season for NBC’s The Golden Girls may also be its last; actresses Beatrice Arthur and Estelle Getty have already announced their intentions to leave next spring. On NBC’s Sisters, the Reed family will continue to deal with Evan’s leukemia and Teddy’s alcoholism. And ABC’s The Young Riders, beginning its third season, will try to energize its saddle- weary ratings with the introduction of one character, young Jesse James (Christopher Pettiet), the sudden death of another, and a jump in time that moves the pouty posse closer to the Civil War.
Saturday Night Live
On Saturday Night Live, one great characterization can shoot an actor into public consciousness: Witness Dana Carvey’s Church Lady or Mike Myers’ Wayne. But when a performance goes one step further — when you can’t even recognize the man behind the mask — chances are that Phil Hartman is at work. ”I benefit from the Mr. Potato Head syndrome,” says the 42-year-old writer-performer, whose remarkable, subdued versatility has anchored SNL‘s cast since he joined up in 1986. ”Put a wig and a nose and glasses on me, and I disappear.” Indeed, all that remains visible is Hartman’s brutally observant talent: He plays Ed McMahon as an obsequious automaton (”You are CORRECT, sir!”); Phil Donahue as an addled blowhard who wanders out of the studio during a stream-of-consciousness tirade; and Frank Sinatra, bullying Billy Idol with last season’s most memorable line: ”You wanna take me on, blondie? I got chunks of guys like you in my stool!”
Hartman admits that he’s ”felt most comfortable burying myself,” but recognition is beginning to overtake him. This year, Jay Leno courted him to become The Tonight Show‘s new sidekick. But playing McMahon is one thing; being him is another. Instead, Hartman will make occasional appearances in character, mining a repertoire that includes Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Saddam Hussein. He also won a deal to create his own NBC series after his SNL contract ends in 1994. But don’t hold your breath. ”I’m not sure I can ever leave,” says Hartman. ”Years ago, I thought I’d use the show as a stepping-stone. But I know a good gig when I see it.” And fortunately, Saturday Night Live knows a star when it’s got one.
Written by: Mark Harris
Hanging out in a costar’s trailer (”Mine is such a mess”), Sela Ward keeps her cool while those about her suffer through a typically sizzling August day in L.A. ”I’m from Mississippi,” she says sweetly, ”so a little heat isn’t going to bother me.”
Good thing. Ward’s portrayal of the sultry Teddy on NBC’s Sisters just may be Saturday night’s hottest ticket. Teddy’s the one who once boasted of 25 orgasms in one night. The one who worked as a phone-sex operator. The one who, fighting over romantic rights to an ex-husband, spray-painted the word slut on her sister’s Porsche.
Though Ward, 34, has brought passion to a character whose high-octane blend of sexual and personal aggression could have been offensive in lesser hands, the producers had trouble seeing her as Teddy. First approached to play younger sister Frankie (Julianne Phillips now has the role), she declined the chance to read. ”Frankie was everything I had done before: the driven businesswoman in movies like Nothing in Common. Teddy was the part that jumped out at me. The chance to play someone who could get drunk and shoot up a wedding was something I knew I had to do. It was hard at first — I worried about making a complete fool of myself.”
Ward admits she felt foolish when she starred on the short-lived prime-time soap Emerald Point, N.A.S. in 1983-84. ”It was my first big break,” the former model recalls, ”and I was so green. I didn’t know where to stand or anything. I didn’t have a clue. As an actress, I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. You could say I’ve come a long way.”
Written by: Alan Carter