Another local boy is hitting the big time


May 01, 1991|By Michael Hill

Add Daniel Lipman's name to the lengthening list of Baltimoreans who are making it big in Hollywood. Twentysomething years ago, Lipman was acting in plays at Pikesville High and running around town doing children's theater. Now he's the creator of a new NBC series called "Sisters."

"I don't know where the theatrical stuff came from," Lipman said over the phone from Los Angeles. "My parents would take me to Ford's Theater, but there was no one in the family who was involved. But from an early age, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

"And my parents were always very supportive. Whether I was acting in a high school play or doing a song-and-dance routine in the kitchen, they were always behind me. They weren't trying to discourage me and tell me to go be an orthodontist. Because of that, I really give them a lot of credit for what I've been able to accomplish."

After graduating from Pikesville in 1967, Lipman went to Boston University intending to be an actor. Encouraged by a professor, he wrote a play over the summer after his junior year and it was produced at the school. That led to a fellowship to the University of Michigan as the playwright-in-residence.

During a stint at the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights' Conference in Connecticut, he met Ron Cowen. They've been collaborating for almost 20 years now and have written two notable movies for NBC, "An Early Frost," which starred Aidan Quinn and Gena Rowlands in one of the first films to deal with AIDS, and "The Love She Sought," a second-time-around romance with Angela Lansbury and Denholm Elliott.

Now they have created "Sisters," which stars Patricia Kalamber, Swoosie Kurtz, Sela Ward and Julieanne Phillips as four siblings in various stages of mid-life. It will premiere on NBC on Saturday, May 11, at 10 p.m. and should occupy a coveted spot on that network's dominant Saturday night for its seven-week run.

"It was Warren Littlefield's idea," Lipman, now 40, said, giving credit to NBC's entertainment president. "They had 'A Year in the Life' on the air and that didn't make it, but they wanted to try something else in the family genre.

"We had worked with Warren on our movies, and he knew we had written for the series 'Family' when we first came out to Los Angeles so he brought the idea to us."

The pilot was shot a year ago and languished while the network looked for the right place on the schedule. Six more episodes were eventually produced.

" A series lets you stay with characters instead of letting them go," he said " And it'slike the theatre; if you didn't get it right one week try again.

"There's great work being done in television.When you get to work with people like Gena Rowlands,Aidan Quinn,Angela Lansbury,Denholm Elliott and this cast, it doesn't get much better anywhere else.

* "Crabs," Maryland Public Television's stab at local comedy, bids its final adieu tonight at 9:30 on channels 22 and 67. Its death, after a seven-year run, comes at the hand of the grim reaper that is stalking so much of American life these days -- money.

At best, "Crabs" was uneven. It wasn't going to challenge "Cheers" or "In Living Color," but it has had its moments. And it was unique -- a local satire show. That's exactly what public television ought to be about, doing things that nobody else is doing. "Crabs" fulfilled that function perfectly and in the process earned ratings that were high for PBS.

It also won a passel of awards -- to be sure, as a comedy on public broadcasting it stood out from the crowd immediately -- but its essential appeal limited its power to bring in money. MPT tried to sell it as a national satire show, but "Crabs" remained stubbornly local, and the other stations didn't buy.

And, as a local show, "Crabs" could never be one of those projects that occupy so much of the attention of the powers-that-be at Maryland Public Television -- an international co-production. The execs out in Owings Mills would much rather be jetting off to Paris or Cannes to sign one of their coveted multinational deals than passing the tin cup around Charm City to see if they could keep "Crabs" on the air.

One of those international co-productions, a series called "Mini Dragons" on economic development in smaller Asian countries, is coming later this month from MPT. It will be shown nationwide on PBS and will help establish MPT as a big production center, but what do you think the people of Maryland would rather see, "Mini Dragons" or "Crabs?"

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