Cool TV Accesory
It’s leather. It’s all-purpose: a hammer, screwdrivers, two pairs of pliers (needle-nose and regular), a small pipe cutter, two tape measures (one wooden foldout and one regular), pencils, an awl. It’s funky. And all that for under $30. When Tim Allen, the fumble-fingered Mr. Fix-It on ABC’s hit comedy Home Improvement, straps on his three-holstered tool belt, he becomes a tough-talking, high-testosterone hardware cowboy ready to repair, rewire, respackle, refasten, and recharge anything in sight. ”There’s nothing like the feeling of rawhide and cold steel hanging on your hips,” he bellows. And suddenly, it’s hammer time.
— Kate Meyers
Cool TV Actor
Mike Logan is not hip. The Law & Order detective with the American flag pin in his lapel and the penchant for plaid neckties is a cop and the son of a cop, with a dark outlook on most of human nature. He loves New York, though; he understands that the city’s many different neighborhoods are essentially independent universes connected by a subway system. He’s something of a loner. And he’s easily angered by murder and lies and the indignities often suffered by working stiffs just trying to live a decent life in a crazy town.
What’s hip is that actor Chris Noth can convey all this about Mike Logan without viewers’ even once visiting Logan’s apartment or seeing him off duty: On Law & Order — the NBC drama that in two seasons has built a must-tape following for its superior scripts, style, and ensemble acting — the cops and prosecutors stick to their work and let crime and punishment speak for themselves.
”What I like is that we reject melodrama and sentimentality,” Noth says on a sunny afternoon in his dark Manhattan apartment — a loner’s rumpled place made softer by cut flowers jammed into a vase on a shelf and the Indonesian artwork he has collected in the course of many trips there. ”I like to think that at our best we’re The French Connection crossed with The Verdict.”
Noth is as capable of actor blab as the next guy. And, like the next guy, the 35-year-old actor, who grew up in New England, wanted to work in theater, film — anything but TV — when he graduated from Yale School of Drama in 1985. ”Oh, yeah, I was highfalutin,” he agrees. But since probably the worst work he did was his only feature film, Jakarta (the 1986 role did, however, introduce him to a country that remains, he says, his spiritual home), and since he first came to notice in a couple of episodes of Hill Street Blues, and since L&O has propelled him to do subtle work that casts light on facets of an otherwise opaque character, Noth has changed his tune.
Now he knows about ratings and shares and hiatuses. Now he admits to loving Coach (which currently runs on ABC opposite his own show, and which, he swears with some cheek, he’d watch over L&O in a minute). And now he likens L&O to a sonnet, within whose strict limitations the creative possibilities are deeply satisfying: It was his idea, for example, to add the flag pin in his lapel (”I liked it because Logan’s a young guy and you wouldn’t think he’d do that”) and it was his idea to wear the plaid ties and leather jacket, both out of his own closet. Plus, he loves hanging out with real detectives as they do their work. And he enjoys worrying about whether L&O can keep from going too soft on tough issues now that the series is so popular.
At the start of the last season, Logan lost his partner to a bullet (and to actor George Dzundza’s dissatisfaction with the job). Logan now has a new partner, Phil Cerreta, played by Paul Sorvino. But viewers still know little about Logan’s love life. And Noth — a TV camera favorite, with his dark, moodily handsome looks — is similarly single, although he recently began dating the model Beverly Johnson.
”Bev! Oh! I never thought there would be a woman who could get me to settle down!” says Noth, drifting off on his couch into a cloud of pride and giddiness and guy-in-love-ness that has very little to do with being hip or hunky or the actor of the moment in the TV drama of the season and everything to do with being in a swoon in springtime in New York, a crazy town. Which is also hip.
— Lisa Schwarzbaum
Cool TV Maniac
Michael Richards is trying to explain the essence of Kramerdom, the cult-in-the-making that has developed for his Seinfeld alter ego, Kramer — a sitcom neighbor so deliciously weird that like Elvis or Godzilla, he needs only one name. A guy who once tried to create a cologne that smells like the beach, who almost had one line in a Woody Allen movie (”These pretzels are making me thirsty”), and who ran off to California in the season finale and landed a one-shot gig as Murphy Brown’s secretary.
”The thing about Kramer is, unlike the other characters on the show, he never questions what he’s doing. Kramer is perfectly at one with himself,” says Richards, 42, whose gift for physical comedy led him to create many of Kramer’s most distinctive traits: the careening, wild-eyed entrances, the Eraserhead hairstyle, the ’70s-retro wardrobe. ”To me, doing something is much funnier than saying something.”
Richards, who grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, tried regional theater and improvisational comedy before landing a gig on ABC’s early-’80s late-night sketch comedy show Fridays and a series of small roles in movies, such as Problem Child and Young Doctors in Love.
Asked the differences between himself and Kramer, Richards says, ”I’m not as disoriented as he is, I guess. And I don’t spend as much time in other people’s apartments. But we both have a kind of restlessness. That part of Kramer is me.”
