TV trends: Enough to make you cry

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Spring Preview

January 20, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

How good is the script for "Moment of Truth: To Walk Again," an NBC made-for-TV movie, which will air Feb. 16?

"Well, first, it made me cry. I cried through the whole script. And I'm not an easy crier that way," says Blair Brown, the film's star.

How good is the script for "Getting Out," an ABC made-for-TV movie, which will air during February sweeps?

"I couldn't stop crying when I read it," says Rebecca DeMornay, the film's star.

And how good is the script for "Byrds of Paradise," a new ABC drama series, also scheduled to arrive in February?

"I read it. I cried. I laughed," says Timothy Busfield, the star of the series.

Either these network stars cry easily or there was a whole lot of hyping going on during the just-completed winter press tour.

These bi-annual gatherings of TV critics in Los Angeles, for two weeks in January and a month in July, are mainly about hype, spin, image and PR.

For 10 hours or so a day for 15 straight days, the critics troop from one room to another in the same hotel looking at clips from new shows and interviewing the stars, producers and network executives.

Think of it as an auto show. Only, instead of next year's hot mid-size sedan, the TV industry is selling the next "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" or "Roseanne" -- what they hope will be our next batch of pop culture heroes and role models.

That corner, where commerce meets pop culture, is the most interesting intersection on the TV landscape for me.

But the January tour is more about the networks building on or scrapping or trying to fix what they started in the fall -- which means it's more about business than pop culture.

So I can't tell you who the next Bart Simpson might be, but I can highlight a few programming patterns worth paying attention to in coming months.

* Olympics. If you like a fight, keep an eye on CBS. Its older-viewers-are-better strategy is getting old, and it's slipping in the ratings.

CBS needs a big February sweeps win to take the season, and it's pulling out all stops with its Olympics coverage.

The goal -- from its flag-waving promotional spots through its figure-skating-is-God scheduling -- is to make Nancy Kerrigan a ratings magnet, if she can compete. If she can't, look for David Letterman to join the Olympic bobsled team.

* More sex. In 1976, an anti-violence campaign got the networks to cancel some of their more violent action shows.

But to fill the void, series like "Charlie's Angels" were born. Provocative sexuality infiltrated prime-time TV in a big way.

In February, it's deja vu all over again as the networks pump up the prime-time sexuality quotient. To counter-program the Olympics, Fox has come up with something called "Wild Adventures in Paradise."

As Fox Entertainment President Sandy Grushow describes it, "Wild Adventures" will include "sexy hot" episodes of regular series, like "Melrose Place," and music specials from warm-weather locations, like "Luau With David Lee Roth," from Hawaii. Pamela Anderson of "Baywatch" fame will serve as a prime-time host between shows. Fox cameras will track her and Pauly ("Encino Man") Shore as they search for the perfect wave and ultimate beach party.

Think of it as a network version of MTV's "Spring Break." It's mainly a packaging concept. But what they are mainly packaging is sex, bikinis and bods.

The other networks are going to be upping the sex quotient, too, but that will mainly happen in made-for-TV movies.

* The return of the hour drama. The networks killed all of them off because they were too expensive. Then came "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," which reminded the networks they could make big bucks with the right drama -- especially if it appealed to women viewers.

Next month, check out CBS' "Christy" -- with Kellie Martin, formerly of "Life Goes On." She's a teacher in the Smoky Mountains at the turn of the century working with the poor. She could be Dr. Quinn's daughter.

We're going to be seeing lots of daughters of Dr. Quinn.

* As for the next Bart Simpson, ABC says watch "The Critic," which premieres at 8:30 Wednesday night.

It's an animated half-hour comedy series from the creators of "The Simpsons" about Jay Sherman, a fat, balding New York film critic who's not especially well-liked. Jon Lovitz does Sherman's voice.

How good is "The Critic"?

I saw it. I cried. I laughed.

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