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The 1991 Fall TV Preview Sunday

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The Adventures of Mark & Brian
Real-life Los Angeles deejays Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps venture out of their radio station to become shaggy-haired Walter Mittys, ordinary guys placing themselves in extraordinary situations — joining the circus to become trapeze artists one week, joining the Temptations to sing and dance ”Just My Imagination” the next. For this to be entertaining, we have to care about the stars of the show, but Mark and Brian leave much to be desired on the sympathy scale- ceaseless lame wisecracks emerge from behind smug smiles.

Behind the scenes
Unless you live in Los Angeles and listen to the radio, here’s the big question: Who are these guys? ”Isn’t that the problem of any new show, finding out who the stars are?” asks Thompson. ”This is no different.” Adds Phelps: ”If you notice, that’s why the promos are not describing the show, but selling us.” That won’t be easy, especially since Mark and Brian are already backing away from NBC’s concept of their series as a half hour of oddball feats. ”We’re not just doing stunts,” says the long-locked Thompson. ”We’re helping a woman give birth. We’re doing a show about basic training.” Wait a minute -basic training? Won’t all that hair have to come off? ”Honestly, truthfully,” he says, ”we hadn’t thought about that.”

Chance of survival
Almost none. If NBC really wants to beat 60 Minutes, it should hire magicians, not deejays.

Eerie, Indiana
Marshall is an intelligent teen recently transplanted from the New York suburb he adored to a small town in Indiana whose superficial placidness drives him nuts — maybe literally. In one of the fall season’s few stabs at true quirkiness, Marshall starts seeing odd things in the town of Eerie. Such as? Elvis Presley in a bathrobe, thanking the delivery boy for his morning paper; twins who’ve remained young teenagers since the ’60s by sleeping every night in big airtight plastic containers called Foreverware. Are these things really happening in Eerie, or is Marshall just imagining them? With the immense help of Gremlins director Joe Dante, who’ll oversee four of the first six episodes, Eerie achieves a surrealness more vivid and funny than a Twin Peaks episode starring Salvador Dalí.

Behind the scenes
Eerie had to be bizarre to attract Dante, who doesn’t usually make himself available for TV. ”It filled the bill I was looking for,” he explains. ”It’s weird.” Perhaps too weird. The show’s paradoxical, creepy/comic style has befuddled NBC, which is rumored to have first slotted Eerie as a late-Friday series before deciding to go for a younger audience on Sundays. What viewers will see is a pilot whose winking references range from Twin Peaks to Sesame Street. One thing it won’t have is a cameo by Robert Picardo (China Beach, The Wonder Years), who appears in most Dante projects. ”He was unavailable,” says the director. ”I originally thought of him as the father. But I will use Bob somewhere. When we were starting out, he was the one guy who let me put so much makeup on him he would often be unrecognizable. You have to like a guy like that.”

Chance of survival
Strange, smart, inventive, Sunday at 7:30? Eerie‘s doomed, unless NBC gets behind the show and moves it as far from Mike, Morley, and Ed as possible.

Man of the People
James Garner returns to television in a half-hour comedy, playing a con man who becomes a small-town city councilman. Garner’s wily rascal tries to use his new position to grant favors and pull off a scam or two, but, good-hearted rogue that he is, frequently ends up doing the right thing and helping out his fellow citizens. It takes an actor of Garner’s enduring charm to pull off this sort of inherently arch, winking role, and it helps both that he plays it perfectly straight and that the show does without the sort of prodding laugh track that can ruin character-based comedy like this.

Behind the scenes
When Garner went before reporters this summer to talk about Man of the People, he was fingering a strand of Greek worry beads — an apt image for a series that is already said to be in big trouble. Almost nothing has gone right since NBC lured Garner back to weekly television with the prospect of his first half-hour series. First, his costar, Sunset‘s Kathleen Quinlan, quit after clashing with network executives about her performance. Then, when Garner was unable to convince Judith Ivey (Down Home) to replace her, People’s producers hired Corinne Bohrer (star of the short-lived ABC sitcom Free Spirit) and reshot part of the pilot. Within weeks, NBC was reportedly interfering again. In the past, series with rockier starts than this one have shot to success — but a lot more of them have crashed and burned.

Chance of survival
Garner’s appeal to TV audiences should never be underestimated, but early signs don’t look good for this series.

Pacific Station
Yet one more odd-couple variation, this one set in what looks like Barney Miller‘s old police station. But a lively cast and a pilot directed by James Burrows (Cheers) redeem the trite concept somewhat. The couple is Robert Guillaume (Benson) as a stolid, gruff cop and Richard Libertini (The Fanelli Boys) playing a cop who is, as he puts it early on, ”an open, vulnerable, and sensitive person.” Their bickering is predictable, but their chemistry and timing aren’t — these are two dependable TV actors in top form. They’re helped out by Ron Leibman (Norma Rae), who uses his toothy grin to play an unctuous weasel you gotta — well, put up with, if not love.

