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Remington Steele News & Information

What's happening with "Remington Steele"

Laura Holt pic

James Read (Murphy) guest-stars on "The Orville" Thursday, 6/9 on HULU.  He also has a recurring role on "Days of Our Lives" on NBC.

Pierce Brosnan has a lot of movies coming out. He will play Dr. Fate in the DC Comics film "Black Adam." More Information


Pierce Brosnan appears on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" Friday, 8/21 (Re-run from 7/8/20).

Pierce Brosnan appears on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" Wednesday, 7/8.

Pierce Brosnan stars in "The Son" on AMC. It returns for season 2 later this year. No return date announced yet!

Pierce Brosnan appears on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" Thursday, 8/23 (Re-run From 7/19/18) on NBC.
He stars in "Mamma Mia 2."

James Read guest-stars on a re-run of "NCIS" Tuesday, July 3 on CBS.

James Read guest-stars on "NCIS" Jan. 9 on CBS.

Pierce Brosnan is going to be on TV again! The Son trailer The show premieres Saturday, April 8 on AMC. He also appears on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Monday, 10/2 on CBS.

Great ad with Pierce Brosnan (Kia)

Pierce Brosnan appears on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" Thursday, 8/27 on ABC.

 Pierce Brosnan appears on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" Tuesday 10/21 on CBS.

Pierce Brosnan and More Among Stars To Be Featured in One-Hour Broadcast, with Special Performances by The Who, Jennifer Hudson and other artists.
Performances by The Who, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco & Common, Ariana Grande, and Dave Matthews
Stars Will Reach Out to Supporters from On-Stage Digital Lounge Hosted by Katie Couric -- “We’re Calling You”; Facebook is SU2C’s Primary Social Media Partner

Pierce Brosnan appears on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" Tuesday 8/19 on NBC, and on "Conan" Wednesday 8/20 on TBS.

Interview with Marion Ross and Doris Roberts of "Major Crimes" on TNT 7/22/13

Sexy at any age! Emma Thompson, 54, and Pierce Brosnan, 60, roll back the years at The Love Punch premiere

Pierce Brosnan appears on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" Wednesday 5/1 on ABC, on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" Thursday 5/2 on CBS, and on "Tavis Smiley" Wednesday 5/1 on PBS.

James Read guest-stars on CSI: NY Friday 11/16 on CBS.

Doris Roberts guest-stars on "Desperate Housewives" Sunday 4/29 on ABC.

Pierce Brosnan appears on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" Wednesday 3/28 (Rerun from 12/8/11)

Doris Roberts guest-stars on "Hot in Cleveland" on TVLAND 7/20 10:00 PM ET/PT. From Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Doris Roberts tells she’ll return to ABC’s The Middle as young Brick’s teacher on May 25. It’s been a busy couple of months for the veteran funnylady.

Pierce Brosnan has 4 new movies coming out in 2011 and appears on "Live with Regis and Kelly" Wednesday, 9/14.

Pierce Brosnan talks about his singing cojones and defines legal cheating.

Stephanie Zimbalist's father honored by FBI 6/9/09

9/21/06 from

For Zimbalist, it's 'Tea at Five' onstage and omelets across the way
Joe Kimball, Star Tribune

Stephanie Zimbalist, who's in town to portray Katharine Hepburn in "Tea at Five" at the Ordway, gives a big thumbs-up to the omelets at Anita's Cafe in Landmark Center.
She ate breakfast there three days in a row this week, but the staff didn't realize they were serving the star of TV's "Remington Steele" and film and stage productions until I introduced her to owner Jeff Conlin.

She keeps a low profile and wore a Minnesota Vikings cap Thursday (former Vikings owner Red McCombs is a friend).

She also loved our bronze Peanuts characters in Landmark Plaza because the late cartoonist Charles Schulz, who grew up in St. Paul, was an old golfing buddy of hers. He drew an original Snoopy cartoon for her, which she keeps on the refrigerator.

Zimbalist has many friends here, so she will have many chances to sample other St. Paul treasures before the play ends its run Oct. 1. High on her list: the St. Paul Gangster Tour.

9/20/06 from


Through Oct. 1: In the first act, we meet Katharine Hepburn at home in Old Saybrook, Conn. It's 1938, and the freshly minted Oscar winner and promising Broadway performer who has paradoxically been labeled "box office poison" mulls her future. The second act takes place almost a half-century later, in 1983, when the now-legendary star looks back on the triumphs of her career and her heartbreaking romance with Spencer Tracy. Stephanie Zimbalist plays Hepburn in this loving look at one of America's great leading ladies. McKnight Theatre, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St. St. Paul; $45-$40; 651-224-4222. — Dominic P. Papatola

9/19/06 From

LIFE STYLE EXTRA (UK) - Former Bond star Pierce Brosnan is planning to watch his replacement Daniel Craig in new 007 movie 'Casino Royale'.

The 53-year-old actor played the suave spy in four movies, including 'Goldeneye' and 'Die Another Day', before being axed by bosses for allegedly demanding too much money to reprise the role for a fifth time.

Brosnan was initially fuming after being told he would not be donning the secret agent's famous tuxedo again, and let rip with a foul-mouthed tirade against the producers, branding them "f***ers".

However, it seems the handsome star has got over his disappointment and insists he will be going to the cinema to watch Craig in the new movie along with the millions of other Bond fans all over the world.

The 'Matador' star said: "I'm looking forward to it like we're all looking forward to it. Daniel Craig is going to do a fantastic job."

Since he was named as Brosnan's successor, Craig has come under fire from some Bond fans who claim he is unsuitable for the role.

However, the producers seem pleased with their choice and have already signed up the 38-year-old actor for a second movie, on which shooting is due to start next year.

(c) BANG Media International.

