TV or not TV. . . .
CAREER MOVE: Jack Coleman seems quite happy that "Dynasty" is well in his past.
As Steven Carrington, the character over whom ABC waffled about portraying as openly gay, Coleman was one of the most popular actors on the 1980s series.
But what pleases him about his new role in NBC's "Nightmare Cafe," which debuts Friday after a recent sneak preview, is that it is "a very far cry" from the famous soap opera that gave him his big break.
Coleman co-stars as a short-order cook in the one-hour NBC drama about a cafe in which patrons face turning points in their lives.
"It's different from almost anything on the air," says the actor, who went back to stage work after leaving "Dynasty" nearly four years ago. "When you try to describe it, inevitably 'The Twilight Zone' comes up."
Coleman knows, however, that his distinctive character as the son Steven in "Dynasty" had real impact:
"I think overall that the show had a lot of courage to create this character and bring it to prime time in such a way that the character was never used as comic relief, the way gay characters so often are."
But, he agrees, "there was a lot of waffling over the years, not wanting to alienate any sponsors with any explicit sex or any behavior they might deem uncomfortable. Pressure was brought to bear by conservative and liberal factions. I think it was a landmark decision to bring the character to television."
When Coleman left "Dynasty," he says, the move "was based on the decision to make my career away from that show. I knew it would be difficult because it had such a distinct reputation. So it's been a lot of work.
"In breaking away from a lucrative television job, you grow a lot. A certain amount of sacrifice comes with it. I want to do features and great work. I've turned down a lot, including the 'Dynasty' reunion."
Significantly, in the reunion miniseries last fall, the character of Steven was depicted in a positive fashion living contentedly with his male lover.
"I did not see the miniseries," says Coleman. And he feels that "to reminisce about 'Dynasty' doesn't serve me well in the direction I'm pursuing."
Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the role of Steven Carrington at times placed him in a unique position:
"My feeling was that I was in a kind of a situation where I was expected to be a spokesman, and I was never comfortable being a spokesman. It's just the kind of position you wind up in when a character is long-running. You not only have to defend the character but the situation to the entire country.
"I felt like sometimes I was supposed to be the one to explain why there was this ambivalent decision-making as to which side of the fence Steven was going to jump to. And I was not the one making the decisions."
How did Coleman see the character he was playing?
"Ultimately I saw Steven as a man who was unsure of his sexuality and from time to time was attracted to women. He was caught between worlds."
Coleman wasn't sure that he'd get the "Nightmare Cafe" role, which he says "originally was described as a macho former soldier and gravedigger. I didn't think they would look at me like that, but they liked what I did and begrudgingly brought me back and made some minor adjustments in the part."
As for the past: "I always felt I was in 'Dynasty,' but never of 'Dynasty.' I always felt like I was off to the side, watching it. Never for a second did I think, 'Wow! I'm a star of the No. 1 TV show in the world.' I just regarded it as a cultural phenomenon."
SURVIVORS: Quite a sight as Elizabeth Taylor, queen of the movies, visited Johnny Carson, the king of TV, on "The Tonight Show" Friday. Kind of hard to think of Taylor as a senior citizen.
TEAMWORK: Did you see those two incredible women on TV Saturday night? Oh, I see--you think I mean Roseanne and Madonna on "Saturday Night Live." No, no--I mean Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich in Billy Wilder's wonderfully cynical, post-World War II comedy set in Berlin, "A Foreign Affair," on the American Movie Classics channel. A delicious, underrated film.
FREQUENT FLIER: Oliver North does a cameo on NBC's "Wings" Thursday.
COUCH POTATO SPECIAL: When a lifeguard on "Baywatch" gets conked on the head and starts dreaming, the syndicated series does a flashback to "Gilligan's Island" at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KCOP Channel 13, with Bob Denver and Dawn Wells of the nutty old series on hand.
STRANGER THAN FICTION: "What grabs me," says journalist-producer Art Harris, "are real-life short stories." He has one Monday in NBC's TV film "Woman With a Past," which stars Pamela Reed as a super-mom, ideal wife and real estate broker who is suddenly arrested. An escaped convict, she had been serving time for armed robbery.
"This was a woman whose family did not know about her past," says Harris, who wrote about the real-life case as a journalist and is a producer of the film. "She was re-arrested in 1988. She was on the lam from 1978 to 1988. The story is really about second chances. She's now out, almost finished with parole, back selling real estate, her sons are married and she's been accepted. She paid her dues."
THE FACTS OF LIFE: Honest, truly, we really do like Paul Tsongas on TV, even if he does sound like Elmer Fudd at times.
BEING THERE: "Desperation tends to make one flexible."--MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) in "MacGyver."
Say good night, Gracie. . . .