Behind the scenes
Some actors contrive self-aggrandizing excuses for taking roles in series. Not Guillaume, who jumped into this hastily conceived sitcom — a surprising, last-minute pick for NBC — when a deal with Disney collapsed. ”I took this because I needed work and they offered me money,” he says. To find Libertini, the producers didn’t have to look far; he played the priest in their last series, The Fanelli Boys. Oddly enough, he had already appeared in a series with Guillaume: Both actors starred in the first season of Soap.

Chance of survival
If viewers take to the mismatched pair, the sitcom could flourish — but not on Sunday, a night on which NBC has been almost nonexistent recently.

Roc
Acclaimed theater actor Charles S. Dutton (The Piano Lesson) portrays Roc, a stouthearted garbageman trying to find a better life for his long-suffering-but-sassy wife (Ella Joyce), his Malcolm X-worshipping father (Carl Gordon), and his layabout jazz-musician brother (Rocky Carroll). There are elements here for an interesting comedy about the conflicting ideals and desires of working-class African-Americans, but the show’s debut raised these themes only to obscure them in slapstick and weak one-liners. Let’s hope Roc improves quickly.

Behind the scenes
A big, blustery blue-collar worker who doesn’t have a clue about life’s little foibles — who says The Honeymooners is over? Any comparisons of Ralph and Roc are greatly appreciated — up to a point. ”That was the original idea,” says Dutton, ”to do a black Honeymooners. People tell me I remind them of Gleason, and I’m a big fan. I liked the idea — it worked, I think. But it was my suggestion that we downplay the comparisons, and that we don’t promote it that way. Why? Because expectations might be too high. I still think we kept the Gleasonesque qualities, though.” The show’s producers also got some ready-made chemistry: Dutton had starred with both Carl Gordon and Rocky Carroll in Broadway’s The Piano Lesson.

Chance of survival
Good. It’s well placed after Fox’s In Living Color, and one of the most traditional sitcoms in a tradition-embracing season.

Herman’s Head
The season’s worst idea is this claustrophobic non-comedy about the conflicting emotions inside the brain of a bland office worker named Herman (William Ragsdale). Four actors embody lust, compassion, reason, and anxiety; they run around in his head and yell conflicting encouragements. It’s as if all the little jabbering people in the Fruit of the Loom commercials had climbed out of your underwear and into your brain. Don’t let them in.

Behind the scenes
More title-change troubles — Inside Herman’s Head, Herman, and It’s All in Your Head were some of the names that Witt/Thomas/Harris, the sitcom’s prolific producers (The Golden Girls, Empty Nest) tossed out. Behind the maneuvering is a more serious problem: Just what does the inside of Herman’s head look like? Fox has reedited the first episode to make the interior conversations stand out more clearly. And they’re confident that at least one of the characters — Ken Hudson Campbell’s ”Animal” — could be a breakout star. (So, for that matter, is Campbell, who has been overheard commenting that he has all the funny lines.)

Chance of survival
Unlikely — there’s not a lot of brainpower here for a show about the working of someone’s mind. By year’s end, they may have to change the title to Flatliners.

Changes in Old Shows
The rap music, shock humor, and over-the-top antics of Blaine, Antoine, and Homey on Fox’s In Living Color will continue to raise the roof, but first, the show’s creators are going to raze the roof. Color‘s familiar skyline set will give way to a new twisted-steel-and-broken-glass backdrop. Producer Keenen Ivory Wayans will also introduce three featured players — Jamie Foxx, Steve Park, and Shawn Wayans (formerly known as SW-1, the show’s deejay); Heavy D. has written a new opening theme; and the Fly Girls will do more of their flying outside the studio at various L.A. locations.

Changes in CBS’ Murder, She Wrote should please viewers who didn’t see enough of Angela Lansbury last season. This year, Jessica Fletcher will move to New York, where murder is a more available commodity, and Lansbury will play a central role in all 22 episodes.

On Married…With Children, pregnancy plot lines for Peg Bundy (Katey Sagal, who really is pregnant) and Marcy D’Arcy (Amanda Bearse, who isn’t) should open up a whole new encyclopedia of tastelessness. And ABC will try to revive Life Goes On with the introduction of an HIV-positive teenager (Chad Lowe). Lest anybody think there’s real innovation here, press releases were quick to explain that he is heterosexual.

David Alan Grier
In Living Color

At the Yale School of Drama, David Alan Grier performed Shakespeare, Moliere, and Rostand. Now, as a star of Fox’s In Living Color, he’s known for his portrayals of a one-note blues singer, a 35-year-old orphan and, of course, Antoine Merriweather, one of the flamboyant ”Men on Film.” ”This show is incredibly exciting,” Grier says. ”With my training I didn’t exactly see myself here. But I’ve learned to be flexible.”