9/19/06 from

Pierce Brosnan Prefers No Gas Pierce Brosnan and friendsPierce Brosnan and other celebrities campaigned and protested Friday against plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of Malibu. The $800 million dollar Cabrillo Port liquefied natural gas plant will be located 14 miles off the coast of Malibu. The facility is being shopped around by Australian-based BHP Billiton, one of the world's largest energy companies.

TMZ cameras rolled as the stars came out in support of the protest and Brosnan. Pierce says "This LNG project poses significant and potentially irreversible negative impacts to our coast, our environment and to the health and safety of our families," adding the terminal fails to meet clean air requirements.

A post on Brosnan's web site urging Malibu residents to join in the fight is signed by such A-listers as Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Darryl Hannah, Cindy Crawford, Olivia Newton John, Jamie Lee Curtis, Cher and Barbra Streisand.

TMZ spoke to a rep at BHP Billiton who said "If you are against fossil fuels, you won't like our project. I can't argue with that. But LNG is a better fossil fuel. Natural gas is the cleanest, and until all of us can drive our cars and power our homes with wind, solar, hydro or other renewables -- for the millions of people in Los Angeles and California, Cabrillo Port is a cleaner, safer solution."

9/15/06 from

Aussie actor cast with Pierce Brosnan
Friday Sep 15 10:13 AEST
Australian actor David Wenham has been cast in a support role alongside Pierce Brosnan and Rachel McAdams in an upcoming Hollywood flick called Marriage.

Brosnan has described Wenham as a "good lad".

"He is a good lad, we had a nice time together," Brosnan told AAP at the Toronto International Film Festival, where his film, Seraphim Falls, is screening.

"He has a good sense of humour."

Marriage is being directed by Ira Sachs and was adapted for the big screen from the book of the same name by John Bingham.

The film also stars Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson and tells the story of a cheating husband who plots his wife's murder instead of putting her through the humiliation of a divorce.

"Marriage is kind of a film noir, Hitchkocky love story set in Seattle in 1949," explained Brosnan.

"I play a bachelor and rogue who shags everything that comes his way. So it is a good one."

Wenham recently wrapped production on 300, starring opposite British actor Gerard Butler.

Meanwhile, Brosnan's Seraphim Falls will be released in Australia early next year.

The US western also stars Liam Neeson and is set in the 1860s, at the end of the Civil War, and follows an army colonel's attempts to hunt down a man with whom he has a grudge.

For Brosnan, the role was different from anything the former James Bond star had ever done.

"I am mixing it up you know," he said. "I have done Mr Smooth acting most of my life and gotten away with it to one degree or less so now is a time to get down and get dirty, change it, shake it up.

"You want to live as many lives as you possibly can and certainly acting allows one to do that.

Brosnan has several films slated for production over the coming year and said he would be very keen to work in Australia, although the right project had not yet come along.

"I was speaking to (director) Bruce Beresford the other day, he's got a project going down there and I had just done this period piece and his piece was a bit like this piece so it just didn't work out.

"But I will get down there."

9/14/06 from

Pierce Brosnan smiles at a press conference for Seraphim Falls during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto Wednesday.

Pierce Brosnan answers

Globe and Mail Update

James Rendle from Britain asks, What do you think of the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, and will you be watching Casino Royale?

I asked Mr. Brosnan the question Wednesday morning while attending a press conference for his new film Seraphim Falls, a western that takes place at the tail end of the Civil War.

The question raised groans from the gathered press and photographers. "And it was all going so well..." Mr. Brosnan said, seemingly to himself, and the room erupted in laughter. After the everyone quieted down, Mr. Brosnan gave a brief answer.

"I'm looking forward to it like we're all looking forward to it. Daniel Craig is a great actor and he's going to do a fantastic job.

Related to this article

Pierce Brosnan smiles at a press conference for Seraphim Falls during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto Wednesday. (Aaron Harris/CP)

The next journalist began his question, "This isn't about that [Bond]..."

9/14/06 From

Pierce Brosnan had a tough time filming latest movie

Pierce Brosnan's days of dodging bullets as Agent 007 were an apparent cakewalk compared to the "treacherous" conditions he and actor Liam Neeson faced on the set of their new film, "Seraphim Falls."

"It was pretty brutal, actually," the former James Bond star said at a news conference at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the western epic is debuting. "It was terrifying," said Neeson.

"Seraphim Falls," the feature directorial debut from David Von Ancken, is a Western saga set in the 1860s, five years after the end of the U.S. Civil War - reports

Neeson plays a southern colonel who vows revenge on a northerner and former Union Army captain (Brosnan), whom he blames for a major act of atrocity at the tail end of the war. The film also stars Angie Harmon and Angelica Huston.

Filming took place over 48 days last year in Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico, and although Neeson and Brosnan - both from Ireland - felt it was a dream come true to be in a western, they suffered from the rigorous terrain of Santa Fe.

"It was thirsty work, that's for sure," said Brosnan of filming with mounds of heavy western attire in the desert last fall.

Their solution? "A good night in the bar at the end of a long day," said Brosnan.

Then there was the chase, which was central to the movie.

Brosnan's character had to run on foot for most of the pursuit in the Santa Fe mountains, where the altitude "kind of took the stuffing out of you a bit the first two weeks," he said.

The on-set conditions in Oregon in January of this year were equally extreme.

There, Brosnan, fastened on a tether, had to jump off a waterfall taller than Niagara Falls into a river in temperatures as cold as -36 C - something even the Navy Seals who were in the area wouldn't do, said Von Ancken.

"The ... people we had with us to protect everybody said the life expectancy in the river was four minutes without a dry suit on," said the director, who also co-wrote the script.

"And so Pierce had his modified dry suit on but he ... exposed (his) hands, feet, face."

Neeson didn't have it so bad.

