For years, one of the biggest issues in California has been land use. How much development is overdevelopment? Should property rights be balanced by future generations' right to have open space?
These are weighty questions for soap-like drama to address, but Judith Krantz's "Dazzle" is a glittery two-part movie with an earthbound basis. Inspired by the history of Orange County's Irvine Ranch, Krantz's "Dazzle" plot involves a family battle over whether to "pave over paradise and put in a parking lot," as Joni Mitchell once sang.
Lisa Hartman Black plays the favored daughter of a fictional wealthy Southern California landowner. She fights other heirs to preserve his dream to use the land responsibly. In this case, as in that of the real-life family that owned the Irvine Ranch south of Los Angeles, responsible land use is building a new town without damaging natural vegetation and wildlife on the property.
Black explains the dramatized "Dazzle" story: "The land was passed down intact from generation to generation since the Spanish Mission days. Now it has come down to me. A Hong Kong developer wants to subdivide it, and my greedy sisters think I should sell. In the end I come up with a way to keep most of it."
Black tapped into her relationship with her own father while filming scenes with her TV dad, played by Cliff Robertson. "I have a very healthy relationship with my father [a singer based in Houston], but I left home when I was in my late teens to come to Los Angeles and I don't see him as much as I'd like.
"Playing this part makes me realize what my Dad and I could have more of. Cliff Robertson and I are two strangers, but somehow working with him gives me a chance to have those feelings I wish I could have with my Dad. It's almost real for me."
Black gets as much parenting as any daughter could want from her mother, Jonni Hartman, who lives in Los Angeles and is her press agent. While Black sits in her trailer between scenes on the "Dazzle" set, the phone rings. It's Mom confirming their dining-out plans.
Playing Black's mother in the miniseries is Linda Evans, whose character is a self-absorbed actress. Today's scene is supposedly set in Paris, where Evans' character has gone to shoot a movie and cheat on her husband. To save CBS money, the scene is actually being shot in an empty, just-built mansion on a nouveau-chateau street above Sunset Boulevard.
Back in her trailer during a break, Black is pining for husband Clint Black. Their fourth anniversary is Oct. 20. Clint's job as one of country's biggest singers involves almost perpetual touring. "Right now Clint's been gone a month, and that's the longest we've been apart since we met," she says.
"At first we decided I wouldn't work. Clint said, 'I'd be happy if you never worked again.' But when the chance to do '2000 Malibu Road' [in which she played a reformed prostitute] came along in 1992, he was very supportive. The show didn't go to series, and I was a little relieved."
She adds: "Right after that, 'Without a Kiss Goodbye' [a 1992 TV movie starring Black as a mother wrongly convicted of infanticide] was a script I just had to do."
Then she starred in a double role playing two women in distress in a psychological thriller called "Search for Grace." After that, in "Someone Else's Child," she played a mother whose baby was switched with another's in the hospital. In "Have You Seen My Son?" she pursued Jameson Parker, who had kidnaped their child.
So, looking back, there never was much chance Black would retire. After arriving in Los Angeles at 19, she made four albums for four labels before giving up on a singing career ("I'm a good singer and Clint's a great singer--there's a big difference.")
She starred in "Tabitha," a short-lived 1977 spinoff of "Bewitched." Through TV movies and miniseries such as "Valley of the Dolls," "Beverly Hills Cowgirl Blues" and "Roses Are for the Rich," not to mention her four years on "Knots Landing," she became a TV staple.
When she's not working in Hollywood, the Blacks make their life together mostly on the road, a month at a time on the concert circuit. When the couple get a week or two off, they go to her Los Angeles house or his Nashville place. She's enjoyed her instant enthronement as country-Western royalty. "Our neighbors in Nashville are Johnny and June Cash and George and Nancy Jones, and I call them whenever something goes wrong in that humongous house. I tell them, 'You're my 911!'
"Every now and then, Clint and I make all these big plans for vacations and then we don't go. I asked him once, 'Will you take me to Italy?' He said, 'Well, of course, but why?' We had tickets to Hawaii and canceled the night before. We decided to just stay put. We put DND (Do Not Disturb) on the phones and I cooked and did the washing. I love that toasty feel of warm dry clothes."
The Blacks are hoping someday to merge their talents in a movie. "We just want to do everything together," she says. "Aside from love, we have such a deep friendship that it's like we grew up together.
"We both come from Houston but we never met. He says he skateboarded all over the city when he was young. He probably skateboarded right past me, and I probably almost ran over him once or twice. I guess we were fated to meet."
"Dazzle" airs Sunday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.