Networks usually ask for pilot episodes before ordering fall shows, but CBS entertainment chief Jeff Sagansky was so eager to schedule a new series by Designing Women cocreator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason that he bought her comedy Evening Shade before a single scene had been shot. Burt Reynolds, has signed to portray an ex-football pro who returns to his small Arkansas hometown to raise a family and coach a high school team, and Bloodworth-Thomason has hinted to potential advertisers about the players to be named later: She’s negotiating for actors to play ”an Ossie Davis-like character,” ”an Elizabeth Ashley-like sister,” and ”a Hal Holbrook-like father-in-law.” (If the real thing won’t sign, she added, the role will be ”much less Hal Holbrook-like.”) Stage actor Michael Jeter — a Tony winner this year for Grand Hotel — was mentioned as a likely candidate for another role, leaving Reynolds to ask about the large cast’s salaries: ”Can’t we have some of the Brent Musburger money?”
There’s an unsolved mystery brewing at ABC that has nothing to do with Laura Palmer: Are those Head of the Class kids ever going to get out of high school? When the show returns sometime next season, the main characters — teenage geniuses enrolled in an accelerated program at Millard Fillmore High — will be spending their fifth year in high school. This doesn’t speak too well for the honors class, and the news gets worse when you peek at the cast’s resumes: Actor Tony O’Dell, who plays Alan, is 27 years old. Hmmm maybe it’s time to start thinking about college.
Taking no chances with their 1990 lineups, CBS and ABC already have announced their slates of midseason replacements for next winter: 15 shows will be available to replace next fall’s inevitable flops. Star vehicles for Ray Sharkey, Jonathan Winters, and Sharon Gless are all on the backup team, but the hottest property doesn’t have a single actor in the cast — it’s The Family Dog, a prime-time cartoon on CBS that looks at human life from a canine perspective. Dog‘s main attraction is its pedigree: Steven Spielberg and Batman director (and onetime Disney animator) Tim Burton came up with the concept for a segment of NBC’s Amazing Stories a few years ago, and they’ll serve as executive producers of the series.
The canceled CBS comedy The Famous Teddy Z didn’t catch on with viewers, but supporting character Al Floss, a smarmy talent agent played to inside-joke perfection by Alex Rocco, may not be gone for good: CBS plans to talk to Teddy creator Hugh Wilson about keeping Floss alive; there’s no word yet on series chances for The Famous Al F, but Floss could turn up on Murphy Brown, where he appeared last season to demand star perks for his client Corky Sherwood.
The Nantucket setting of NBC’s fledgling comedy Wings (with Crystal Bernard) is just a quick flight from Boston, where the show’s writer-producers earned their wings on Cheers, so it’s no surprise the network plans some cross-pollination between the shows next season. When characters from Cheers decide to take a vacation one Thursday, they’ll turn up on Nantucket on Friday — Wings‘ new night. The new CBS comedy Four Alarm Family also is getting a boost from an established series: Widowed father Gregory Harrison may get some child-rearing tips from members of The Hogan Family, which will join CBS’ lineup next fall.
DEATH OF A NATION
Fox’s decision to cancel Alien Nation, the only critical success among its dramatic shows, stunned industry observers as well as the series’ executive producer, Kenneth Johnson. ”The network had ordered additional scripts,” he says. ”They knew where we were going and loved it. And our demographics were the strongest of any hour-long Fox show.” Also surprised was Dorothy Swanson, president of the grass-roots group Viewers for Quality Television, who called the cancellation ”a dreadful mistake,” and added, ”Fox’s strategy obviously leaves no room for hour-long quality shows. Alien Nation was right up there in our top 10.” At press time, Johnson was ”busily investigating” syndication for the science-fiction series (starring Eric Pierpoint) and urging viewers to write Fox chairman Barry Diller. Fox itself was sending mixed messages; in a press release about next fall’s shows, it referred to Alien Nation as a ”hit series.”
A News & Notes item about an Oscar Mayer TV commercial in the May 18 issue misidentified the vice president creative director at J. Walter Thompson Chicago. He is Joe Sciarrotta.