"Pierce ... he had to get in the water quite a few times and be naked and stuff," said Neeson, whose film credits include "Schindler's List" and "Kinsey."

"I always had my bear skin coat on. He had it rougher than I did."

Brosnan said it was a "fearsome" time but it made acting easy and provided another opportunity to shake his Bond affiliation.

"I suppose I'd kind of painted myself into a corner there with suave and debonair," he said.

"And it's time to get out there and do a bit of acting. Look for a bit of character work.

9/15/06 from

Pierce Brosnan Must Pass Audition To Appear In His Son's Film

September 15, 2006 11:00 a.m. EST

Nidhi Sharma - All Headline News Staff Writer
Los Angeles, CA (AHN) - Despite being a seasoned actor ex James Bond- Pierce Brosnan will have to face the audition process if he ever wants to be a part of one of his son's projects.

Chris Brosnan, who appeared on "Love Island" recently, plans to direct a self written feature film next summer.

However, Chris told his legendary dad that he wouldn't automatically be guaranteed a role in the flick, entitled "Sixteen Thieves," unless he proves that he's best suited for one of the characters.

"I might cast him in my movie if he's lucky. He'd need to audition like everyone else though," the Sun quoted him, as saying at the UK premiere of Talladega Nights this week.

The call for the screen test does not mean that the newbie director doubts his father's acting potentials, as he admits he does go to him for film advice.

"We talk a lot. He's a man who's been in the business a long time. Whenever I need to ask him anything he's a great person to go to," said Chris.

Pierce, who too has faith in his son, was seen glued to the ITV reality show his boy appeared on recently.

"He loved it!" said the younger Brosnan.

9/6/06 from

Pierce Brosnan`s delight at IFTA lifetime honour

Irish actor Pierce Brosnan today revealed he was deeply honoured to be given a lifetime membership of the Irish Film and Television Academy.

Drogheda-born Brosnan starred in four James Bond films as 007 and appeared in many other movies including The Matador, The Tailor of Panama and The Thomas Crown Affair - reports the Irish Examiner.

“I am honoured beyond words to be part of the Irish Film and Television Academy, especially to be among the names of so many I greatly admire in the world of film and storytelling," Brosnan said.

"I can only hope that this will lead to the inspiration of future artistic generations to go forth within their time and place in history, fearless with desire.”

The actor, who also runs his own production company, Irish DreamTime, has just finished working on Seraphim Falls with Liam Neeson, which will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival later this month.

Brosnan was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Irish Cinema award in 2004 at the Irish Awards Ceremony.

The deadline for joining the Academy has been extended until Friday, September 22 next. Industry professionals who join the academy will be given voting rights for the annual awards, which will take place next February.

Academy chief executive Aine Moriarty said: “There has been a superb response from the industry across all sectors, with some chapters getting a stronger response than others.

“We are almost at capacity on certain chapters such as the producers chapter, the directing and acting chapters, but we are eager to ensure that the chapters which represent crews and production staff across the industry are also properly represented.

"I want to reiterate that the Academy is open to all sectors of the industry.”

9/5/06 from

Saving Helpless Hostages but Not Their Own Affair

On “Bones” the sexual tension between the crime solvers is unconsummated and unspoken. Now Fox is experimenting with postcoital tension: the F.B.I. partners on “Standoff” have already slept together but really should stop to continue working together as hostage negotiators.

“I’m wondering if the last time we had sex is going to be the last time we had sex,” Matt Flannery (Ron Livingston) says to Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt) after their secret is exposed.

Hostages had better hope that mystery doesn’t distract him from his day job.

In the past, plenty of successful crime shows have relied on the love-hate chemistry of the leads. “Moonlighting,” with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis was one. Another was “Remington Steele,” with Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist. Couples who keep their relationships lighthearted have also held their own, from the “Thin Man” movies to Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner on “Hart to Hart,” or Rock Hudson and Susan St. James on “McMillan and Wife.” Stifled operating room romances are the lifeblood of medical shows, from “ER” to “Grey’s Anatomy,” and even, up to a misanthropic point, on “House,” another Fox show that has its season premiere tonight.

And while “Standoff,” is not exactly a playful romp, it tries not to take itself too seriously. It serves almost as a comic version of “The Nine,” ABC’s new drama about nine people taken hostage in a bank.

The negotiators’ passion for nonviolent resolution is scoffed at by Frank Rogers (Michael Cudlitz), the tough-as-nails leader of the F.B.I.’s hostage-rescue team, who prefers sniper resolution. And it is hard not to side with Frank in most of these crises. When Emily demands to know why he wants to shoot a demented television star who is holding his two sons hostage at gunpoint in his S.U.V., Frank replies, “Have you seen him act?” Even the funky 70’s music — whackita-whackita — that swells at tense moments harks back to the days of “S.W.A.T.” and “T. J. Hooker.”

But chemistry is supposed to be the binding element of “Standoff,” and the two leads, while appealing in their own right, seem neither well matched nor sufficiently mismatched. Mr. Livingston, who played one of Carrie Bradshaw’s lovers in “Sex and the City,” has a boyish smirk that he cannot quite suppress even in life-and-death situations. (When the television actor whines on about his problems over the cellphone, Matt rolls his eyes.)

When Ms. DeWitt is onscreen, she seems to be acting in a different show: a tense psychological thriller or a production of “Medea.” This actress, who has an elegant nose that seems to have been spared the plastic surgeon’s knife, is an arresting beauty, but more by foreign-film standards than prime-time television’s. In love scenes the two look as if they were reaching out for their real mates, accidentally stumbled and wound up in the wrong arms.

If there is any chemistry at all, it is between the F.B.I. negotiators and the deranged hostage takers they must verbally seduce to disarm. Off the job the real romance is elsewhere: if there is a spark, it is most easily detected in the enmity between Emily and Frank, who makes fun of her to her face but has hidden admiration for her skill. In one scene, while observing her through his rifle scope, he nods appreciatively at the way she talks down the crazed son of a congressman.

