Those old familiar faces are coming back for a TV season notable for its lack of daring

July 26, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

LOS ANGELES — Last year at this time, everyone was talking about all the "innovative" and "daring" shows the networks were going to air in the fall. "Cop Rock." "Twin Peaks." "American Dreamer."

Those shows all failed in one way or another. And the networks have done a mass retreat this year.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the recycling of some old stars in shopworn formulas.

CBS offers Redd Foxx in "Royal Family." Foxx and Della Reese play a retired couple living in Atlanta who suddenly find their peaceful retirement threatened when their daughter and her three children come to live with them.

This show features Foxx making jokes about Ms. Reese's size and raising his fist to her the way Ralph Kramden did to Alice.

Another CBS sitcom, "Princesses," co-stars Twiggy Lawson, the modeling superstar of the 1960s.

This show is about three single women who wind up living rent-free for one year in a great New York City apartment "while they wait for their princes to come," according to the producers. The pilot looks every bit as retrograde as that arguably sexist fairy tale premise suggests.

The fall season also will bring the return to television of Jim Garner, in "Man of the People" on NBC, and Suzanne Somers, in "Step by Step" on ABC this season. Both play recycled versions of characters they have done before.

So many old stars are being brought back that it seems as if every other press conference here opens with the question, "Can you tell us what you've been doing the last few years?"

The next questions invariably lead back to another decade when the star was famous. Much of the discussion among critics is whetherthe stars "look their age or not."

Twiggy's press conference this week was fairly typical.

"I only modeled for four years," Ms. Lawson said. "So I've actually been doing what I do now much longer. It's just that the '60s thing and the phenomenon of whatever it was . . . is what I'm famous for.

"But it's a long time ago -- over 20 years ago . . . which is why I'm now using the name Twiggy Lawson to try and make myself sound more like a human being as opposed to a pet animal."

This might not sound like great stuff, but it was certainly more interesting than talking about the show Ms. Lawson will be starring in this fall.

The networks themselves are in disagreement about just how fierce a retreat this fall's lineup is.

Jeff Sagansky, the president of CBS Entertainment, yesterday argued that, despite some shows being "reminiscent" of the past, it's not "retrograde television."

But Robert A. Iger, the president of ABC Entertainment, admitted, "In all honesty, we don't have anything on our air right now that I would put into the purely innovative category."

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