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The Right Time for Nostalgia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The executive producers and creators of “That ‘70s Show” admit they’re feelin’ groovy with the first-class treatment Fox is giving their popular retro sitcom.

Though the series aired its season finale in March, the network is bringing the show back on Monday for the summer with five new episodes scattered among episodes from last season.

“One of the things that Fox has had great success with is the summer run of series,” says Terry Turner, who is executive producer and co-creator of “That ‘70s Show” with his wife Bonnie and Mark Brazill.

“We would have rather been taken completely off the air and then put back in June than being moved to another night and confuse viewership,” says Bonnie. “We felt like if you are not going to leave us on all the way through the season, then just put us back on the shelf because we know what happens.”

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The couple, who were writers years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” are still smarting over the treatment NBC has given their hit series “3rd Rock From the Sun.” That Emmy Award-winning comedy has seen its audience erode after being bounced around the NBC schedule over the past few years.

“It just got beat up so badly,” he sighs.

Still, “That ‘70s Show,” which premiered last fall, isn’t a poster child of stability. After airing Sundays this past season and Mondays this summer, it will move to Tuesdays in September.

“I kind of felt at first I would have liked to have stayed on Monday,” he says. “But as it has been pointed out to us numerous times, when football comes on Monday nobody can compete with it. It’s just a force. So I would rather be on Tuesday.”

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So come this fall, Tuesday evening belongs to the Turners with “3rd Rock” airing at 8 on NBC and across the dial on Fox at 8:30 is “That 70’s Show.”

“It will be our must-see hour,” Terry says, laughing. “Our family hour will actually be a family hour in our own personal home,” Bonnie adds.

Set in a Wisconsin suburb, “That ‘70s Show” explores the comic misadventures of 17-year-old Eric Forman (Topher Grace), who is constantly testing the authority of his gruff, austere father Red (Kurtwood Smith) and his eager-to-please mother, Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp).

Eric’s also trying to get the nerve to go past first base with his dishy friend and next-door-neighbor Donna (Laura Prepon).

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Rounding out Eric’s cohorts in comedy are the good-looking but dimwitted Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), his pampered girlfriend Jackie (Mila Kunis), the supercool Hyde (Danny Masterson) and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), a foreign-exchange student whose favorite expression is “whore.”

In Monday’s installment, Hyde hooks up with a feminist biker chick, while Eric can’t figure out how to unhook Donna’s bra. The following week, Eric catches his parents in their bedroom in the throes of passion.

The creators realized as the premiere season progressed that the focus of the show should be on the Forman family. “The dynamic of Red, Kitty and Eric is really a strong thing,” Terry says.

“It is about this kid, Eric, who is trying to, like we all did when we were 17, separate as gracefully as you can from your family. They are putting rules on you, especially in my house where my father’s word was law.”

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The Turners also discovered that all the characters mixed and matched perfectly. “The thing that I like about the show is that you can put Hyde and Kelso together and they are kind of a comedy unit,” he says.

“You can put Hyde, Eric and Kelso together and they are fine. You can put Kelso and Fez together and they work. I think we are still in the process of exploring what all the characters do and how they work.”

“That ‘70s Show” also possesses one of the loudest studio audiences, which the series must have inherited from Fox’s late raunchy comedy, “Married . . . With Children.” Every comic and sexual situation is met with not only laughs, but catcalls, wolf whistles and “woooooooos.”

So much so the producers often have to ask the audience not to laugh quite so loudly, because a high noise level ruins takes. “It gets a bit crazy when you get 20 people from a high school or college and they come in a group,” he says. “It’s a madhouse. Every time Fez says the word ‘whore’ they go insane.”

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Bonnie points out the demographics for the series span all age groups, from kids to baby boomers. “The great surprise is how many people like it for so many different reasons,” she says.

Next season, which is set in 1977, will find Eric battling a new guy in town for the chance to become Donna’s first sexual experience.

“Because his mother has left town, Hyde, is going to move into the Formans for a while,” says Terry. “It’s going to create a lot of problems.”

And he hopes a lot of laughs.

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“That ‘70s Show” airs Mondays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on Fox.


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