One problem with choosing hostage takers as a dramatic pivot is that they are all by definition disturbed, so from episode to episode, variety is mostly found in the hostage takers’ choice of location, and those tend to be fairly predictable: banks, schools and coffee shops. And maybe post offices.

But it is nice to know that even men who are trained in the art of communication have trouble expressing their feelings when girlfriends are involved. In the premiere Emily is understandably enraged when Matt, in the course of trying to connect with a disturbed hostage taker, reveals their clandestine affair to everyone listening, including their boss.

The next day she confronts him. “You can share your deepest hopes and fears with a heavily armed psychopath for hours on end, “ she says, complaining angrily that he nevertheless won’t open up to her.

He has a better idea. “Let’s talk about this later,” he says.


Fox, tonight at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Craig Silverstein, creator and executive producer; The Angel, composer.

8/22/06 from

Chasing Vancouver: Pierce Brosnan Has a Hot Assistant

We have exciting same-day news: today Good Luck Chuck will be filming at the Coal Harbour Community Center today, so those who want to head over have a good shot at a Dane Cook or Jessica Alba sighting. Bring your cameras, but remember, don't make her mad! She bites.

Once again, the movie and celebrity action is concentrated in the West End, which we are sure is a lovely place, but c'mon, Vancouverites - let us know about other awesome neighborhoods in your fair city! David Duchovny arrived early in Vancouver to check out the scene before he starts work on Things We Lost in the Fire, while Pierce Brosnan just keeps on charming the locals. He's even doing the men of Vancouver a favor by introducing his reportedly comely assistant to all and sundry. Thanks, Pierce! Remember to zoom in on the map - with so much happening in one neighborhood, it's easy to miss a map point.


Title: The Matador
Genre: comedy/drama/thriller
Release date: 1/06 Top 20, 1/20 National
Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall, Adam Scott & Dylan Baker
In writer/director Richard Shepard's dark comedy THE MATADOR, Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) is a hit man who's very good at what he does, but is losing his taste for the business. Danny is a salesman whose marriage and finances are in trouble. One night, at the hotel bar, these two men meet. Before long, they find themselves having an
extremely unique Mexico City experience, one that will change them both forever. Julian the hit man, Danny the ordinary American businessman find that while they have nothing in common, they both need each other in ways they never knew they would.

Pierce Brosnan was voted People's Sexiest Man Alive!

From People Magazine

Last winter, Pierce Brosnan and a group of fellow nature lovers took to the choppy waters off the coast of Mexico's Baja California in inflatable boats for a close-up look at some gray whales whose birthing grounds they were trying to preserve.

As the observers approached, the whales circled around, churning the water and spouting spray from their blowholes. "Most of the people looked a little pale and windblown," recalls environmentalist Ruben Aronin, a participant. "Then, as I glanced around, I realized that every one of us was covered with whale snot—everyone but Pierce. Not a hair was out of place. He just looked dashing, as always."

Cue the 007 theme music. It's Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan, acting very much like his alter ego, James Bond. Whether he's saving the world from evil in the movies or battling rocky seas in the environmental movement, Brosnan "has all the sensibilities of his character," says Bond coproducer Barbara Broccoli. "He also has the rugged good looks and the charm. He's manly."

Good deeds. Good looks. Charm. Manliness. Those happen to be the qualifications for this year's Sexiest Man Alive. Now is not the time for dangerous bad boys whom we wouldn't dare bring home to meet Mother. We're looking for a real man with confidence, compassion and a firm belief in commitment. Brosnan has all that -- and then some. Just listen to his costars: "He's genuine, he's gorgeous, and he's also funny -- like Cary Grant," says The Thomas Crown Affair's Rene Russo. "There's a lot of arrogance in show business, and Pierce seems to have none of that. He's a gentle, warm, compassionate guy," attests The Tailor of Panama's Jamie Lee Curtis. Barbra Streisand, from The Mirror Has Two Faces, says, "What's most compelling is the depth of his commitment to so many causes." And his neighbor Linda Hamilton, who appeared with him in Dante's Peak, adds, "I've seen him in line for cappuccino looking absolutely beautiful. He's a real leading man."

Brosnan's Movie Star Face owes nothing to Hollywood's fountain of youth. While he admits to having had his teeth fixed, he says, "I have not had any plastic surgery in any shape or form. No implants. And my hair is not dyed." Now 48, he'll begin work on his fourth 007 film in January. "I'd like to keep doing Bond as long as I can be plausible in the role physically," he says.

The part offers plenty of fringe benefits. "It's pretty wild playing Bond," Brosnan admits. "Bedding and kissing some of the most beautiful women onscreen. I get to play it out, so I have no need to do it offscreen." Proving his point, on Aug. 4 he took as his bride longtime love and the mother of his two youngest sons, Keely Shaye Smith, 38. "I found a great woman in Keely Shaye," he says. "Not if I searched a million times over would I find one as good." Keely returns the compliment. "He's intelligent, captivating and his real beauty emanates from the soul," she enthuses. "And, like a fine wine, he's aging beautifully."

Fittingly, their lavish wedding reception in Ireland on the grounds of 13th-century Ashford Castle could have doubled as a movie set. "It felt so storybook," reports the couple's friend, photographer Nancy Ellison, one of 120 guests flown in from London and L.A. "From her, he got this huge ice sculpture of Rodin's The Kiss. For Keely, he produced an incredible fireworks display. It blew us all away."

