TV Pilots Ready for an Air War

Times Staff Writer

Prime-time animation with a “Roger Rabbit” flair, nutty supernatural comedies harking back to “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched,” a blue-collar renaissance and a studious avoidance of last season’s reality-television blitz stand out among the trends in the varied crop of pilots being developed for the 1989-90 TV season.

Also popular among the series candidates for next fall’s prime-time season--revealed this week by the three networks and Fox Broadcasting in their annual meetings with advertisers--are:

--Vehicles for established stars such as Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason and Alan Alda.

--Adaptations of hit feature films (“Adventures in Babysitting,” “Coming to America” and “Married to the Mob”).


--Numerous variations on “The Somebody Show,” featuring either hip young comics (‘Julie Brown: The Show,” “The Louie Anderson Show,” “The Dave Thomas Show”) or TV veterans (“The Ann Jillian Show,” “The Barbara Eden Show,” “The Ed Begley Jr. Project,” “The Gregory Harrison Show”).

And, despite the failure of CBS’ nostalgic drama “Almost Grown,” which tracked the coming-of-age, marriage and divorce of a couple through the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s by triggering their memories with pop music hits, there seems to be some nostalgic coming-of-age yet to come, as NBC considers “When We Were Young,” a drama about eight young adults from a small Northern California town “set against the social and historical backdrop of the turbulent ‘60s.”

A couple of the networks have their own private development agendas.

CBS comedy executive Tim Flack pledged that his network will continue to aggressively go after the best and most innovative comedy Hollywood has to offer, in hopes of someday conjuring up at least one 8 p.m. hit.


And NBC’s chastened entertainment chief, Brandon Tartikoff--still reeling from critical blows dealt him for introducing Geraldo Rivera to the NBC schedule in a special on Satanism and for pandering to sleaze and sensationalism with movies such as “Full Exposure: The Sex Tapes Scandal"--vowed to respond to viewer complaints. “It’s a fruitless enterprise to keep on pushing the boundaries (of good taste) back when people are saying, ‘Hey, we can’t watch TV with our kids anymore,” he said.

The effort to revive prime-time animation might well fit into Tartikoff’s renewed investment in family television. It also, Tartikoff and others believe, might prove as successful with children and adults as the prime-time cartoons of the 196Os, such as “The Flintstones.”

Tartikoff said animation can blend both sophisticated adult humor with the sight-gags and slapstick humor that kids enjoy to create “The ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ of the 1990s.”

NBC has one such series in development: “Hound Town,” from Ralph Bakshi, which centers on three “canine buddies” and their “dog’s eye” view of the world. It also has commissioned a special that will blend animation and live action a la “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” called “The Jackie Bison Show,” focusing on Jackie, an animated bison who is also a TV star, and the human guest stars on his show.

Fox Broadcasting also may venture into the expensive business of blending live action and animation on a weekly basis with “Hollywood Dog,” a pilot about “a mutt in the city of stars and dreams.”

In the same vein, CBS has “The People Next Door” from Wes Craven, about a cartoonist whose imaginary characters come alive and interact with real people.

Along with animated characters, the pilot slate--at least for CBS and NBC--is studded with ghosts, witches and folks from outer space. Of the three networks, CBS seems to be the farthest out: their comedy projects include “Mars: Base One,” a comedy written by Dan Aykroyd about a space colony of earthlings on Mars; “Shivers,” about a single father who moves his family into a house already occupied by three ghosts, and the hour dramas “Nick Knight,” about a homicide detective who is also a vampire, and “Outpost,” about a colony of humans on the remote planet of Icarus.

NBC is developing “A Little Bit Strange,” probably TV’s first predominantly black witch, warlock and psychic family comedy. A pretty widow finds herself with an unusual brood of children when she marries a warlock, and her mother-in-law is a psychic.


NBC also is at work on a drama called “Blessed,” set in the Southwest, about a mysterious young girl who gave birth to a baby boy and disappeared; the boy grows up to discover he has supernatural powers.

As a counterpoint to the fantasy, next season’s development also features plenty of urban, working-class angst and returns to the simple life in rural America.

CBS’ “Married to the Mob” looks at a blue-collar suburban family in which Dad is a “low-level mobster,” while its “Mulberry Street,” in the style of “Moonstruck,” will explore the relationships of “a tightly knit, extended Italian family that live in the same Little Italy apartment building above the family-owned deli.” The CBS drama “Curse of the Corn People” heads for a small Kansas town where a group of talented friends in their 20s dream of becoming Hollywood producers by making a horror film set in their hometown.

ABC’s comedy “Beauty Parlor Project” features the relationship of two sisters who own a beauty salon; “Philby” is a Brooklyn lady-killer who moves to Los Angeles to work as bodyguard to a TV talk show hostess. ABC also tries a little organized crime with “Brotherhood,” about two New York City brothers, one of whom is a Mafia don, the other a New York police captain on the city’s organized crime task force.

And ABC celebrates that idol of working-class America, Elvis Presley, with “Elvis: Good Rockin’ Tonight,” a series based on the events of Presley’s life and an “unconventional history of rock ‘n’ roll.”

NBC will bring back the Roseanne-sized Nell Carter (formerly of “Gimme a Break”) as a single parent and secretary to the owner of a huge banquet-hall facility in “Morton’s by the Bay”; the network also heads for the heartland with “Down Home,” starring Judith Ivey as a career woman who leaves the urban world with her teen-age son to return to her home, a small Texas-coast fishing town, and “Orleans,” from “L.A. Law” co-creator Terry Louise Fisher, about assistant district attorney Jessica Filley, who moves from L.A. to New Orleans with her wayward teen-age son to keep him out of criminal detention, promising the judge the boy will straighten out if he lives nearer to his father.

Only one reality-based series, CBS’ “9-1-1 Rescue,” focusing on policemen and firemen, appears on any of the network lists. It is a series commitment for fall.