Swoosh! NBC hopes to land a slam dunk with Hang Time, the latest addition to its Saturday morning, kid-oriented, live-action lineup.
Like the network's "Saved by the Bell" and "California Dreams," the new show is set at a Midwestern high school. This time around, though, instead of the usual antics or the pursuit of rock 'n' roll fame, "Hang Time" centers on Deering High's Tornados, the basketball team.
The Indiana team has found itself on the losing end, but this season brings big potential from a surprising source: the team's first female player.
Two-time NBA All-Star Reggie Theus, who dribbled for the Bulls and Kings, plays the team's coach in the series. Three of the show's stars, Daniella Deutscher (who plays team member Julia Conner), David Hanson (team captain Chris Atwater) and Christian Belnavis (cocky new frosh player Michael Maxwell) spoke to The Times about the show over lunch recently.
His peers "will really like the basketball angle," says Belnavis, a native Angeleno who attends a Los Angeles high school and who showed up at the restaurant with his parents. "They'll like the game, the way we play with each other, the way my character is a real showman and takes over and sometimes they win, sometimes they don't, but they mostly win with his help."
Deutscher, a former model who's been in Los Angeles a year, laughs when Belnavis is asked if he's like his hyper-confident character. "Exactly!" she offers.
Belnavis considers her comment and says, "Yeah, yeah, I'm like him," and lists the other sports he plays in school, finishing by saying, "What other sports are there? I'm sure I play them."
Hanson, who grew up playing basketball on the Paramount lot (his dad's a film editor turned screenwriter), thinks teens will be drawn to the camaraderie.
"There are very special friendships that come with playing organized ball," says Hanson, a former captain of Santa Monica High School's basketball team. "And it happens in every high school. I think kids will really respond to it."
"I think they will too," chimes in Deutscher. "And they're not just cutting away from us dribbling to the ball going through the hoop." All team members had to play some serious ball in their auditions.
Deutscher acknowledges she can relate to some of the prejudices her character initially encounters. "I started playing basketball when I was 8," the dead ringer for Helen Hunt recalls. "I played with my older brother and his friends, but I got some resistance when I got older." Deutscher played on her Boseman, Mont., high school girls' basketball team.
Surprisingly, the youthful stars don't like to reveal their ages. "They're just giving their birth dates," offers the show's network publicist. "That way, if the show goes on for several years, there won't be that sense of, 'Oh they're too old now.' "
Deutscher and Hanson say the cast members who play team members have gravitated to each other, much like the real thing.
The show also features Hillary Tuck as Samantha Morgan, the team manager who aspires to become a coach, Megan Parlen as Mary Beth Pepperton, the head cheerleader, and Chad Gabriel and Robert Michael Ryan as other team members.
This week's show tosses up a guest appearance by NBA Rookie of the Year Grant Hill.
"Hang Time" airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. on KNBC. For ages 6 and up.
More Family Shows
The Emmy- and CableACE award-winning Avonlea (Mondays at 8 p.m., repeats Sundays at 6 p.m. Disney Channel) begins its sixth season Monday, continuing the adventures of the folks on picturesque Prince Edward Island at the turn of the century. The season opener, "LonelyHearts" focuses on a bachelor auction at the White Sands Hotel. Romance blossoms, natch. For ages 6 and up.
Three of Nickelodeon's Snick shows offer up their season premieres Saturday, starting with All That (8:30 p.m.); The Ren & Stimpy Show (9 p.m.) and Are You Afraid of the Dark? (9:30 p.m.). For ages 6 and up.