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''Harts of the West'': Show to watch

Beau Bridges and Harley Jane star in CBS’ new comedy-drama debuting this fall

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Anyone who doubts that Westerns have made a comeback need only glance at CBS’ Saturday-night lineup. Sandwiched between Jane Seymour’s frontier sawbones (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) and Chuck Norris’ contemporary lawman (Walker, Texas Ranger) is the new comedy-drama Harts of the West, starring Beau Bridges as a Chicago lingerie salesman who moves his wife (Parenthood‘s Harley Jane Kozak) and three kids to a run-down Nevada ranch after he suffers a near-fatal heart attack in Bloomingdale’s.

Executive producer Bob Moloney (The Cavanaughs) explains CBS’ Saturday-night strategy: ”They think Harts is the natural bridge between Dr. Quinn and Chuck Norris.” (”Bridge is that a pun?” asks Beau.) ”Dr. Quinn‘s audience is primarily women 35 and older, which they feel we’ll hold. We’ll also introduce men into the mix. Then it’s off to Chuck Norris, whose audience is almost exclusively male.”

To help attract viewers, Harts (premiering Sept. 25) has roped in more than one member of what Kozak calls ”one of the most beloved families in Hollywood.” Beau’s father, Lloyd Bridges (Hot Shots!), will play Jake, the grizzled cowpoke who helps the hapless Harts learn the tricks of the ranching trade. The role will be recurring, mostly on Lloyd’s wishes. ”My dad has carried series [like Sea Hunt] in the past, and he knows how hard that is,” says Beau. ”At this stage in his career, he doesn’t feel like busting his nut every week.”

And Beau’s mom, Dorothy, appears in the pilot — hanging his character in a dream sequence. Apparently, the family that slays together stays together: Beau just directed an NBC movie in which Lloyd throws Dorothy down a flight of stairs to her death.

Don’t be surprised if Beau’s little brother, Jeff (who starred in an unrelated 1975 Western movie called Hearts of the West), gets in on the Harts act as well. ”Jeff, frankly, will do anything for Beau,” says Moloney. ”He has said he’ll be a wrangler, do one line.”

No one associated with Harts can explain why Westerns are back, but Kozak, who’s ”into Jungian psychology,” has a theory. ”I think the collective unconscious just decided this is the year of the Western,” she says. ”It’s just one of those things that’s in the air. Like pollen.”