Light's career continues in 'Phenom'enal vein

October 01, 1993|By Deborah Wilker | Deborah Wilker,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Some new TV shows are just more equal than others. They're the ones that are showcased by their networks in can't-miss time slots, while others flounder in TV's kiss-off zones. After years of developing your show, how'd you like to find yourself opposite "60 Minutes"?

No such bad luck for Judith Light, who recently wrapped eight seasons with Tony Danza on "Who's the Boss?" and now stars in ABC's "Phenom" at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.

With one of the cushiest slots on television (between "Full House" and "Roseanne"), "Phenom" is pretty much a sure thing. No matter that reviews have been just so-so and the show lost a smidgen of its sturdy lead-in its first two weeks. "Phenom" needn't be phenomenal to succeed.

Now in its third week, the show is settling into a promising rhythm.

"It feels very acknowledging," Ms. Light said of the prime positioning during a recent interview. "You can't beat a time slot that precedes 'Roseanne.' "

ABC's confidence in her is no surprise.

Ms. Light, 43, has been a bankable commodity for the network for 14 years. Her role as blowzy prostitute Karen Wolek on the daytime soap "One Life to Live" (1977-1982) earned her two Emmys, the Soap Opera Hall Of Fame Award and kept ratings at a boil.

Then on "Who's the Boss?" she and Danza enjoyed the kind of chemistry that doesn't come along very often in sitcom land. Like "Phenom," their show also aired on Tuesday nights (except in its final season) and was in the Top 10 for most of its run.

And, TV movies

Her TV movies, among them "The Ryan White Story," "Wife, Mother, Murderer" and "Men Don't Tell," also have been ratings grabbers. Her next telefilm is "Under the Influence," with Judd Hirsch, set for NBC in November.

On "Phenom," Ms. Light plays a single mother of three. Among the kids is a 15-year-old tennis starlet -- a phenom -- who is being pulled from family life by her domineering coach.

Though Ms. Light has top billing, both the grating coach (William Devane) and the kid (Angela Goethals) are prime for scene stealing. Before the show even premiered, there was word that Mr. Devane was about to walk if his status, perks and salary were not improved.

"[The media] did that with Tony and me," Ms. Light said, adding that such stories don't faze her. "Look, it's not like things don't happen. When you're on a show like this, it's a family. What family doesn't have problems? If you push it down and hide it, nothing is ever resolved.

"My husband [actor Robert Desiderio] worked with William Devane for a year and a half on 'Knots Landing,' and loved him. Now I love him.

"This business is about service, and giving people entertain

ment. It's not really about this other stuff."

But the "other stuff" -- the relationships that form when people work together intensely for years -- is something Ms. Light acknowledges is tough to avoid.

"It's hard to move on in life," she said, adding that the May '92 conclusion of "Who's the Boss?" hit her harder than she anticipated.

"It was a place to go every Monday. I really missed that. That was family."

Still a friend

She said Mr. Danza remains a friend.

"He sent me flowers before our first taping. We talk a lot. He's been having a hard time. His mother just died and they were so close.

"I loved working with him. I love him enormously and I miss him. I loved the show. It was just very sexy. It always left a lot to your imagination and was so sweet. It was a very wonderful time in my life. I'm sorry that it ended," she said.

"But now I'm working with [producer] Jim Brooks, which is an honor and a blessing. The man who produced 'Mary Tyler Moore' and 'Taxi' and 'The Simpsons.' He's extraordinary. And this is a snappy group. Every character is interesting."

Born in Trenton, N.J., Ms. Light earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Carnegie-Mellon University. She spent a summer touring with the USO, then performed in several regional theater companies before landing work on the New York stage.

When she segued from daytime to nighttime television almost 10 years ago, the super-slim actress also made another important transition: She lost 50 pounds after a lifetime weight-watching battle.

"Now I never diet," she said.

"Feeling angry and deprived is no way to go through life. I just have one bite of whatever I want. I gotta stay conscious of it always, but if I want another bite, I'll eat more. You have to look deep inside yourself and see if you really want to be thin."

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