The couple's home life in their $7 million-range Malibu ranch house overlooking the Pacific is equally idyllic. There, Brosnan and Keely bike, beachcomb and share child-care duties for Dylan Thomas, 4, and 9-month-old Paris Beckett. "Pierce changes diapers and loves connecting with the baby," says Keely's best friend, jewelry designer Cynthia Wolff. "He's very involved with his kids. And that makes a man that much more a man."

There's a reason family comes first for Brosnan. His own father, Tom Brosnan, a carpenter who died in 1988, walked out when Pierce was 2. "Having not known my dad, having met him only once," he says, "I suppose that's why I enjoy family life so much and being the father I am."

These below are mostly from TIME or PEOPLE

December 15, 1997



Robin Williams wouldn't do it for McDonald's. KEVIN COSTNER wouldn't do it for Ralston Purina. But PIERCE BROSNAN has to do it for BMW, Visa, Smirnoff, Heineken, Omega watches, L'Oreal cosmetics and Ericcson cellular phones. The "it" is shilling for products with promotional tie-ins to the new James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, which MGM/UA will release Dec. 19. The current 007, wanting more control over his image, is likely to renegotiate a tougher deal with the studio for the next Bond installment. Most A-list actors refuse to do commercials for product tie-ins, but when Brosnan signed on as Bond three years ago, he didn't have the clout to make such demands. According to his spokesman, Dick Guttman, "[Brosnan] has a classical actor's training from London, and there's not a class in endorsements or implied endorsements." Perhaps there ought to be, or maybe Brosnan should take some lessons from his fellow thespians.

February 17, 1997



The obsessed scientist whose instincts for catastrophe are more finely tuned than any predictive instrument; his bureaucratic superiors whose waffling makes a bad situation worse; businessmen determined to stifle talk about threats to life, limb and, above all, property for fear of the impact on their interests; a woman, scared but spunky and available for romance when she is not dodging falling objects; and, if possible, an adorable dog to be lost in whatever chaos the movie is trafficking in, then found and daringly rescued to the cheers of an audience that has stoically watched hundreds of anonymous human extras perish.

Disaster movies are our millennial No plays, totally stylized, totally predictable, but comforting in their familiarity. Whether the threat to domestic tranquillity is a ferocious shark, invading spacemen or a rogue volcano (as in Dante's Peak), it reassures us that nice people, if they are smart, brave and quick on their feet, will somehow survive.

Writer Leslie Bohem and director Roger Donaldson brush briskly through the standard scientific and romantic blather. They know that in movies like this, complexity is the province of the special-effects people. It's the same with the actors. Cool Pierce Brosnan and warm Linda Hamilton understand that their job is mainly to provide human scale for the lava flows and firestorms, the lake that turns to acid (the better to eat their boat) and the blizzard of volcanic ash that eventually buries a small town. We want to feel for them. But not too much. We want our doomsdays to be thrilling. But not scarily final. Or fatal to anyone's pooch.

November 27, 1995



JAMES BOND MOVIES ARE AS STYLIZED as a Noh play--or should one say a Dr. No play?--and the 17th film in the series raises only one question. How well do Bond's established conventions survive after a third of a century's hard use, the post-cold war deglamourization of espionage and the arrival of yet another actor in the central role? The short answer is, on wobbly knees. But herewith some further reflections--007 of them--on a Goldeneye:

001 The Character Issue: Pierce Brosnan is not as gravely witty as Sean Connery, not as insouciant as Roger Moore and not a pompous twit like Timothy Dalton. He's a mid-range James Bond, on whom a certain self-consciousness has been imposed. He continues to register emotions mainly by arching or furrowing an eyebrow. But in the age of sexual correctness they have cut back his double entendres, and people keep telling him he lacks the capacity for mature relationships with women. Worse, he seems to believe them. What next? Sensitivity training? A condom in his wallet? Teetotaling, with perhaps a demand that his Perrier be served in a bottle, not a can?

002 The Supervillain: He may, as usual, have a superweapon trained on a Western capital, but Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), a freelance mastermind operating in today's chaotic Russia, has a dreary back story explaining how he went wrong instead of truly evil elan. Big mistake: we don't want motivation in a Bond nemesis; we want psychosis on a joyous, cosmic scale. Gert Frobe, you are missed.

003 The Supervixen: She's got the right sort of name--Xenia Onatopp (get it?)--the right sort of attitude--sado-masochistic--and the right sort of wardrobe--parodically sexy--but Famke Janssen is more aggressive than seductive. You know too soon where she's coming from--out of an abnormal psychology text.

004 The Henchman (or -woman): Oddjob, Jaws, Rosa Klebb--this is a job for grotesques. Gottfried John as a rogue Russian general looks weird all right, but he has no unique killing skills--just a sneer and a routinely itchy trigger finger. Richard Kiel, you are missed.

005 Vehicular Manslaughter: The usual planes, trains, automobiles crash and burn with noisy, deadening regularity, sending many a nameless extra to his unmourned, uninvolving and unimaginative doom.

006 M: Big switch--a sex change, no less--here. Judi Dench, the distinguished English stage actress, is now running Bond. She has a butch hairdo, a brusque Thatcherite manner and a license to kill with unkindness. She calls Bond a "sexist, misogynistic dinosaur" right to his face. There's a chic in her cheek the rest of the movie direly misses.

007 Q: He's still being played by Desmond Llewelyn as a cranky English eccentric, still making fountain pens that explode and wristwatches that do more than tell time. He's the last link to the boyish silliness that once animated this series. One wishes him good health and long life, for if, as the closing credits threaten, "James Bond Will Return," they--and we--are going to need him.

