Los Angeles -- Surprise, there is something genuinely new under the network TV sun.
The producers are calling it the "first Third World network television show." And, visually, it's the most interesting network series since "Miami Vice." Culturally -- in its presentation of the Third World and people of color -- it's potential seems without limit compared to standard prime-time network fare.
The show is called "Going to Extremes," and it debuts on ABC in September in the can't-miss time slot of 10 Tuesday night following "Coach." It's a twentysomething ensemble show about American and foreign students at a medical school in the Caribbean. It's produced by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, of "Northern Exposure" and "I'll Fly Away."
Brand and Falsey shows are known for their fresh,non-cookie-cutter-shot-on-a-back-lot look. "Northern Exposure" is filmed in Washington State to achieve the look of its fictional Alaskan setting. "I'll Fly Away," a civil rights drama set in the '50s South, is filmed in Georgia. But neither is as striking as "Going to Extremes."
"I think that we've been moving further and further away from Hollywood," Brand said, only half jokingly, during an interview on the fall preview press tour here. "As for going to the Caribbean with this show, we knew about the American medical school in Grenada, so there was a reason for going down there.
"But what really was intriguing to us was the culture in the Caribbean. . . . I don't know if this is a good thing or bad thing to say [in terms of promoting the show], but it is the first Third World network television show. And that's extremely exciting.
"I mean, we are shooting in Jamaica, although it's the fictional island of Jantique. But it's a developing country in real life. And, you know, you can't fabricate that on the screen. We can provide images that have all the different kinds of extremes -- extremes of beauty and strangeness."
The pilot episode does look and sound like nothing else on network TV. The blue-green water, blue-black mountains, corrugated tin houses, battered buses, dusty one-lane roads, lush and ragged jungle, Caribbean rhythms, a world where the majority is people of color. It is not "Dynasty" or "Beverly Hills 90210."
"Just take the accents of the local people on the island," Brand said. "Not only are the images that are conveyed different from others of prime-time television, but the sounds . . . the way people talk . . . are different from what we're used to hearing."
The pilot episode showed considerable sensitivity to island culture. But a pilot episode does not a season make. And, while Brand and Falsey have won praise for their depiction of civil rights history in "I'll Fly Away," they are white. White producers presenting images of the Third World and people of color is a complicated matter. There's no guarantee they'll get it right no
matter how good their intentions.
But the pilot does have the energy, vitality and sense of excitement that happens when different cultures meet as equals.
"I think it really is a First World sensibility living in a Third World culture," said Falsey. "There's differences in terms of humor. . . . But we think we have a tremendous mix of humor and drama. . . . You know, we don't do shoot-'em-ups and we don't do car chases."