Desire, deception and fall previews At TV's annual summer press tour, a critic looks the coming season - and Bo Derek - in the eye


August 09, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

PASADENA, Calif. - It's the NBC "Carousel of Stars" dinner, and I'm seated at a table with Bo Derek and Zalman King, star and executive producer, respectively, of "Wind on Water," a bizarre new drama series for fall.

The show is set in Hawaii and stars Derek as the matriarch of a cattle-ranching, surfboard-racing clan of beautiful people. Lee Horsley - may the good Lord have mercy on our souls - plays the patriarch of a rival family of land developers.

King is next to me; Derek is across the table. King once starred as Aaron Silverman in a series called "The Young Lawyers" in 1971. He now produces the erotic "Red Shoe Diaries" for Showtime. Along the way, he wrote the films "9] Weeks" and "Wild Orchid" - very smart and steamy stuff.

Naturally, someone at the table asks a question about television and sex. King replies that "Red Shoe Diaries" - stylish short-story versions of erotic fantasies - isn't about sex, it's about "desire." But after two or three more questions about sex, he gives up trying to explain the difference. I like him a lot for even trying, and go out of my way during dinner to avoid telling him what I think of his new show.

Near the end of the dinner, though, he asks me point-blank what I think of Derek, who at the moment is staring silently at an untouched pile of mashed potatoes on her plate. I don't want to say anything about her acting, so, I say instead: "She really is a beautiful woman, isn't she?"

"That's our show, that's the deal!" King says delightedly, "Forty-eight-year-old guys looking at the screen and thinking, 'Jeez, she really is a great-looking woman.' If we get that, we're a hit. That's desire - television and desire."

And I thought Zal liked me for my mind.

The summer press tour is like going to a summer camp where all you do is watch TV and eat. On a regular basis, though, the people inside the TV set morph through the screen and into your reality to chat you up and sometimes join you for lunch and dinner.

Sex, lies and videotape almost gets it, but not quite. It's more like desire (OK, Zalman?), deception and more than 100 videocassettes, of which one or two may hold the television images that will seize the popular imagination come fall - this year's "Ally McBeal."

Could it be Christina Applegate, a k a Kelly Bundy of "Married With Children," as a single, working-class mom in the NBC sitcom "Jesse"?

Back at the fabulous "Carousel of Stars" dinner - so called because the stars are supposed to keep rotating from table to table during dinner - we adjourn to a terrace for dessert. The terrace - at the Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel - is large, lovely and overlooks a splendid pool. And there, sitting on a chest-high wall with the western sky and the pool in all its glory as a backdrop, is Applegate. Her legs are crossed, her head is tipped back, and the middle-aged guys in blue blazers are standing three deep in front of her, hanging on every word as if she were Moses just back from the mount.

No one's talking to George Dzundza, the actor who plays her tTC father and is the butt of many of the dumber jokes in "Jesse."

"Hey, who's that fat guy over by the bar?" a young man with Hollywood good looks asks.

"George Dzundza. He's a great actor."

"George what?"

"Zoond-za. He was in 'Law & Order' during the 1990 and '91 seasons."

"Oh yeah? Anything else?"

"Ever hear of a little film called 'The Deer Hunter'?"

"I think so. That's the one with Redford and he's, like, a hunter out West, right?"

I don't think Dzundza's going to be our next Ally, anyway. The early favorite to be Ally-of-the-year is 22-year-old Keri Russell ("Mad About Mambo") as 17-year-old Felicity Porter in WB's "Felicity." The series has already been dubbed "Ally McBeal goes to college" in some critical quarters.

The coming-of-age drama about a young woman leaving her sheltered, privileged home in California to start college in New York does have a splendid pilot episode. Produced and directed by J.J. Abrams ("Regarding Henry") and Matt Reeves ("The Pallbearer"), it has the texture of a small feature film.

I would say that the trick is going to be in sustaining that level of excellence in production for a full season. But I think the executives at WB know a better trick - manufacturing desire in and around Russell and "Felicity"

before the season ever starts.

By the end of the month, you are going to be hearing Madonna's "Power of Goodbye" single from her new "Ray of Light" album on promotional trailers for "Felicity." Letting her music be used to promote a television show is a first for Madonna, the mistress of manufactured media desire. The musical trailers will run on radio, television and in movie

theaters. It's probably coincidental, but Madonna records for Warner Bros., as in the WB's Warner Bros.

On Sept. 8, Russell and "Felicity" will be featured on a prime-time, WB special produced in conjunction with Seventeen magazine, "Seventeen: the Faces for the Fall." Not surprisingly, Russell and "Felicity" are going to be all over the magazine itself.

The WB guys announced all this exactly one week after NBC's Ritz Carlton party. This affair was at the Twin Palms restaurant in Pasadena; all the stars and producers of their new fall series were there, as well as 200 or so of their new best friends in the press.

And there was Russell, sitting on an extra-high bar stool, her long, dancer's legs tucked up under her, holding forth for the brigade of blue blazers. This time, the blazers were at least four deep in front of her.

There's desire, and then there's desire, I guess, Zal.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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