August 18, 1986


"The name is Bond, James Bond." Those clipped words have identified the legendary hero of 15 films, beginning with Sean Connery in 1963's Dr. No. Connery played the suave Agent 007 seven times, as did Roger Moore; George Lazenby played him once. For Bond's next appearance, in The Living Daylights, which begins filming in London next month, Producer Albert Broccoli had selected the debonair, Irish-born Pierce Brosnan, star of TV's Remington Steele, after the NBC series was canceled. When Steele was renewed two months later, however, Brosnan had to bow out. So Welshman Timothy Dalton, 38, who has played Shakespeare as well as gracing such sudsy TV mini-series as Mistral's Daughter and Sins, got the part. "Connery and Moore are tough acts to follow," says Dalton, practicing Bond's good manners. Is playing 007 a comedown for someone who has been Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew? Not at all, says Dalton. "Bond is one of the few major roles for British actors."

September 14, 1987

How Does Broadway Play in Peoria?

For pizazz, many road shows match the originals -- or outdo them

The 37 theaters that constitute Broadway occupy a few acres in midtown Manhattan. But to much of America, a Broadway show is something to be seen hundreds, even thousands of miles from Times Square -- in Atlanta or Dallas, Phoenix or Detroit or any other of the dozens of cities that make up what suitcase-toting actors wearily call "the road." Like the Shakespearean troupe in Kiss Me, Kate who "open in Venice" and schlepp their show from town to town, ensembles representing recent Broadway hits take to the byways every year. This summer at least a dozen tours have offered purportedly the same entertainments as those on the Great White Way. But are they really? The idea that what you see in Peoria might be every bit as good as Broadway makes many New York theater professionals scoff. In the not too distant past there was ample basis for derision. On this summer's evidence, however, the doubters may be narrow-minded and wrong.

Producers put shows out on the road for three basic reasons: to prepare for Broadway; to capitalize on a Broadway success already attained; and occasionally, when a show's concept and stars are more marketable than its actual merits, to bypass Broadway's fierce competition and legion of reviewers. Steep staging costs have made offerings in the first category, known as tryouts, a vanishing breed. Nowadays pre-Broadway tryouts are usually limited to one city, unless a show has a big-name cast or is a revival of a fondly remembered musical, like the current tours of Cabaret and West Side Story. Sometimes what is labeled a tryout turns into a bypass of Broadway, as happened with a just closed revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, starring Mickey Rooney, and with the Carol Channing-Mary Martin vehicle Legends!, which ran a year to box-office triumph but abysmal reviews, then closed in January after its stars said they had no desire to bring it to the Main Stem.

The essence of the road show, however, is a touring version of a work that is already firmly established on Broadway or that recently closed. Almost all tours are of musicals, although the comedies I'm Not Rappaport and Social Security played across the nation into the summer. For audiences, the crucial but often unresearchable question is how a touring version measures up to its Broadway forerunner. Based on a sampling of half a dozen offerings, including two versions of Cats, the verdict is mostly favorable. Sets may be simpler, lighting more rudimentary, and the miked-up sound systems uniformly lousy. The more a show was shaped to fit a particular space and circumstances, the clumsier it looks shoehorned -- or stretched -- into a new configuration each week. But when it comes to performance pizazz, even second-string unknowns compete effectively with first-run counterparts -- and sometimes outdo them.

The best of the shows now on tour is also the best in its Broadway incarnation: Big River combines Mark Twain's exuberant celebration of the open road with Composer-Lyricist Roger Miller's wistful echo of frontier freedom. The book derives from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The score mixes bluegrass, gospel, Tin Pan Alley and a twangy tang of Nashville. Like the novel, the show comes alive when Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, get out onto the Mississippi. The moment when they break into an up-tempo hymn to that Muddy Water -- and a backdrop lifts to reveal the signature image, a painting of a plank walk that merges into a river twisting away beyond the horizon -- remains thrilling on even an umpteenth viewing. As Jim, Michael Edward-Stevens has as glorious a voice and as hard-won a self-awareness as any of his three predecessors in the role. Romain Fruge looks a bit old to play a boy of Huck's pubescent innocence, and some of his acting is a bit cute, but no one else has been as good in delivering Huck's introspective songs of self- definition, I, Huckleberry, Me and Waitin' for the Light to Shine. Among the supporting players, Walker Joyce as a scalawag con man malevolently outperforms his antecedents. Even more impressive than these performances, however, is the production's fidelity, as unflinching and unsettling as the Broadway original's, to Twain's harrowing evocation of slavery, ignorance and lawlessness in the often idealized frontier times.

In My One and Only the chief pleasures are precisely the same as those that won Tony awards in 1983: Tommy Tune as the aviator who gives up everything for his girl and Charles ("Honi") Coles, 76, as the sage elder who teaches him to pitch woo, crack wise and tap-dance. As the love interest originally played by Twiggy, however, Stephanie Zimbalist (of TV's Remington Steele) sings indifferently, dances with studied intentness rather than carefree abandon and employs an English accent that leapfrogs from Brighton to Kansas.

Pop Singer Melissa Manchester has less trouble with the accent and none with the melodies in Song & Dance. Her Merman-size voice enhances rather than flattens the tricky satiric lyrics. But her portrayal of a young English hat designer on the make in Manhattan suffers badly by comparison with Bernadette Peters' fetching portrayal on Broadway. Manchester, 36, looks too worldly to be as dippy-innocent as the first scenes require. The part calls for her to be onstage solo for the first half of the show but to create the illusion that other people are there with her -- a trick for which Manchester, in her stage- acting debut, lacks the technique. She appears only briefly during the second act's wordless choreography. Anyone who saw the Broadway opening might be taken aback by the considerably coarser final 20 minutes, in which the cast ! puts on a vulgarized dancing display while shouting out amateurish greetings like "Hello, Atlanta!" Although the producers insist the differences in staging are small, what was a brief sentimental encounter between the separated lovers now feels bathetic.