When you’re an actor on In Living Color, that’s definitely a wise policy. The final ”Men on Film” sketch last season ended with a cliff-hanger, when Blaine (Damon Wayans) turned homophobic and Grier’s character fainted dead away. No matter how it’s resolved, Grier doesn’t think viewers should take offense. ”We’re just poking fun at people’s perceptions. We’re not saying they’re deviant and don’t belong in society. We all need to lighten up.”

Before Living Color, Grier played Jackie Robinson in Broadway’s The First (he was a Tony nominee in 1981) and auditioned ”for every TV role in town, including third Negro Martian on the left.” But he turned down In Living Color several times. ”I loved the idea but never thought Keenen (Ivory Wayans, the creator and star) would actually get the show on the air.”

He did, and Grier got to do his cavalcade of characters. ”All of those people are inside of me,” he says with a laugh, ”which is sort of scary.” Offscreen, Grier, 31, spends time with wife Maritsa, a stage actress; he’s also preparing for his first cable special — ”not ‘my dog Bob jokes’ but maybe a short film, like Steven Wright.” Even Shakespeare might give him two snaps up for that.
Written by: Alan Carter

Christina Applegate
Married…With Children

Kelly Bundy is a tough, trampy teenage airhead, a baby-faced nubile danger zone with bright red lips, bright yellow hair, and bright black mascara. She’s a self-styled slut-in-training and an academic disaster. Kelly’s got a head made for chewing gum and a bod made for Lycra. On Fox’s Married…With Children she’s got a gross dad, a crude mom, a dork brother.

In millions of smitten viewers, she’s also got an ardent fan club.

Christina Applegate, on the other hand, is a pale, poised, eerily articulate baby-faced 19-year-old actress who chooses to dress, on a sticky- hot L.A. late-summer afternoon, in black jeans, black leotard, and big black clump-kicker boots. She has tied a dark green sweater around her waist and her hair is pinned up, lank and uncombed. She wears big silver earrings, no makeup. She has Anne Rice’s bloodsucker novel Interview With the Vampire on her dressing-room coffee table.

”I’ve got roots to here right now because I’ve been lazy,” she says, pointing three inches down from the top of her luke-blond head. It’s the cast’s first week back on the Married… set following what all of Los Angeles intimately calls The Hiatus between production seasons. Applegate spent the last three weeks of her summer vacation tootling around Europe. ”They (the producers) don’t know I’ve cut five inches off. I’m trying to hide it.” She announces she’d like to chop off all her hair. She says she wants to dye it. ”I’d like a change. I’m a kid!” she says adultly. ”I’ve been blond for 19 years and I’m so sick of it.”

That’s Christina Applegate talking, being provocative, reminding everyone who is in doubt that she is not Kelly Bundy. Kelly Bundy is on the cover of this magazine’s Fall TV Preview issue because Kelly is television: She exists only as a character on a sitcom, yet she exists so vividly (those lips! that sewer mouth!) that grown men leer at her, teenage boys drool at her, girls and women giggle at her, and everyone is on to her nasty charm. She’s safe sex. She’s too much. She’s just right for these times, this tube.

But Applegate is someone else. If Kelly exemplifies TV today, Christina is a product of the business that begat the Bundys. She’s a child of Hollywood who began her professional career at the age of 3 months, earned enough money to buy a house by the time she was 7, and dropped out of high school at 16 to work full-time in TV (credits include Charles in Charge, Silver Spoons, and a starring role in ABC’s Heart of the City). She’s a working-stiff actress who says she spends 60 to 70 percent of her life keeping her body in shape for the job. (”I think it’s sick that we have to do that, because acting is from the soul, not from the body, but this business is…all about appearance.”) She’s a thoughtful, likable young woman who lives with her boyfriend in a new house, just down the street from her mother, actress Nancy Priddy. She regrets having dropped out of high school. She wishes she could take lit courses, study photography, learn how to play musical instruments. She has a wardrobe and makeup call in five minutes.

Applegate says she wishes she could reform Kelly. ”I think over the last couple of years Kelly’s gotten dumber and dumber and dumber, and she’s on her way to being a complete vegetable,” she warns. ”I’d love to see her turn her whole life around, do something progressive.”

But Applegate also knows what’s what in the industry she is committed to. Her first big feature movie, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, came and went this summer to mediocre reviews. She has no plans to quit her day job.

”People say to me, ‘Why do you always play teenagers?”’ she complains. ”I say, ‘What do you want me to play, a judge?’ I look 12.”

Not with her Bundy look, she doesn’t. Which is why Christina Applegate won’t be cutting her hair off soon. Not now. Not while the Bundys are in town.
Written by: Lisa Schwarzbaum

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