"I received a summons for jury duty yesterday, but the producer got me off," Barbara Bosson said. She couldn't serve because she was already busy in court. In a TV movie that recently completed production in Los Angeles, she is one of 15 current and former ABC series performers pondering the verdict in a case in which a character played by ABC star Bronson Pinchot stands accused of embezzlement.
"Jury Duty: The Comedy," a sort of trailer for half of ABC's series lineup, will air early this fall. The movie takes a comic swipe at that most American of traditions--being tried by a jury of your peers.
Casting so many series stars in a TV movie to air early in the season sounds like a classic marketing ploy.
It isn't, insisted Allen Sabinson, ABC's vice president of motion pictures for television and miniseries. He prefers to call it a "wonderfully synergistic" move: " 'Jury Duty: The Comedy' will help our series and our series will help it."
Using such stars as Alan Thicke of "Growing Pains," Lynn Redgrave of the upcoming "Chicken Soup" and Pinchot of "Perfect Strangers" cost a lot, said executive producer Steve White, who refused to reveal "Jury Duty's" budget or the amount allotted to the actors.
"(These actors) are the cream of the crop. Let's just say that the budget and the cast are at the high end of what these movies cost."
William Schilling, who plays the principal on "Head of the Class" and an out-of-work teacher called for jury duty here, said: "They don't have to give us lots of money because we have regular jobs. We can come here and play comedy without fear of unemployment."
In "Jury Duty," Pinchot plays a mild-mannered accountant who is on trial for embezzlement. Defending him is Bill Kirchenbauer of "Just the Ten of Us." Prosecuting him is Jacklyn Zeman of "General Hospital"; the chief prosecution witness is Tracy Scoggins, formerly of "Dynasty."
Others in the cast with ABC connections: Ilene Graff of "Mr. Belvedere," Danny Pintauro of "Who's the Boss?," Stephen Baldwin of "The Young Riders," Reginald VelJohnson of "Family Matters," Joshua Rifkind of the midseason entry "The Marshall Chronicles" and Madchen Amik of another midseason show, "Twin Peaks"--plus Bosson, from the now-canceled "Hooperman," and Heather Locklear, from the similarly defunct "Dynasty."
Pinchot needed some persuading to do the movie. "When they sent me the script, I said, 'No, no, no! This accountant is too plain-Jane," he said. "These other parts (a concierge, a shy, middle-aged Middle Eastern woman and a Geraldo Rivera-type reporter) are more interesting. So they digitally enhanced them for me." He plays all four roles in the film.
He was available for "Jury Duty," Pinchot explained, "because of the writers' strike last year. We didn't know when our hiatus would be so I couldn't set up a feature. So I told my agent to call the networks. ABC said that if I'd do 'Jury Duty,' they'd develop a TV movie for me."
Ensemble comedy projects periodically appear on television, although ABC has not made one recently. "It's the type of movie I'd done at NBC," said White, who was head of TV movies there before starting his own production company. "I like doing ensemble comedy. Very rarely do a bunch of leading comedy actors get to be in a true ensemble."
"It's like camp," Thicke said. "It's fast, furious and fun. I try to work for fun."
Redgrave, who co-stars with Jackie Mason in the new series "Chicken Soup," agreed to do "Jury Duty" because, she said, "from a performing point of view, it's nice to be one of the gang. It happens less and less. We all like to play leading roles, and we like the challenge and responsibility. Here no one has too much more than anyone else, so there's no petty jealousy. And for once it doesn't seem like gratuitous casting. The actors are terrifically suited to their roles."
Juror Bosson couldn't wait to play what she described as "a wacko psychic. I had all these visions of looking like Madame Arcati (the medium in Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit'). But the producers said, 'No. Just be you, psychic.' They wanted people the audience could identify with. Because the case we're hearing is so broad, they tried to have the jurors as realistic as possible."
"That's why they cast me as a prostitute," joked Locklear, fingering her short blond hair. "I thought that at least they'd put a wig on me."
Locklear and Bosson were among the few major cast members who did not have a series to return to this fall.
"Barbara and I figure 'Jury Duty' could be a pilot for a series for us," Locklear said, tongue in cheek. "Every week we could be on a different jury together."
And if that doesn't work out, they may be back next year in "Jury Duty: The Sequel."