Big Stars Small Screen

By Gloria Goodale Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

Big Stars Small Screen


Gloria Goodale Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


After the Olympics on NBC end Sunday, it won't be a Hollywood minute before all six networks jump in to fill the void. Right on the heels of the final long-distance blimp shot over Sydney, they'll strut their new stuff, dodging late-season baseball and presidential debates as they roll out a long list of new programs beginning next week.

This fall's lineup of new TV dramas and comedies can be summed up in four words: maturity and movie stars.

The new shows are geared more than ever toward adults, including dramas written by seasoned pros such as Dick Wolf ("Deadline," NBC) and David Kelley ("Boston Public," Fox), and starring mature performers like Andr Braugher ("Gideon's Crossing," ABC), Tim Daly ("The Fugitive," CBS), and Craig T. Nelson ("The District," CBS).

The networks' eponymous star shows offer both movie names and mature performers: Bette Midler on CBS, who says she will "go back to film when they learn to make movies"; Oscar-winner Geena Davis on ABC; and Michael Richards of "Seinfeld" fame on NBC. Equally big names are showing up across the board. "Deadline" is so full of major actors it's hard to imagine Wolf can showcase them all properly - Oliver Platt, Lili Taylor, Bebe Neuwirth, Tom Conti, and Hope Davis. Film star Dianne Wiest will join the ongoing cast of "Law & Order" (NBC). Legendary movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer comes to the small screen with "C.S.I." (CBS). "Titanic" film director James Cameron downsizes too, with "Dark Angel" (Fox).

Even the sitcoms are offering both star power and experience: "Madigan Men" (ABC) features Gabriel Byrne and stage legend Roy Dotrice. The logic behind these high-powered moves is not hard to grasp. As cable and satellite encroach on network audiences, the stakes for winning eyeballs are high. Star power helps.

"There's a benefit to having that name recognition," says Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman of the ABC Television Entertainment group.

Experienced writers with a solid track record help bring back the sort of industry recognition that attracts audiences. "In recent years, the networks have let a lot of their best-quality programming go to cable," says Steve White, executive vice president of movies and miniseries for NBC. "A lot of the awards that used to be exclusively for the network movies and miniseries have gone to the cable companies." A glance at the bushel of Emmy Award nominations for HBO's "The Sopranos" underlines the point.

Beyond that, TV is simply continuing its trend of tracking the viewing habits of the baby boomers. "This generation were newborns with Ricky, 11-year-olds with Beaver," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television in Syracuse, N. …

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