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Fall TV Preview 1997: Friday

”The Gregory Hines Show,” ”Players,” and ”Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” are examined

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THE GREGORY HINES SHOW
CBS, 9-9:30 PM
STARTS SEPT. 15

Of all the questions Gregory Hines has fielded about his new family comedy, The Gregory Hines Show, perhaps the screwiest came at a July press conference: ”Will you be wearing that earring in the show?”

While the room groaned at the absurd inquiry — which the values-minded reporter kept repeating until Hines retorted, ”Is that my mother?!?” — one couldn’t help but wonder if there was yet another hole in Hines’ head. After all, why would a distinguished Broadway performer and world-renowned tap dancer with solid movie credits (Running Scared, Waiting to Exhale) want to enter the fatuous sitcom world of Family Matters and Step by Step? ”I wasn’t getting a lot of the roles I wanted in film, so I thought, ‘Let me try TV,”’ says Hines. ”I had originally wanted to do something more adult oriented, but this show had an adult sensibility — and family values. We’re not going to shy away from any issues relevant to parents and children in the ’90s.”

Granted, the premise is nothing bold: Hines plays Ben Stevenson, a newly widowed book publisher who juggles career and love while raising his 12-year-old boy, Matty. But thanks to sophisticated Cosby Show-esque humor and a charmingly believable relationship between Hines and screen son Brandon Hammond, Sir Taps-A-Lot just might pull off this career switcheroo in style. ”I think we’ve got a tempest in a teapot,” confides CBS Television president Leslie Moonves. ”Gregory pops right off the screen with genuineness and joie de vivre. He was born to be a television star.”

If so, it was prime time’s longest pregnancy. Hines and his manager (and the show’s exec producer) Fran Saperstein spent seven years fleshing out ideas. ”I didn’t want to embarrass my family and friends and have them say, ‘Geez, why is he doing that show?”’ says Hines, 51, ”even if it was successful.” Recalls Saperstein: ”We’d been through it at different networks and different creative groups, trying to find the right show. You’d be shocked at how many people pitched the same concept to us over and over again: ‘OK, he’s got a dance studio on the third floor and he lives on the second floor…”’

Frustrated and depressed, Hines dialed an old friend who knew a thing or two about TV: Bill Cosby. ”He never said, ‘Forget it, chuck this one,”’ says Hines. ”He told me to keep pushing in every way I could, which was invaluable. He’s been a hero.” Hines, who lives in New York City (when not working in L.A.) with second wife Pam, also found inspiration in his kids, Zach, 14, Jessica, 25, and Daria, 26. ”They’re always pitching story ideas,” he chuckles. ”Zach says, ‘Why don’t you do one about the time I told you I didn’t have any homework, and you went to the theater with my best friend’s mother, and when the curtain went up, she said, ‘Is Zach studying for the big science test tomorrow?’ So I said, ‘Zach, that’s a horrible memory. I don’t want to get into that.’ ‘Well, how about the time I made a doody?”’