With 42nd Street the failing is plainer. Except for David Brummel as the veteran musical-comedy director and Linda Griffin as the snappy chorine Anytime Annie, nobody in the company can act. The book has always been silly and illogical, and requires high style to bring off its camp excesses. Most at sea is Gina Trano as the kid from the chorus who replaces the injured star. Although she manages a lovely awakening into competence during the course of the musical-within-a-musical, there is nothing special about her in the earlier scenes to justify everyone's much voiced confidence in her talent.

The most popular Broadway show on the road is Cats, which through its three companies has been accounting for about half of current touring-troupe revenues. The two productions viewed deliver at least the raucous pleasures of the original. The version that has been playing in Washington since July has more elaborate lighting and staging effects than one of those that are moving from city to city every week or two, but the differences are minor. The celebrated catlike movements look more Vegas-like now. In both casts, only the dancers playing the secondary role of Alonzo (Ken Nagy in Washington, Stephen Moore touring) achieve the cool detachment of another species. The singing, although always vibrant, is uneven. In the peripatetic cast Andy Spangler glows as the Elvis-like Rum Tum Tugger and Leslie Ellis is haunting as Grizabella, the faded glamour cat, but in the Washington troupe the performers in those roles, Douglas Graham and Janene Lovullo, do not measure up.

One gutsy production radically improves on its Broadway model: the 1966 and 1986 hit Sweet Charity, dazzlingly restaged for a North American tour by its original creator and re-creator, Bob Fosse. From the first appearance in silhouette of the title character, a taxi dancer who in the face of all experience remains a fool for love, to the ironically identical finale, this version zips along with style, assurance and the ingredient it lacked in its 1986 Broadway reprise, real heart. Whereas Debbie Allen seemed too tough, too much a survivor to elicit audience sympathy when she played Charity on Broadway, the road show's Donna McKechnie -- the original Cassie in A Chorus & Line -- manages to be forever vulnerable without seeming stupid. As the buttoned-down businessman who takes up with her, says he can forgive her slightly checkered past and then finds he cannot, Ken Land is more likable and believable than his Broadway counterpart. As a result, what is virtually an identical show plays louder, faster and funnier -- to cite Centenarian Director George Abbott's hallowed instructions to performers -- and also seems more true. It is as bubbly and brisk and bittersweet as Broadway, at home or on the road, is always supposed to be.

September 16, 1985

Coming Up From Nowhere  

With class, smarts and luck, NBC has become the Cinderella network of '85

The lead-off batter is Brandon Tartikoff, a sharp-fielding spray hitter in his sixth season as president of NBC Entertainment and third baseman on the company softball team. As Tartikoff steps to the plate against the Warner Bros. squad, a giant radio in the bleachers begins to blast out the driving theme song from Miami Vice. Inspired, Tartikoff slaps a double, leading NBC to a four-run inning. The team's "music manager" puckishly announces that all who have not hit safely must henceforth bat to the somewhat less blood- quickening theme from Punky Brewster.

At their weekend softball games in Burbank, Calif., as in their offices nearby, Tartikoff and his NBC crew radiate the highly competitive, slightly giddy elan of a Cinderella team, up from nowhere to challenge the league leader. They have every reason to feel peacocky. After running dead last in ) prime-time audience ratings for nine years, NBC since September '84 has scrambled to within a tenth of a rating point of the dominant network, CBS, in that arcane but widely accepted Nielsen yardstick of "television homes." For those who count heads rather than houses, NBC leads in the number of viewers: 24.9 million to CBS's 23.2 million and ABC's 22.3 million, according to Nielsen. NBC also delivers more of Madison Avenue's prized target audience, the 18-49 age group; here ABC is second and CBS last. Says Joel Segal, executive vice president for broadcasting at Ted Bates Advertising: "By the standards of practically any advertiser NBC is No. 1."

The networks make money by selling viewers, in bulk and by demographics, to advertisers; NBC has done this so successfully that, since Grant Tinker was named chairman of the network in 1981, an estimated $5 million of red ink has been alchemized into a projected $200 million profit for 1985. But what has NBC sold viewers on? Mostly a feast of slick weekly series in three broad categories: the traditional situation comedy, led by last season's phenom The Cosby Show (2nd in the yearlong Nielsen ratings to CBS's Dallas) and including Family Ties (3rd), Cheers (9th), Night Court (19th) and The Facts of Life (24th); a quartet of red-meat adventure shows, from The A-Team (6th) and Riptide (12th) to Miami Vice (33rd, with a bullet); and three Emmy-laden hours from Tinker's old production company, MTM Enterprises. Hill Street Blues (31st), St. Elsewhere (52nd) and Remington Steele (21st) may not woo the Nielsen families, but they wow the yup-scale viewers every advertiser covets. They have helped establish NBC's reputation as a Bloomingdale's among networks, the class act of mass-market TV.

This summer the former doormat network found itself in a record hot streak: 14 consecutive weeks as No. 1. But Tinker cautions, "That's not to be confused with winning in the fall, when the new season starts, but it's a lot better to win 14 than to lose 14. It suggests that nothing has come off our fastball lately. To fall back in the new season, we'd have to have another of our historic collapses. And I just don't see it." If momentum means as much to a network's success as it does to a baseball team's, then NBC is wellfixed for the prime-time pennant race. This summer viewers got steamed up over Miami Vice, which found a regular perch among the top ten shows. Moviegoers made a bimedia star of Family Ties' Michael J. Fox, whose Back to the Future and Teen Wolf were the biggest box-office winners of the past two weeks. Fox could be the first teen throb since John Travolta to commute between a sitcom and movie stardom. Just another lightning stroke of NBC luck.

