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The 1991 Fall TV Preview: Wednesday

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

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The Royal Family
Redd Foxx stars as Al Royal, an Atlanta mailman who grouses and wisecracks his way through life with his lovable but argumentative wife, played by Della Reese. The happy squabblers’ life is disrupted when their daughter and three grandchildren move in with them. The Royal Family is standard-issue generation-gap comedy, and the writing is on the level of ”I like a full-figured woman — that way, if we lose the house, we can live in your bloomers.” But the real chuckles here emanate from Foxx, 68, whose growly delivery and deadpan double takes are still in excellent form.

Behind the scenes
This season, The Royal Family will introduce a new epithet to the TV dictionary: When Foxx’s Al gets fed up, he barks, ”Oh, motherfather!” Is it too close for comfort? ”Who else would you call on when you’re in trouble?” Foxx said this summer. ”Mother. Father.” In fact, that kind of family appeal is exactly why CBS is betting heavily on The Royal Family; the show’s pilot reportedly tested better with viewers both young and old than any CBS sitcom in years. As for the almost-bad language, Foxx claims that ”every comedian on earth is dirtier than me now.” And one of them, Eddie Murphy, is this show’s co-executive producer.

Chance of survival
Redd Foxx vs. Dinosaurs is this year’s most intriguing comedy duel, and many bet on The Royal Family to win. If ratings are low, look for CBS to move it to another night.

Teech
Currently, television’s favorite way of showing African-Americans in upper-middle-class settings is to make them social interlopers — funny fish-out-of-water, whether it’s on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or the new Teech. Phill Lewis plays a music teacher who takes a job at an all-white boarding school for boys. The headmaster (Steven Gilborn) hires him with great reluctance — his racism is undisguised — but ”Teech” Gibson soon wins over both his bosses and his rambunctious class. Lewis is a charming actor who can do an excellent impersonation of Duke Ellington — the only one we’ve ever seen, in fact — and Maggie Han is both funny and demurely sexy as the headmaster’s assistant. Once it gets its race relations hammered out, Teech could develop into a solid ensemble comedy piece.

Behind the scenes
The pilot of Teech is filled — perhaps cluttered — with jokes about race, several of which have to do with Teech being mistaken for a blue-collar worker by his colleagues. That came as a surprise to one prominent newspaper TV critic who watched the pilot this summer, then indignantly insisted to Lewis at a press conference that ”we simply don’t look at black people and stereotype them” in America. ”No matter how nice my car is,” responded Lewis, ”the lady in the car next to me will always lock her doors. You tell me what that’s about.” That kind of tension may inform the series. ”There is so much ignorance that it doesn’t shock me anymore,” Lewis later told Entertainment Weekly about his exchange with the reviewer. ”It just hurts me.”

Chance of survival
Slim. If it’s perceived to be dragging down CBS’ more promising Royal Family, Teech probably won’t be given tenure.

Sibs
Don’t let the season’s worst title (what, did they think their original choice, Grown-Ups, would be too intimidating for grown-ups?) prevent you from investigating what may well be an intriguing show. James L. Brooks, whose producer-director credits include Taxi and Terms of Endearment, has created this sitcom about three sisters — not to be confused with the two sisters in Good & Evil, the four sisters in Sisters, or the three sister-substitutes in Princesses. Sibs‘ sibs are played by Marsha Mason, Jami Gertz, and Margaret Colin; the show will explore their constantly changing relationships with each other. Alex Rocco, who used to be Al Floss, the only funny person on The Famous Teddy Z, costars as Mason’s husband. In a stretch, Rocco, who specializes in obnoxious characters, will be a nurturing soul here.

Behind the scenes
Here’s a working definition of TV clout: When Brooks, whose hitting streak runs from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Simpsons, proposed Sibs to ABC, he didn’t even bother to make a pilot — he simply filmed the cast sitting around the table and reading the script. The network said yes instantly. ”Pilots are not always the way to go,” says ABC’s Iger. ”For the most part, they’re expensively grand manipulations. But I could have green-lighted this one without the table reading.”

Chance of survival
Brooks’ track record is unbeatable, but Sibs is still an unknown quantity, and will probably need critical support to buy it some time to grow.

Good & Evil
Soap creator Susan Harris offers a new sitcom soap parody, the story of two sisters, a sweet-tempered, saintly one (Margaret Whitton) and a scheming, devilish one (David Letterman’s favorite ex-dancer, Teri Garr). They compete for the affection of their mother, the self-obsessed head of a major cosmetics firm (Marian Seldes is grandly malicious in this role). For viewers with a taste for camp, Good & Evil could prove to be the hoot of the season: The leads overact with great spirit and occasional wit, and for that requisite dash of bad taste, there’s a blind man played by Mark Blankfield (Fridays) who exists primarily to bump into everything in, er, sight.

Behind the scenes
Teri Garr has played sweet girlfriends opposite everyone from Dr. Frankenstein to Dustin Hoffman. Margaret Whitton has made a career out of voracious vamps — most memorably in The Secret of My Success. So why is Garr now the gargoyle and Whitton the winsome one? Because Harris thought the reversal would be intriguing. So did the actresses. ”I wanted to try this for a change,” says Whitton. ”I really was in the rich bitch ghetto. I started to bore myself. Maybe we’ll have a show where we switch sides — I don’t know.” It won’t be the biggest switch in Good & Evil: When Harris wrote the pilot eight years ago, the characters were twin brothers.

