August 16, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

‘Dreams’ Teams

How do you make a drama about a Kennedy-era family accessible to today’s young viewers? Here’s an idea: Recruit contemporary crooners like Michelle Branch (”Everywhere”) to play the pop idols of yore. Branch will be portraying ’60s sensation Lesley Gore in an upcoming episode of American Dreams, NBC’s new fall series about a Philadelphia girl who scores a coveted dancing gig on American Bandstand (Dick Clark is an executive producer). ”Nobody remembers what Chubby Checker or Lesley Gore looked like even though their songs were so great,” says creator Jonathan Prince. ”So we decided to take today’s singers to pay homage to these artists.” While Prince has no plans to recruit ‘N Sync to cover the Beach Boys (”We’d be crazy not to use the real footage of them from Bandstand”), it’s his dream to score singers like Mary J. Blige or Vanessa Carlton to play old-timers such as Mary Wells and Joan Baez (Branch, in the meantime, will sing a rendition of Gore’s ”You Don’t Own Me”). Prince just hopes the cameos won’t upstage the drama’s primary task — depicting a typical ’60s family, featuring NYPD Blue’s Gail O’Grady as the mom and Brittany Snow as the Bandstand bopper. Says Prince, ”It’s hard not to make this a variety show every week because you could.”

An ‘Affair’ to Remember?

In remaking the classic Family Affair for The WB, veteran comedy scribe Bob Young has to overcome one big obstacle: the original CBS series’ so-called curse. After the sitcom went off the air in 1971, Anissa Jones (Buffy) died of a drug overdose in 1976, Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French) suffered a fatal stroke in 1977, and Brian Keith (Uncle Bill) committed suicide in 1997. ”Yes, it’s like Diff’rent Strokes. It’s cursed! People are dead! In prison!” says Young (Boy Meets World). ”I see people wince and cringe and say, ‘Oh, why couldn’t you leave that buried?’ I cringed too.” But Young quickly changed his tune after screening the original Affair pilot (”utterly charming”). The new show will stay true to the rich-bachelor-inherits-some-kids concept, right down to Uncle Bill’s (Gary Cole) line of work (he owns a civil engineering firm), the snobby British butler (Tim Curry), and Buffy’s infamous Mrs. Beasley doll. But Young — who is even open to guest spots by Kathy Garver (the original Cissy) and Johnny Whitaker (the original Jody) — will go only so far in re-creating the show’s lasting legacy. ”I’m going to stand there [on the set] and say, ‘Don’t commit suicide, anybody!’ ”

AND SO ON… Craig T. Nelson is about to get touched by an angel. Charlie’s Angels alum Jaclyn Smith will have a recurring role as a civil rights lawyer and love interest to Jack Mannion (Nelson) in CBS’ The District this season. ”Their dogs get in a fight, and she accuses Mannion’s dog of being a bully,” says exec producer John Wirth. ”And then they just end up, you know, having this animal attraction toward one another.” Heel.

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