LOS ANGELES -- PBS is going into the weekly sitcom business, and it's doing it with Brandon Tartikoff, the former president of NBC Entertainment.
PBS has hired Tartikoff, now an independent producer in New Orleans, to develop 13 scripts for a sitcom to be titled "Under New Management," according to Jennifer Lawson, the chief programming executive for PBS.
"Brandon calls it a water-cooler comedy," Lawson said yesterday. "Brandon's concept is fresh, it's immediate . . . and it fits with our dream, which is to have more original comedy and drama on PBS."
Lawson said the sitcom would be taped and broadcast the same day to incorporate the week's hot topics, "the issues and events that people are talking about around the water-cooler, from sports to news to the latest movies." Scripts will be written less than a week in advance in an attempt at timeliness.
The series, which will be set in a restaurant-bar, will be produced in New Orleans, using writers, actors and technical crews from that city.
"I've believed for years that we needed new ways to bring series to the small screen -- that the old pilot-driven production process, with production focused on the coasts, was somewhat archaic," Tartikoff said. "Public television is an ideal place to nurture a comedy that deals with real issues, and gets its punch as much from its relevance as its punch lines."
The 13 scripts will be finished this fall, and the show could be in production and on the air by the end of the year.
Tartikoff was NBC's chief programmer from 1980 to 1991, during its glory days. He left to become chairman of Paramount Pictures, a job he resigned from in 1992 to move to New Orleans after his daughter was severely injured in an automobile accident.
Lawson said PBS is going to commit more money to original prime-time programming, such as "Under New Management" and the made-for-TV movie of "I'll Fly Away," which will air this fall as the finale of the series NBC canceled last season.
"Original programming is at the heart of what we're about," Lawson said.
K? "Our goal is to reach a younger and more diverse audience."
Hampton series scheduled
In other news from PBS, dates have been set for "The Great Depression," the eagerly awaited, seven-hour series from Henry Hampton, executive producer of "Eyes on the Prize." The series will premiere Oct. 25 and air four consecutive Monday nights.
'Baseball' delayed again
Meanwhile, there are more delays on Ken Burns' epic "Baseball." The earliest possible airdate has now been pushed back to fall 1994, and PBS executives were very tentative even about that.
PBS president search
And a search committee has been formed to find a new president for PBS. The name heard most often as top candidate for the job is that of Bill Moyers -- if he wants it.
The acclaimed "Bill Moyers' Journal" returns Oct. 1, with Moyers
interviewing U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
'Quiz Show' honored
A documentary made in Baltimore is becoming one of PBS' most celebrated films of last season.
"The Quiz Show Scandals," produced by Michael Lawrence and Julian Krainin, earned an Emmy nomination last week as best historical documentary. It was also one of highest-rated episodes of the "American Experience" series last year.
Michael Lawrence Films is a Baltimore production company.