November's votes count at NBC, too: More shows about family, religion TURNED ON IN L.A.

January 10, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield said yesterday that the network paid attention to the political and cultural changes so dramatically reflected in the November election, and it is reacting accordingly.

In future programs, he said, NBC is going to stress family and religion -- starting with the series "Amazing Grace," which stars Patty Duke as a minister and single mom and will premiere in February.

"We have spent a lot of time playing with the election results, trying to be in touch with the audience out there," Littlefield said. "We look at what the audience is telling us, like, 'Why is network television avoiding religion?'

"Religion is something that, across America, they seem to be seeking out more strongly than ever before. . . . And we very much have felt that sensibility."

Littlefield said that he believes these are tough times for many Americans. "There's a sense of distrust, there's a sense of, 'How am I going to make it?' And, I think, television shows need to give them a sense of, 'You're not alone.' There's a sense of familial ties, if you will, that we can provide.

"These are some of the themes that we are wrestling with. And one of the shows that we felt gives us an interesting road into all that is 'Amazing Grace,' with Patty Duke. Family drama is not easy. But this is NBC stepping up and saying, 'We can do a family drama.' "

Among the show-business news Littlefield announced yesterday:

* Ted Danson will return as Sam Malone -- something he said he'd never do when "Cheers" ended in 1993 -- in a one-shot guest appearance on "Frasier" Feb. 28. Littlefield refused to discuss specifics of the sweeps episode. "Those details are going to be pretty closely guarded," he said. Danson will also star in a four-hour mini-series version of "Gulliver's Travels," which does not yet have an air date.

* Kyle MacLachlan, of "Twin Peaks" fame, will return to series television next fall as star of "The Conversation," an adaptation of the feature film of the same name. Francis Ford Coppola, who made the film, will produce the weekly series. Ron Bass, who won an Oscar for "Rain Man," is the writer.

* Lynda La Plante, who created "Prime Suspect" and homicide detective Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) for British television, will create and produce a weekly drama. Its working title is "The Prosecutor" and it will feature three female courtroom attorneys, who have yet to be cast.

* The executive producers of "The Cosby Mysteries" have been fired and a new team is in place. "Viewers are positive about the concept, but were underwhelmed by the quality of the mysteries," Littlefield said. "We are hoping for better mystery writing."

* "Homicide," the police drama set in Baltimore, got a vote of confidence from Littlefield, who said that despite its poor ratings, "We believe in this show." He says NBC will launch a promotional campaign for "Homicide" this week, airing ads for the series on Thursday nights during the hit show "ER." That advertising time is some of the most valuable on NBC because the "ER" audience is so large.

* Martin Short will be back this spring in yet another revamped (this will be the third) version of "The Martin Short Show." In this one, Short will do only sketch comedy.

* "Madman of the People" will lose its comfy Thursday night slot after "Seinfeld" and be made to sink or swim on its own elsewhere on the schedule, Littlefield said. Where hasn't been determined yet.

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