— Joe Rhodes
Cool Guilty Pleasure
A shortcut for millions of happily acquisitive but terminally lazy video consumers, the Home Shopping Network is still too exhausting for me; even the mere act of picking up the phone can leave me spent. And yet, whenever a fabulous rock-shaped paperweight or combination radio/toilet paper dispenser appears on that screen, my reluctant fingers instantly perk up and almost start talking. I’m a believer!
The chance to visit HSN’s headquarters in the balmy town of St. Petersburg, Fla., was worth making some calls for. It’s heaven — everything on the premises is for sale, with the possible exception of the baby crocodiles that sneak into the marshy area near the parking lot. Has no one there thought of the shoe and handbag possibilities? Inside this shrine to disposable income is an Orwellian scene: Hundreds of workers toil away in rows of cubicles, taking order upon order for things we all know we don’t need yet feel we absolutely can’t live without. Faux diamond earrings! Beverly Sassoon skin-care products! Care Bear sleeping bags! Ever since HSN was started locally by real estate developer Roy Speer and radio man Lowell ”Bud” Paxson in 1982 (it went national in ’85), vendors have schlepped in such wares, which are approved at executive sales meetings, tested for quality control, and then hawked to the voluntarily homebound. Seeing as how HSN’s net sales surpassed a billion bucks last year, it’s a disturbing cult I wish I’d thought of.
Hosting on the day I dropped by was the endlessly effervescent Tina Berry, who could describe the appliqués on a ramie cotton blouse until they found Jimmy Hoffa. Berry was performing an impressive three-hour stretch of merch- babble that brought her from Capodimonte swans to Lucite toilet plungers with breathless equanimity. Everything was gorgeous and simple, everything affordable and amazing. Even her trips to the loo were fantastic; she brilliantly timed them to coincide with the hourly breaks. (HSN broadcasts live 24 hours a day, every day — except Christmas, by which point everyone’s bought everything anyway.)
Once back, Berry started pontificating about something called the Pollenex ionizer/air cleaner, insisting that ”it will prevent smoke, dust, and pollen” in cheerfully confident tones that had me scratching my head with one hand and reaching for my credit card with the other. Inopportunely enough, a clerk sneezed loudly at this point, and HSN publicist Louise Cleary cracked, ”It must not be on.”
The stove was working, though, as — in another studio — celebrity chef Martin Yan began chopping broccoli in preparation for a wildly anticipated on-air demonstration of Taipan VI International Cookware. Not since Phyllis Diller came in to sell her skin cream had there been this much excitement. Yan has written six cookbooks, the last one being Everybody’s Wokking, but his real claim to fame is that he can bone a chicken in 22 seconds. Would the boner agree to an interview? ”If I get paid,” Yan laughed.
Rather than negotiate in Ruta Lee spray vitamins, I kept wokking and ended up in the Quality Assurance Lab, where the network can weed out any deadly cookery or any doll with a potential Chucky bent. In this control freak’s paradise, there are myriad testing devices, including a plastic tube the size of a 3-year-old’s esophagus to determine whether something can be choked on. A grandfather clock, for example, is definitely safe. But not everything makes the grade: ”We had a dress from the Vanna White line dry-cleaned, and it came out looking like this,” grimaced lab technician Richard Muinos, pulling out a disturbed garment with patches of sequins missing. The cleaning instructions label was corrected, but it still makes you wonder if you can trust Vanna even to sell you a vowel.
In the celebrity green room, there was bi-i-i-g star Lesley Boone, who appeared on the short-lived series Babes and is now doing a line of full- figured clothes. Berry isn’t anywhere near ready for the Babes line, though she was now scarfing down the last crock from Yan’s wok. ”This is such a fun thing to do!” she exclaimed, meaning her job. ”This is my niche in life.” It is too perfect. Berry was a homemaker — and obsessive HSN customer — when she decided to try out for a host position. ”My husband said, ‘They’re the reason you need a job, so you should work there,”’ she said.
As I left, a trip to the nearby Salvador Dalí museum was suggested, but I had already seen surrealism at its finest. Buy-buy!
— Michael Musto
Cool TV Liquor
Is hooch cool again? It is on Seinfeld, where Hennigan’s is the Scotch of choice when the gang gathers at Jerry’s to sit around and think about standing up. Over at The Simpsons, meanwhile, Homer prefers to lie around. His cool brew? Duff beer, in the bright red, white, and green can. Cheers.
— Lisa Schwarzbaum
Cool Soap Actress
Even in the seven years when she was off the ABC soap General Hospital, Emma Samms’ character — Holly Sutton Scorpio — was so popular that the residents of fictional Port Charles, N.Y., talked about her long after she supposedly died in a plane crash.
”At least they didn’t give her amnesia,” Samms says of Holly’s miraculous return as a scam artist-turned-model citizen last January. Wouldn’t you know it: Holly was just in a coma! (Samms, meanwhile, spent the time starring in ABC’s Dynasty and making movies.) Now Samms’ miraculous new Hospital contract includes big bucks-and guaranteed time off to make films, TV movies, and a prime-time series pilot.
On camera, in her made-for-TV movies and feature films, Samms exudes an ethereal sweetness and charm. Off camera, she’s got a refreshing sense of humor about herself that keeps her from ever losing her cool. ”Laughter is the world’s best olive branch,” Samms says.
