Networks Offer a New Mix
Against mounting competition, they count on comedy - and some crime shows. TELEVISION: FALL SEASON
IN analyzing the fall television season, one finds this point clear: You should be laughing more and hearing police sirens less. Of the 34 new programs scheduled on the four networks, 22 are comedies, mostly family based, with five geared to a youthful audience.
The networks know their share of viewers is being eroded, and are fighting to keep step. Cable channels are making giant steps into the ratings, as are syndicated shows. This competition gives viewers more options, and perhaps more ability to avoid the trite and to select more worthwhile programs.
Eight shows dealing with crime and justice will make premi`eres. Three of them headline familiar TV faces. CBS has two returnees, Sharon Gless (from ``Cagney & Lacey'') now appears as a public defender in The Trials of Rosie O'Neill, while Edward Woodward (``The Equalizer'') stars as crime novelist turned investigator in Over My Dead Body. At ABC, Emmy winning James Earl Jones adds credibility to Gabriel's Fire as a former prison inmate turned crime-fighter.
Although many shows are new, the creative teams behind them are not. The networks are hunting out ``security blankets.'' You'll see zero first-time producers this season; almost all the new series are from producers, directors, and writers who have long and successful track records. It's doubtful the networks would listen if a newcomer suggested doing a heavy-hitting crime show as a musical. But when the producer is Steven Bochco, with a line of hits from ``Hill Street Blues'' to ``L.A. Law,'' ABC listened. The result is Cop Rock (Wednesdays, 10-11 p.m., Eastern Time).
If a novice suggested a series about a rapper from a tough West Philadelphia neighborhood who comes to live with relatives in upscale Bel Air, who would listen? But when it's Quincy Jones,and it's based on the life of Benny Medina of Warner Bros. Records and stars Grammy Award-winning rapper Will Smith, NBC executives did, and gave Fresh Prince of Bel Air a Monday, 8 p.m., time slot.
CBS liked what producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason did with ``Designing Women,'' so they gave her a free hand. She developed a story about a former pro football player who settles with his family in Arkansas and becomes a coach. She called it Evening Shade, and gave it added insurance by casting Burt Reynolds (in his ninth series), Elizabeth Ashley, Charles Durning, and Hal Holbrook.
NBC went to Gary David Goldberg, who did the hit ``Family Ties.'' He came up with a half-hour comedy, American Dreamer, about a foreign correspondent who moves to a Wisconsin town to give his kids a better place to grow up. Again, there's insurance: Veteran cop-show star Robert Urich and comedienne Carol Kane head the cast.
NBC went with writer-producer Bill Persky who guided ``Kate and Allie'' and its star, Jane Curtin, to Emmy recognition. Persky now stars Curtin in another comedy, Working It Out. Her co-star is mini-series veteran Stephen Collins.
Executive producers Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett are now responsible for four hours of ABC's evening prime time. On Friday, from 8 to 10 p.m., they include ``Full House,'' ``Family Matters,'' ``Perfect Strangers,'' and the new Going Places, with Heather Locklear (``Dynasty'') as one of its youthful stars. The Miller-Boyett banner also waves on CBS with the new series The Family Man, starring Gregory Harrison (``Falcon Crest'').
The ``Twin Peaks'' partners, director David Lynch and producer Mark Frost, have orchestrated something new. It's a documentary series, American Chronicles, which depicts life around the United States (on Fox, Saturdays, 9:30-10 p.m.).
Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, responsible for ``Scarecrow and Mrs. King'' and ``Mary Hartman,'' offer a multi-generation family comedy in Sons and Daughters, with Lucie Arnaz as the eldest daughter and Don Murray as the dad.
The networks and cable channels are trying to trade on the popularity of hit movies by launching follow-up TV series. These include Ferris Bueller played by Charlie Schlatter, Uncle Buck with Kevin Meaney and Audrey Meadows, Parenthood with Ed Begley Jr., and the Family Channel's The Adventures of the Black Stallion starring Mickey Rooney. CBS picked the comic-book hero The Flash for a new series of the same name, starring John Wesley Skipp.
Where are the innovative shows? The emerging Fox network has True Colors, a comedy about a racially integrated family. Veteran comedienne Nancy Walker plays a female ``Archie Bunker.''
CBS offers E.A.R.T.H Force, filmed in Australia and starring Gil Gerard (``Buck Rogers'') as a scientist dedicated to helping the environment. CBS also will premi`ere WIOU, an hour-long drama set in the newsroom of a big-city TV station. It features familiar faces Mariette Hartley, John Shea, and Dick Van Patten.
NBC gives us Lifestories, presenting medical experiences from the patient's viewpoint. It's narrated by ``Hill Steet Blues'' alumni Robert Prosky.
Fox network presents D.E.A., a docudrama on the US Drug Enforcement Administration and its war on drugs. NBC teams with Disney in Hull High, a high-school musical comedy-drama. Its fresh-faced cast is guided by Kenny Ortega of ``Dirty Dancing'' fame, who directs, co-executive produces, and choreographs at least one big musical number per show.
Overall, CBS leads the pack with 10 new series; NBC and Fox tie with nine new shows each, while ABC has five new programs. In addition, there will be new movies, specials, and occasional mini-series. The lengthy mini-series formats have dropped in popularity; ABC, for example, has only slated two four-hour minis. Separate but Equal is based on the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and stars Sidney Poitier; Son of the Morning with Gary Cole (``Midnight Caller'') depicts the life of Gen. George Custer.
CBS devotes four hours to a real-life murder story, And The Sea Will Tell, while NBC goes out on an electronic limb with a six-part series based on Jackie Collins's two books, combined as Lucky/Chances.
PBS offers a nine-part, 11-hour series on The Civil War, by filmmaker Ken Burns, which debuts Sept. 27.