When Dick Van Dyke agreed to play a Florida newspaper publisher -- a part he calls "a strange piece of casting" -- in NBC's "Daughters of Privilege" (tonight at 9 on Channel 2), he needed a role model.
"I was playing a powerful, progressive, competitive guy, which was a stretch for me," he said. "My talent is usually playing nerds and wimps, not strong, powerful men that act like steamrollers.
"Oh, maybe there was a couple of times I played villains, and an alcoholic once, in 'The Morning After,' but nothing like Buddy Keys, my character in this film. That's why I decided to do it. It was different and fun for me to play."
So Van Dyke looked around and decided Ted Turner, head of Turner Communications, the man who squires Jane Fonda, would be his prototype. "He seems to be a powerful, competitive businessman, with a community spirit. I, too, have white hair and even grew a mustache to look like him. But I wound up looking more like Cesar Romero."
The family drama was originally titled "Keys to the Kingdom," but had a last-minute title change. As the actor reminded us, " 'Keys of the Kingdom' was a very good film with Gregory Peck and had nothing at all to do with this drama. They used the title because his character's name was Keys."
Keys, a control freak, is divorced from his second wife, the mother of two of his daughters -- Daphne Ashbrook as a serious, intelligent doctor with the county health department, and Kate Vernon as a free-spirited woman involved in crazy career schemes, like promoting a race-car driver.
A third daughter (Angela Alvarado), a newspaperwoman with a Cuban mother, comes to live with "Buddy," the name by which everybody calls Keys, and is made an associate publisher of his newspaper, the Guardian. She's tough-minded, capable, and determined to be her father's daughter.
There are romance, scandal and intrigue as Buddy squares off with his toughest rival, a man squiring Buddy's ex-wife around town while the Guardian is doing an expose on him that could land him in jail.
"The easiest scenes for me are those in which I have physical movement," said Mr. Van Dyke, who's enjoying semiretirement. "If I'm talking and moving at the same time, I'm very comfortable with the energy and action.
"Conversely, it's more difficult for me if the scene is emotional and I have to be stationary."