TV producer extraordinaire Aaron Spelling is contemplating what America will think of his latest TV series "2000 Malibu Road," a six-part summer soap that premieres Sunday on CBS, "Murphy Brown's" network.
"It will be interesting to see how audiences accept this," Spelling says. "I don't think that Dan Quayle will love this."
Not with one of the leads working, at least in the first episode, as a call girl.
"Malibu" follows four women who share a beach home at 2000 Malibu Road: Jade O'Keefe (Lisa Hartman), who is trying to get out of the hooker business; criminal attorney Perry Quinn (Jennifer Beals), who is attempting to get over the death of her fiance, aspiring teen-age actress Lindsay Rule (Drew Barrymore) and her older, manipulative sister Joy (Tuesday Knight).
"We wanted to do a very adult, very visually distinctive soap opera, something that was fun and escapist and sexy," says Jonathan Levin, vice president of programming for CBS. "We are going to great pains to separate ourselves from the other networks and we see an opportunity to appeal to the larger segment of the population that is being ignored in programming by Fox, NBC and ABC."
Spelling gushes when he talks about "Malibu."
"I must tell you it is not like anything else I have ever seen," enthuses the man who gave the world such hit series as "The Mod Squad," "The Love Boat," "Charlie's Angels," "Dynasty" and the current Fox hits "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place."
"I don't want to compare it to 'Twin Peaks' (Spelling co-produced the David Lynch series) because they are totally different," Spelling says. "As CBS said when we sent them episode one, their first remark was 'It's beautiful.' But not beautiful in a glitzy way that 'Dynasty' is beautiful. It is just beautiful ."
"Malibu Road" was born when CBS executives met with feature film director Joel Schumacher ("St. Elmo's Fire," "Flatliners," "Dying Young"), after the network learned he was interested in testing the TV waters. CBS suggested several writers to Schumacher, including Terry Louise Fisher, who co-created "L.A. Law" with Steven Bochco. The two met and instantly hit it off.
"I wasn't looking to do just television," says Schumacher, who is a fan of TV. "I was looking for something that could be fun and interesting and exciting for the audience."
Originally, Fisher recalls, Schumacher wanted to do a low-budget, half-hour taped show. She was interested in doing a serial.
"I love the form," she says. "I always wanted to do the serial form. I wrote one for (a Fox pilot) last year. Of course, the half-hour tape show turned into an hour filmed show and the budget kept going up and up."
After Fisher created the series, she and Schumacher approached Spelling about joining them and financing the venture.
"I was tremendously intrigued because of Joel Schumacher," Spelling says. "We have been friends for a long time and have always talked about doing something together. I have admired Terry for a long time."
Though Lisa Hartman ("Knots Landing") is best known as a TV actress, "Malibu" marks the TV series debut of film actresses Drew ("E.T.") Barrymore and Jennifer ("Flashdance") Beals.
Schumacher suggested Barrymore to Fisher. "Drew was somebody that Joel said, 'Grab her,' " she says. "Jennifer was really presented to us in the traditional method by her agent." Beals says she wanted to work with Schumacher (see related story). Barrymore declined to be interviewed about "Malibu."
Besides being a co-producer, Fisher is writing all six hours. "It is hard," says the former novelist. "I had actually hired a couple of writers to write free-lance scripts and it was hard to put in their head what is in my head because it is very much like a novel."
Schumacher is directing all six episodes, an unheard-of undertaking in the world of episodic drama. "There are so many stories you've got to try to focus so it makes sense," Schumacher says. "They all have different story lines. They have their own story line altogether as housemates. They each have their own love life and then they each have their own family. There are some mysteries and crimes in some of the stories.
"If I hadn't gotten Terry Louise and if Aaron wasn't my partner and (if I didn't have) such a wonderful cast, I don't know if I would have done this because it is like a survival course."
At a cost of approximately $1.3 million an episode, Spelling admits "Malibu Road" is one of "the most expensive shows we have ever produced." He says the costs are high because of production values and location shooting. "We are all over the place (shooting)," he says. "We go to hospitals, jails and restaurants. It certainly isn't Joel's fault. He has not gone (over schedule)."
Spelling hopes to make up some of his investment by selling the show to foreign markets. "We have already gotten some terrific offers," he says. "With Joel and those stars, they love motion-picture names over there."
All involved hope the series will perform well enough in the ratings to return as a mid-season show.
But "Malibu Road" will have an uphill climb. After Sunday's two-hour kickoff after "Murder, She Wrote," the series will air opposite NBC's cult hit "Seinfeld" and Spelling's red-hot Fox series "Melrose Place."
"It's sad," Spelling says. "There are so few independent companies left in the business. It's hard to get a show on the air and then you find out you are against yourself. ... which child do you root for?"
But Spelling insists "Malibu Road" is not for the "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose" crowd.
"I think women and men over 30 will like the show a lot," Spelling says. "I think the main demographics on 'Melrose' are between (the ages of) 11 and 28. This (show) has a sense of kinkiness about it."
Spelling chuckles. "Watch me get blasted by CBS for using that word," he says.
"2000 Malibu Road" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. and then moves to its regular time s lot Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.