The British-born actress, 31 and recently divorced from her husband of less than a year, loves photography (she snapped Neil Simon at home for Architectural Digest) and works with the Starlight Foundation, an organization she cofounded in 1982 that grants wishes to critically ill children. She describes herself as a ”homebody” — and a big fan of daytime TV.
”We work so hard in soaps,” she says, ”and there’s no room for temperamental types or egos. I really like that. Besides, I pay my mortgage. And I’m not too sure I want to be any more famous.” Wait till she hears what they say about her in Port Charles.
— Alan Carter
Cool TV Puppet
The guy is so cool, he’s blue. Also fuzzy. Ever since he moved into Sesame Street 23 years ago, Grover the Muppet has never flagged in his enthusiasm and wiry energy.
”I do not know I am cool. Monsters do not know what cool is. I think I am cute!” he says by phone from the playroom of his right-hand friend, Frank Oz (who, when not hand in glove with Muppets, directed this summer’s Housesitter). ”I try to help people. I try to speak correctly. And I just try to be a good guy.”
So good a guy that he might not show this picture of himself to his pals. ”They would feel bad that you do not have their picture,” says Grover with cool wisdom.
— Lisa Shwarzbaum
Cool TV Actress
TV and stage actress Holland Taylor, now starring as haughty, racist, power-mad Margaret Powers, wife of a befuddled senator (played by John Forsythe), in NBC’s Norman Lear comedy The Powers That Be, finds it amusing that she is apparently so well suited to play iron maidens. ”Because in my personal life,” she explains, ”I can really be such a wimp. I’m none of those things. Most of ; the time I think of myself as a horse’s ass!”
The Philadelphia-born Taylor, single, 49, and given to tooling around L.A. in a nifty white Mazda Miata, has made something of a name for herself playing brittle babes: On the early-’80s cult favorite Bosom Buddies, she was boss to Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari; on the now-defunct soap The Edge of Night, she even went so far as to kill herself to frame her husband (now that’s one tough cookie); and she has also brought her will-of-steel persona to films (including Romancing the Stone) and Broadway plays (most notably several A.R. Gurney works).
But it’s her Margaret Powers that takes the biscuit — and makes Nancy Reagan look like a nice lady in a Galanos suit. ”I love pla
ying someone who just skates by and does anything she wants,” says Taylor, who readily agreed to read several times for the role, something another actress of her stature might have found insulting. ”I have friends who can’t believe I still have to audition for things,” she says, laughing, ”but this is without a doubt the most wonderful opportunity I’ve ever had in television — despite the fact I’m playing this matron in her 60s…probably not the smartest career move. I’m still thinking to myself, ‘You’re such an a–hole.”’
Oh, and another thing: Taylor insists that the character is not based on the former First Lady. ”Margaret goes way beyond Nancy,” she explains. ”This woman just plows through life. I based her more on Marie Antoinette — a woman who says, ‘Let them eat cake’ because she assumes they have cake.”
She plows, all right: In the debut episode, Margaret, after finding a dust ball, hauled off and slapped her maid. Many TV critics found the scene disturbing (although not so disturbing that they didn’t otherwise love the whole Powers family; the show has been renewed for fall, when it will air Fridays at 8:30 p.m.). Anyway, Holland dismisses such delicacy: ”This is, after all, only a sitcom. It’s remarkable, dazzling stuff. But we’re not doing Ibsen.” That’s right; she’s doing Norman Lear. Taylor-made.
— Alan Carter
Cool TV Couple
She: ”He’s not just another macho guy from the neighborhood. He’s got the softer side.” He: ”She’s a good listener, and she looks you in the eye.”
Never mind that she has the biggest, bluest eyes in prime time and he’s the sweetest poet-bike messenger ever to don Lycra. As Denise Iannello and Jeffrey Lassick on ABC’s Civil Wars, Debi Mazar, 27, and David Marciano, 32, keep the romantic fires blazing on a show that’s mostly about the Ice Age of divorce. Not only are they trapped in each other’s gaze, so are we.
”It’s, like, opposites attract,” says Mazar of the magnetic field between her street-smart Italian secretary and his mild-mannered Jewish messenger. She has given him self-esteem, he has written her poetry, and in four short months they’ve already done the ”I do” thing. Will their lives as newlyweds next season be for better or for worse? ”I hear there’s a big fight in store for us, but I don’t foresee a divorce,” says Marciano. ”By the time most people think of the wedding bells, they know each other inside out,” says Mazar. ”But we keep surprising each other.”
— Mark Harris and Kate Meyers
Cool TV List
The final joke in ABC’s Roseanne during each week’s closing credits-a gift- wrapped postscript to viewers who stick around.
Cool All-Purpose Commercial Punch Line
Cool Reporter Name
Star Jones of NBC News.
Cool Opening Credits
The retro-deco typeface and theme song (”Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive”) on ABC’s Homefront.
The comfy, oversize rec-room chairs on NBC’s Later With Bob Costas.
Cool Ordinary Guy
Al Roker of NBC’s Sunday Today.