TWO OF A KIND
ABC stopped thanking God it was Friday in 1991, when the Full House family packed its bags and moved to Tuesday, taking its top 20 ratings with them. Lately, the Alphabet’s family-oriented TGIF block hasn’t caught a break: 1996’s slate of puppet-heavy programming, Muppets Tonight and Aliens in the Family, couldn’t find an audience outside the diaper set; then ABC suffered a grander insult when its crown jewel, Urkel (Okay, Family Matters), emigrated to CBS in 1997. The network attempted in vain to win back teens and parents with last season’s wretched comedies You Wish and Teen Angel. So far, only Sabrina, the Teenage Witch has been able to conjure up Friday viewers.
What to do? Re-create history, of course. Thus, ABC enlisted Full House producers Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett to construct a vehicle for House stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen; the resulting Two of a Kind airs — where else? — in the Full House Memorial Time Slot. But can the now-12-year-old Stepford scamps, who play sisters being raised by a strict single dad (Chris Sieber) and a carefree nanny (Sally Wheeler), still deliver eyeballs?
”They have tremendous public awareness,” says exec producer Michael Warren. ”When I say I’m doing a show with the Olsen twins, it’s always ‘Ooh, my kids love them!”’ The multimillionaire twin thespians and their burgeoning empire are banking on that. The Olsens have a direct-to-video movie coming out this fall, as well as a CD (they sing!) and a possible line of merchandise. This isn’t kiddie stuff; the girls are nearly teens, and like their show, future products will focus on dating, curfews, and adolescent adventures. But for now, the Olsens are concentrating on Two of a Kind: ”We really wanted to do it because we’re playing different characters instead of sharing one,” says Mary-Kate. ”It’s a lot of fun just to be back,” chirps Ashley.
Warren, for his part, wouldn’t describe leading off ABC’s floundering Friday as ”fun.” ”If we had our druthers, I don’t think we’d be on at 8,” he says. On the other hand, ”if we can win our time slot, we’re going to be heroes.” Bottom Line The girls have an impish appeal — cute without being saccharine, much like their new show. With Sabrina‘s help, Two could be the divine intervention TGIF needs.
LIVING IN CAPTIVITY
CONCEPT Black family (Dondre T. Whitfield and Kira Arne, above) moves into white suburb; everyone eyes each other warily. Message: Some things never change.
THE SCOOP Creator Diane English (Murphy Brown) says she wants ”to go to that dark place where educated white liberals think they’re above it all, but really are not” — i.e., racial prejudice prevails. But she also says the show won’t deal with race every week; other themes include ”home security and Prozac.”
BOTTOM LINE Plots that sound like All in the Family rejects don’t add up to groundbreaking TV.
CONCEPT A family of well-to-do ranchers living in 19th-century Kentucky. Think Dynasty Derby.
THE SCOOP Brett Cullen, who plays the dashing dad, compares it to Pinter (”It’s like doing theater in a way — you don’t always say what you think”), thus qualifying him as the most clueless frontman for schlock since The Brady Bunch‘s Robert Reed. Fortunately, creator and exec producer Chris Abbott knows the score: It’s about how ”a family maintains its structure with all this money.” Abbott also says he’s ready for the costars to turn into heartthrobs: ”I want it for them.”
BOTTOM LINE Pretty horses; lantern-jawed sons; interracial, interclass romance. Goodness gracious, we hope this thing takes off!
CONCEPT Swingin’ ’70s private eye Faro (Dennis Farina) ends his ”retirement” to gumshoe with a Gen-X acolyte (Frank Whaley) and his spiffy sidekick (Allison Smith). If only Francis Albert were still alive to see Buddy work!
THE SCOOP Says director-producer Charles Haid: ”Our show is about having a good time. We do not have episodes about dysfunctional professionals who are rich. This is about characters who’d rather be in Vegas, hanging out with a good-looking girl — very politically incorrect.”
BOTTOM LINE Stylish and fun, but the last time TV had a stylish Friday-night detective show was 1987’s Private Eye — gone so fast you don’t remember. Buona fortuna, Buddy.
CONCEPT A big, fractious Irish family loves and brawls in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. The grown siblings include a priest, a cop, a Wall Street exec, and an alcoholic. No clichés here!
THE SCOOP Brought to you by producer John Wells, overseer of ER, Trinity is chockablock with attractive young adults like Friends‘ Tate Donovan (as a priest) among the five siblings. ”The difference in this family show,” says Wells, ”is that [unlike] shows like Eight Is Enough or The Waltons — about families with children — it’s a different dynamic when you live near your parents, you’re adult, and you’re all involved in each other’s lives.” Donovan was leery of the priesthood: ”I spoke to the writers and said, I hope my character has a lot of humor. There’s a tendency if you’re [playing] a priest that you have to be heavy, and handle moral problems. They said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be happy.”’
BOTTOM LINE Send in Frank McCourt for a rewrite! This humorless novelistic drama needs fresh, original details to pull in grown-ups at 9 p.m.
CONCEPT A new TGIF offering: Single dad (Herman’s Head‘s William Ragsdale) must care for his little son (Justin Cooper) and big irresponsible lug of a brother (Sean O’Bryan).
THE SCOOP The lug is a football star — a placekicker, to be exact — which, says exec producer Donald Todd, ”makes him an outcast on the team. He hardly practices, just swings his foot a few times a week and makes lots of money. Bobby has to be an ALF sort of character [yes, the extraterrestrial puppet character]: a stranger in a strange land who has not grown up.” If it sounds like Todd is thinking of the adult brother as the real kid in this lopsided family, well, Keeper wasn’t conceived as a TGIF show, and Todd says he’ll ”try to focus on the relationship between the brothers.”
BOTTOM LINE But it is a TGIF show, Don, and you’ve got a big asset in Cooper. The solution is clear, if trite: Ragsdale assumes the Bob Saget Memorial Square Dad role, while the son and infantile brother become the mischief makers.