Decides to shelve critically acclaimed Sharon Gless series


December 19, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

These are trying times for fans of "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," who are in for some unpleasant surprises tonight. For one thing, the much-promoted start of a romance between Rosie (Sharon Gless) and a character portrayed by Robert Wagner will not air. Instead, viewers will find a rerun of last season's Christmas show -- the one in which Rosie defends an elf.

Much worse, tonight all but marks the end of the line for "Rosie." Though the official word from CBS is that the show will be placed "on hiatus" and could return in March after the Winter Olympics, executive producer Barney Rosenzweig told The Sun this week that the program is shutting down production.

These surprises speak straight to the frustration many TV viewers feel in seeing their favorite shows -- some of them, like "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," among the best network TV has to offer -- moved around the schedule only to disappear with hardly a word.

The semantics games of network cancellations are frustrating enough. But what makes this CBS move even more so to the producers and the 15 million fans of "Rosie" is that tonight's show (9 p.m., Channel 11) was supposed to begin a three-episode story arc featuring the new love affair. A picture of the couple and a story about "the buzz" over Rosie's impending romance graces this week's TV Guide. Stories and listings in that magazine and Sunday TV books around the country note the new storyline.

A CBS spokeswoman explained the last-minute switch in tonight's schedule by saying, "It seemed stupid to just air the one [Wagner] episode and then have the show disappear. . . . It made more sense to lose the publicity, but have the three shows to run at a later date."

Will the trio of Rosie-gets-a-boyfriend shows ever be seen? Rosenzweig, who is also Gless' husband, said he doesn't know. CBS has paid for the shows, plus two others that have not aired, and the network might have Rosenzweig edit "the three Bob Wagner episodes together as a movie, and dump the other episodes off some time in the summer," he said.

With no more episodes in production, that looks to be the end of the show unless there's a groundswell of viewer complaints not seen since the cancellation of, well, the last Rosenzweig-Gless venture, "Cagney & Lacey."

But there's another, more subjective, frustration about "Rosie's" ending: It was one of the few realistic depictions of a professional working woman anywhere on TV. It was the only show not selling the great lie of the 1980s and '90s: the "you can have it all" promise.

Rosie O'Neill did not have it all. She did not have much of a family life. She was divorced and not feeling great about it. In her 40s, she often didn't feel great about her career either. She left a job as a corporate attorney and now had a job as a public defender. She shared an office with a colleague (Dorian Harewood), who initially saw her as a dilettante and let her know it. Her first client literally spit on her. It was that kind of job -- a real one that sometimes made her feel fulfilled because of the good she was trying to do and sometimes left her feeling exhausted or stressed out.

Compare that image with, say, Clair Huxtable on "The Cosby Show." She too is a lawyer, but as close as Claire's ever come to lawyering in that series is walking in or out the Huxtable front door carrying an expensive briefcase.

Rosenzweig said he's proud that they never softened the "edges," sweetened Rosie's world or made her politics more conservative and mainstream.

"The only regrets I have is that I made two mistakes in judgment," he said, looking back at the last year and a half of the show. "First, I underestimated the conservative wave and how strong it is in this country. . . . But the second mistake was: given that, I should have been out there even stronger. . . .

"I believe in the philosophy of contrary opinion. When everybody else is zigging, you should zag. . . . I should have tweaked their noses even more. . . . I think we erred on the side of conservatism. I think I should have been more outlandish, more controversial, even more anti-establishment than we were."

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