Tartikoff Relying on Rapper for Fresh Start : NBC: After a 'disappointing' season, the network's chief is banking on 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' and a medical series.

TIMES TELEVISION WRITER

NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff said Wednesday that the network's season has been "disappointing" but that he expects a major revival in the fall, led by a comedy starring rap singer the Fresh Prince.

Taking questions from columnists around the country in a satellite news conference, Tartikoff expressed high hopes for the series "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and for another new entry, "Signs of Life," a medical anthology.

The NBC programmer, who announced his fall schedule Monday, predicted that "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" would be "the first hit-the-ground-running comedy hit we've had since 'The Golden Girls' (in 1985)."

He said that the show, which stars the Fresh Prince (Wil Smith) as a kid from a tough Philadelphia neighborhood who moves in with relatives in Bel-Air, was the best-testing NBC comedy ever with teen-agers. "That includes 'The Cosby Show,' " he said.

Tartikoff described "Signs of Life," which depicts medical stories from the patient's point of view, as a "landmark show" that could rank with "St. Elsewhere" in excellence. Of all NBC's new series, he added, it could have the greatest impact on the national consciousness.

"Coming off the year that we had, we needed strong development," Tartikoff said, referring to the fact that even though NBC finished first in the prime-time ratings for the fifth year in a row, its audience was down 9% and the network wound up renewing only three of the series that were introduced this season--the fewest in six years.

He acknowledged that CBS was pressing NBC with "the closest May sweeps (we've had) in seven years. We were stunted against pretty successfully by CBS," he added, referring to that network's surge behind a group of specials and TV movies.

During the past season, all five of NBC's new fall series were canceled. Tartikoff said that the writing of three of them--"Hardball," "Sister Kate" and "Mancuso, FBI"--was not up to snuff after the pilot shows. Of "Mancuso," he said, "I don't think we ever gave (star Robert Loggia) the words" that his talents deserved. He said he was considering bringing Loggia back in a series of "Mancuso" specials.

Tartikoff acknowledged that NBC lost some young viewers to top challenger ABC last season because as such long-running series as "The Cosby Show," "Cheers" and "The Golden Girls" "grow old gracefully," the audience grows older with them.

But, predicting that "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" might draw 30% of the audience each Monday next season, the programmer vowed "to return NBC to being the young adult, contemporary television network."

NBC also has had trouble on Fridays, and Tartikoff said that he believes he has solved the problem with his new lineup of "Quantum Leap," "Night Court," "Wings" and "Midnight Caller," all of which have done well in the ratings on other nights.

The NBC chief described his Saturday-night lineup of six sitcoms as "the new golden age of comedy." He said that the leadoff show, "Parenthood," starring Ed Begley Jr., and based on the motion picture of the same name, was a perfect opener for the night because it reflects the audience that now is staying home on Saturdays and watching television.

Tartikoff was asked whether the return of the sitcom "Grand" was linked to negotiations to bring back "The Cosby Show," since both series have the same executive producers, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner. The renewal of "The Cosby Show" was made amid reported huge financial demands.

"Everything was a bargaining chip, but that's not what held up the 'Cosby' negotiations," Tartikoff said. "Grand" finished No. 15 in the season's ratings for network series. He said the network believes in the offbeat show.

Asked whether NBC intends to bring "Alf"--which was canceled--to a conclusion after its cliffhanger ending that left the furry hero's fate in doubt, Tartikoff said that he hoped to do so with a one-hour special "sometime next fall." But he declined to guarantee a finale.

Addressing ABC's much-talked-about new series "Twin Peaks," he said that he thought it "has changed television" but questioned its past placement opposite "Cheers" and following "Father Dowling Mysteries," which attracts an older audience. He also questioned whether it will do well on Saturdays in the fall because its generally younger audience is often out on that evening.

Tartikoff also said that Fred Dryer's new police partner on the returning "Hunter" series will be Darlanne Fluegel, who had a recurring role as Dennis Farina's estranged wife in NBC's "Crime Story." She will replace Stepfanie Kramer, who left the show at the end of this season.

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