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Kate Jackson Goes ‘Boom’

Times Staff Writer

It was easy to track down Kate Jackson after a recent day on the set of “Baby Boom,” the new NBC series that begins airing tonight at 9:30. A path of wet footprints connected the shooting site--the indoor swimming pool of the Glendale YMCA--to her trailer in the parking lot.

Jackson had just taken a dive, fully clothed, into the pool for a scene in which her character, corporate executive J. C. Wiatt, becomes frantic when she believes that her child is lost underwater in a toddler’s swimming class.

As in the movie on which the series is based (which starred Diane Keaton), Wiatt--a driven, successful Harvard grad--has become a mother by surprise when a long-lost relative died and left her a baby named Elizabeth.

With a hairdresser noisily blowing her straight brown hair dry as she sat in a tall director’s chair, Jackson eagerly badgered those in her trailer for a review of the scene.

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“Why does everyone say, ‘Uh--it was good?’ ” she demanded, mimicking the lukewarm praise of her unwilling critics. “Maybe (in post-production) they could slow it down a little--I mean, not slow motion, but enough so they can really see it. Otherwise, the audience will react the same way. It’s over before they even notice it.”

With “Baby Boom,” Jackson is plunging not only into swimming pools but also back into series television. It’s her fifth--she played a ghost on “Dark Shadows” in the early 1970s and went on to star in “The Rookies,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “Scarecow and Mrs. King"--but it’s the first in which she’s had the spotlight to herself.

Her preoccupation with the single swimming pool shot reflects her general concern about the public’s reaction to the series--and her--because she thinks “Baby Boom” is a step up after years of being associated with purely escapist entertainment.

“I have had TV work that has gotten attention before, and I think that I have been good in things before,” Jackson said. “But I think this is probably the most solid thing artistically--and I feel free to use that word when I’m speaking of this project, because it’s an artistic endeavor as well as a commercial one.”

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In fact, the 40-year-old actress said, “I really think this is going to open other doors. I’ve never really been ready for a movie career, and quite frankly I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen. But it only made sense for me to do another series if it was a unique project. This might be the best role I’ve ever had.”

Wasn’t Jackson offered other good projects after “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” left the air in 1987? “If I was, you’d have seen me in ‘em,” she cracked.

During press conferences about “Baby Boom” during the summer, Jackson said, she was challenged by reporters who thought that audiences might not be able to relate to the parenting problems of a wealthy business executive who could afford a nanny and the best education available for her child. Jackson disagrees.

“What we’re really trying to do is show pieces of her that are representative of every man, woman and child in the audience,” she said. “There is a universality, an Everyman quality that I think everybody can identify with. A lot of men can relate to this, because a lot of men are also coming home and parenting the children.”

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In the process of doing “Charlie’s Angels” and “Scarecrow,” Jackson earned a reputation for being a terror to work with. When she quit “Charlie’s Angels” in 1979, it was reported that her contract was not renewed both because she didn’t want to do the part anymore and had “generated friction” on the set.

But her reputation has been greatly exaggerated, Jackson maintained.

“I have temperament --I don’t have temper,” she said. “I don’t know that I’m so much a difficult person as a person who really cares. I’m sure I have been difficult for some people to work with, but I think some of them weren’t trying very hard, and frustrated me to the point at which I forgot my people skills.

“I want it to be good, and in this case (‘Baby Boom’), so does everybody else. I have been in situations in which people didn’t care, and that’s a very tough position to be in, day in and day out. I am not a perfection freak, I have seen that that is a destructive thing. But I do expect a lot of myself and everybody else.”

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Jackson did not specify which of her former series she was speaking of, but added: “It’s an awful early morning and an awful long day to be doing something that everybody doesn’t care enough about to put their noses to the grindstone and make it work--and then slough it all off on me and say: ‘Well-- twinkle ! Smile and show those teeth and make it work.’ ”

Jackson is not good at smiling for business reasons. When not working, she prefers to flee Hollywood for her home in Aspen. “I really have trouble with Los Angeles; it’s not an easy place for me,” she said. “I’m like a fish out of water here. I don’t enjoy the party scene, I never have. I always felt like if I had to go to a cocktail party to get a job, I was better off without the job.

“I often wonder if the people I’m most comfortable around are the babies,” she added thoughtfully, referring to Michelle and Kristina Kennedy, the 3-year-old twins who portray baby Elizabeth in “Baby Boom” (both the series and the feature). “They’ve got no idea who I am, and they’ve never seen a rerun of anything.”


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