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The Neighbors

''Relativity'' hopes to take out ''Walker, Texas Ranger''

New show stars Kimberly Williams and David Conrad as a couple with overbearing families

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One nice thing about Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick is that if you ask them a simple question about any of the shows they’ve produced — thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, and now Relativity — you’ll always get more than you bargained for. Ask Herskovitz, for example, about the meaning of the title Relativity and just sit back: ”Obviously, we’ve borrowed the notion of Freud’s that whenever two people go to bed, there are six people in the room, because their parents are also in the room.” Hey, obviously.

Ask Zwick whether he thinks viewers who loved their previous TV efforts will seek out Relativity: ”I think our shows engender a certain dialectic with viewers,” he says. ”They can become passionately engaged with these shows, because we tend to validate an internal current that few other shows are interested in.” Translation: These guys create good, different television, and they know it.

Relativity stars Kimberly Williams, the chipper daddy’s girl in the Steve Martin Father of the Bride movies, and David Conrad, a brooding new TV face, as Isabel and Leo, two Los Angelenos who meet and fall in love. The premise, cooked up by coexecutive producer Jason Katims, is deceptively simple, for as usual with Herskovitz and Zwick, romance quickly becomes a battlefield teeming with parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, each of whom is articulate and frighteningly in touch with his or her feelings.

Katims, who also was a story editor on My So-Called Life, fills the pilot episode with a sense of sweet yet articulate innocence. Herskovitz avers that Relativity won’t be as angst-entatious as thirtysomething and MSCL were: ”There’s something inherently comic about love, and while I wouldn’t call this show a romantic comedy, it has overtones of it — there’s definitely a lighter tone to Relativity than to anything else we’ve done.” Zwick (director of the recent feature film Courage Under Fire) agrees, though he says he hopes the show will entertain while also mucking around in matters of ”sex roles and class and the expectations we bring to any new relationship.”

Star Conrad asserts: ”In thirtysomething, to me, everybody was the star of that show. [Relativity] has a focus, and the focus is nominally me and Kimberly.” When told this remark, Zwick chuckles. ”All I can say is, ‘David, remember this: Patty Wettig [Timothy Busfield’s wife, Nancy, in thirtysomething] had only one line in her pilot.”’

Viewers who check out Relativity‘s first episode may wonder whether the TV series will dawdle for months, spending weeks on puppy love, or move on to some serious doggin’ around. Conrad is specific: ”They are going to get married. We don’t know yet if it’s in this season. Somebody might die.” Informed of their star’s info leak, Herskovitz and Zwick say they’d rather ”remain mum” on the waywardness of Relativity‘s story arc.

As for Relativity‘s time period (Saturdays at 10), Herskovitz is refreshingly baffled: ”I never understand programming. Some people say we’ll get the audience that used to watch Sisters in that time slot, but I think our viewers will be a little younger than that. Then again, Saturday, 10 p.m. shows have often lasted a long time, even if they don’t get much press attention.” (The old Walker, Texas Ranger-we-hardly-know-ye syndrome.)

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