Chance of survival
Iffy at best. When ABC Entertainment chief Robert Iger revealed that he had placed ABC’s lowest-testing pilot on the fall schedule, speculation ran high that he was talking about Good & Evil. That doesn’t bode well for the series, and neither does its time slot: No comedy has ever flourished at 10:30 p.m.

Changes in Old Shows
Richard Lewis…a role model? Unnerving as it sounds, the avatar of angst may face the possibility of parenthood on ABC’s Anything But Love when Hannah (Jamie Lee Curtis) becomes the latest TV heroine to get jittery over the results of a home pregnancy test. Not to worry — it’s probably just a case of watching too many Murphy Brown reruns.

Sex — and we’re sure it will be safe sex — will also be a hot topic on ABC’s Doogie Howser, M.D., which plans an episode in which 18-year-old Doogie loses his virginity. (Now if he could only lose the dorky nickname ) Rumors are rife that the writers of The Wonder Years are contemplating the same move for 10th-grader Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), but we suspect cooler heads will prevail for one more season. In fact, the only show in ABC’s Wednesday lineup in which sex won’t be much of an issue is Dinosaurs; after all, they’re extinct for a reason.

Viewers in need of a cold shower need look no further than NBC’s Seinfeld, whose star says his character’s brief reunion with Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) will not continue. ”We’ll remain platonic,” he says. ”The charm of the relationship is that they’re friends.” And Seinfeld promises more minimalist plotting: Jerry will spend one episode looking for his car in a parking lot. Among the complications: ”Elaine has a goldfish in a plastic bag that’s dying, Kramer is carrying an air conditioner, and George gets arrested for urinating in public. I also date a woman with a pet Vietnamese pig,” he adds. ”But that’s another episode.”

Holly Fulger
Anything But Love

With jumbo personalities like Richard Lewis for a coworker/boyfriend and Ann Magnuson for a boss, a gal could use a little down-to-earth empathy at home. A gal is lucky, therefore, to have Holly Fulger for a best friend. As Robin Dulitski, bosom pal to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Hannah Miller, Fulger brings a bracing freshness to the Lewis-Curtis party. She’s buoyant, she’s clear-eyed, she’s open. In a cast of wackies, she’s lovely. This we like.

”There’s a lightness to Robin that I really enjoy,” says Fulger, who is in her early 30s and was bred in Ohio and seasoned in some of the terrific pocket theater companies of Chicago. As part of the Windy City mob — that impressive contingent of Midwestern stage actors now living in L.A. and working in TV (alumni include Laurie Metcalf and Natalie West of Roseanne) — the tall, lithe actress with the short, chic haircut can talk about ”craft” and ”range of character.” But she’d rather talk about horseback riding (she’s taking lessons) or her new furniture (familiar with the feast-or-famine life of actors, she says she can commit to buying a couch — but not to buying a house).

Before Anything But Love, Fulger played Elliot Weston’s ad agency colleague, clear-eyed, lovely Holly Amato, on thirtysomething. Before that, she played Matt Frewer’s buoyant girlfriend on Doctor, Doctor. But she’s probably karmically suited to her Love role: She’s got a Shar-Pei called Hannah. The dog tag, she hastens to add, predates her life with Jamie Lee. ”That would be totally queer,” she says, scrunching up her nose. ”Like I’d name my cat Robin or something.”
Written by: Lisa Schwarzbaum

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Seinfeld

At first there wasn’t even going to be an Elaine Benes. The Seinfeld pilot was just about Jerry Seinfeld and the boys — Jason Alexander, Michael Richards — hanging out in a Jerry-built universe, turning Jerry’s stand-up routines about living the overexamined life into a sitcom livelihood. Then NBC said, ”We’ll buy the bit — but you gotta getta girl.”

No, they were more specific than that. They said, ”Get Julia.” They got one smart babe. Louis-Dreyfus, 30, has made a career of playing pretty, sophisticated women who are witty. Urban. Nuts. A survivor of Saturday Night Live‘s less-than-wonder years (she and her eventual husband, Brad Hall, were on the show from ’82 to ’84), Louis-Dreyfus held the patent on self-absorbed me-first career yuppettes, late-’80s edition, with her work on NBC’s Day by Day.

As Elaine, she retains her witty/urban/nuts franchise. But she’s also soft, feminine, and realer than any other character the actress has played — an appealing foil for Seinfeld’s urban-guy traumas who actually lends sex appeal to Jerry’s boys. Go figure. (Casting P.S.: Elaine, says Julia, is the character in her repertoire most like Julia.) ”Elaine feels strongly about many things, but she doesn’t necessarily have the direction she needs in her life,” says Louis-Dreyfus, whose own life is, she assures, ”very normal,” complete with cat and garden. ”People wouldn’t think of me as playing a mild-mannered, shy, timid person,” she says. ”But I can do that, believe me. That’s called acting.”
Written by: Lisa Schwarzbaum

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