Networks Turn On Star Power
By Gary Levin, USA TODAY
Networks are going star-crazy plotting their new fall lineups. After a stretch when programmers sought to make their own stars instead of paying for established ones, familiar faces are again popping up in pilots being produced in the next few weeks and being touted to advertisers in New York this week.
Some are big names rarely seen on TV; others are small-screen veterans.
* NBC, which has long preferred the Friends model of discovering new talent, this year has potential new series led by Heather Locklear, Tom Selleck, Rob Lowe, Rupert Everett and Whoopi Goldberg. And another candidate, drama Miss/Match, stars Alicia Silverstone as a divorce attorney who plays matchmaker for her newly single clients. (Ryan O’Neal plays her dad.)
* CBS, usually the most star-struck of the major networks, has projects with Charlie Sheen (a comedy about two brothers), Matthew Modine (a forensic psychologist), Mark Harmon (a Navy counterintelligence officer), Randy Quaid, Andy Richter, Joe Mantegna and Party of Five’s Scott Wolf.
* ABC, seeking more family comedies and cop series, has lined up Regis’ co-host (and former All My Children star) Kelly Ripa for a proposed sitcom about a washed-up soap star who returns home to live with her twin sister (Murphy Brown’s Faith Ford). Also on tap are other series featuring Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me), Steven Weber, Kristen Johnston (3rd Rock From the Sun) and Mario Van Peebles.
* Fox has potential series with Norm Macdonald, Patrick Dempsey, Rebecca De Mornay and Peter Gallagher.
Viewers are more apt to try out a show with a recognizable star. “Those shows are often a little easier to launch,” NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker says.
Last fall, John Ritter (Three’s Company) helped ABC kick-start its retro family comedy 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
But stars don’t guarantee hits: Just ask Bette Midler, Ellen DeGeneres or Geena Davis, all of whom flopped in their latest tries as TV-series leads.
The major networks are desperate for enduring new sitcom and drama standouts at a time when the few new hits are short-lived reality shows like Joe Millionaire. They have ordered about 135 pilots, slightly more than last year. Last fall, about 30 new shows were picked up; the number that make the cut this time depends on how many shows are canceled ó and how many time slots go to news magazines and reality shows (expected to be more than last fall).
“There is greater pressure to come up with scripted shows,” says Magna Global USA analyst Steve Sternberg. “You can’t continue going with constant barrages of short-term (reality) fixes.”
But many of the pilots tread safe, familiar ground, with an abundance of cop, forensics and law dramas, and family comedies. A couple feature characters reluctantly returning home such as a former baseball player (Selleck) or hockey player (Craig Bierko, in an ABC comedy).
Among other development trends:
* Sure bets, with 13-episode orders or on-air commitments: Line of Duty (ABC), a drama following the interlocking stories of a young female FBI agent and a mobster; The Brotherhood of Poland (CBS), a drama from producer David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal), about three brothers (one is Quaid) running a small New England town; 2069 (Fox), a futuristic drama from Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue) about a present-day cop who suddenly fast-forwards into the future.
* Terrorism. No longer squeamish about tackling world events head-on, there’s Threat Matrix (ABC), about a task force dealing with domestic terror threats, and Homeland Security (NBC), a similar tale starring Scott Glenn and Tom Skerritt, about a group of government agents who form the homeland security office after 9/11.
* Remakes. Family Affair bombed, Twilight Zone faded and Dragnet is no hit, but the networks are pressing ahead with revamped versions of other familiar titles.
There’s The Beverly Hillbillies (CBS), done up as a reality series despite protests from rural groups; Eddie’s Father (WB), about a widowed dad whose son tries to get him remarried, based on the 1960s Bill Bixby comedy; Young MacGyver (WB), about the 23-year-old nephew of the unconventional crime-stopper; and Tarzan and Jane (WB), an adventure drama that finds the jungle couple relocated to New York and Jane a detective. Plus: fresh takes on Mr. Ed (Fox), the 1960s sitcom about a talking horse, and Hotel (UPN), the 1980s soap from producer Aaron Spelling.
On the feature-film side, Fox will try a comedy-pilot remake of About a Boy, with Patrick Dempsey in the Hugh Grant role.
Networks Turn On Star Power