To add muscle and luster to the new season's prime-time competition, which promises to be the tightest in years, NBC has lured the executive producer of Back to the Future, Steven Spielberg, to mastermind a suspense anthology series called Amazing Stories. With Hollywood's alltime hitmaker anchoring the Sunday night lineup, and with a flock of summer comers, Tinker figures that "this fall may be the time when NBC blows right by everybody." Tartikoff seems energized by the thrill of the chase. "In the past," he says, "every time a show bit the dust, you figured you'd be joining it. This kind of pressure is easier."

One pressure valve is self-mocking humor, long an NBC staple. On his Late Night hour, David Letterman has provoked "feuds" with NBC stars Mr. T and Today's Bryant Gumbel. Among Letterman's supporting comedy cast is a silver- haired gent who purports to be one "Grant Tinker"; he recently celebrated NBC's No. 1 status by offering lunch money to habitues of the network commissary. The real Brandon Tartikoff, who has been host on Saturday Night Live, will play himself next week on a comedy special called Bob Hope Buys NBC?--a needling joke in itself, since NBC was the only network that did not have to concern itself with a serious takeover threat in 1985. Tartikoff can even joke about the "downside" of the Miami Vice whirlwind: "It has encouraged a lot of middle-aged men with potbellies to start wearing pastel Armani jackets over T shirts, and for that I'm eternally sorry."

As recently as 1981, only outsiders (and Johnny Carson) were cracking jokes about NBC. An air of frantic desperation hung over the place as then Chairman Fred Silverman threw onto his schedule, and then pulled off, one expensive flop after another. To the savviest TV producers, "it was as if NBC didn't exist," recalls Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties). "We didn't go there with an idea, because we knew it would be crucified." Silverman, who had earned a reputation as a programming wunderkind at CBS and then ABC earlier in the '70s, was also scalded by the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, which left him with $34 million worth of dead summer air. Moreover, there was turmoil at the top of NBC's parent corporation, RCA: three presidents and four chairmen within a decade. It was not until the fifth chairman, Thornton Bradshaw, hired Tinker to run NBC in July 1981 that hope and trust were restored to the network. Says Steven Bochco, whose Hill Street Blues had been spawned by Silverman and produced by Tinker: "The day Grant went to NBC, the industry's attitude toward that network changed profoundly, overnight."

In the week of his accession, Tinker outlined his master plan: "Try to attract to NBC the best creative people, make them comfortable, give them whatever help they need, and then get the hell out of the way." It surprised no one that Tinker, who would be cast as a noble Senator if Hollywood still made movies about noble Senators, proved to be a man of his word. But two funny things happened: his plan worked, to NBC's profit as well as its honor, and it was implemented by Brandon Tartikoff. At the time, Tartikoff was thought to be Silverman's Silverman: a hard-driving guy with a passion for the lowest common denominator. But as Tinker and Tartikoff discussed the multidimensional chessboard of prime-time scheduling, they realized they saw eye to eye on many things, especially the need to lure the handful of producers who could set NBC on the high road to success. In the process, according to Goldberg, "Grant brought out the best in Brandon, as an executive and as a man." Now 36, Tartikoff has become Tinker's tinkerer.

Tartikoff is both a master and a child of the medium. Son of a Long Island clothing manufacturer, young Brandon split his spare time between playing baseball and critiquing TV shows. At Yale, where he was graduated with a B.A. in English, he took tutorials with Novelist Robert Penn Warren. Called upon one day to analyze a D.H. Lawrence story, Tartikoff suggested, "Wouldn't it be better if the girl had first seen the guy over here in his other setting, and then met the other person over there?" As Tartikoff recalls the incident, "He stared at me for a moment and said, 'Have you ever thought of going into television?' He was serious."

So was Tartikoff. He took a job at a New Haven TV station, while playing semipro baseball for the New Haven Braves. Soon he was at Chicago's WLS-TV, run by Lew Erlicht, who introduced him to Fred Silverman. From Erlicht (now president of ABC Entertainment), Tartikoff picked up programming smarts; from Silverman, he learned the importance of loving TV. Even today Tartikoff can rhapsodize about his job as if he were a kid who has just been deeded the - candy store. "In movies," he says, "unless you make E.T., you reach maybe as many people as watched a TV show that got canceled last week. With television there's something wonderful in knowing that, if you hit, 50 million people are watching and enjoying what you've done. Wherever you go--on the street, in a restaurant, at a party--you hear about it. And that shared experience is so exciting."

Four years ago, Tartikoff had few viewers with whom to share the experience. Hill Street Blues may be the finest dramatic series American TV has produced, but in 1981 it was a glorious anomaly on NBC's schedule. "It was also the very first show whose demographics were young, urban and upscale," Tartikoff says. "Consequently, nobody saw it, because the other 21 hours of NBC's prime time had mostly rural appeal and skewed older. Its lead-in shows were utterly incompatible; first Walking Tall, then B.J. and the Bear. If you can find one person in America who actually watched all three shows, we should give him a Hill Street jacket or something."

Tartikoff set about devising a compatible, competitive schedule from the rubble of Silverman's legacy. It was no simple task. As Media Analyst Anthony Hoffman points out, "The producer of a TV series wants to get on the air, get a hit, keep it on long enough to have 120 episodes" that can be lucratively syndicated to local stations. But a new show is unlikely to become a hit on a network in shambles. Further, as Tartikoff notes, "a producer coming to NBC knew he might have to run against Dallas or The Love Boat. That's part of the problem of being last--you don't get to bat against your own pitching. There was one thing we could offer good producers, though: that they could make the show they wanted to make." That promise applied to Steven Bochco in 1981 even as it does today to Steven Spielberg. "I started my career directing TV," Spielberg says, "and my shows were often changed by the networks in ways I didn't like. When I returned to TV, I wanted the same freedom I have in feature films. NBC gave me those assurances, and they've been true to their word."

From the beginning, Tinker made the equally enticing promise that NBC would give the audience time to find good new shows. That patience was frequently tested in Tinker's first two years. Before it won eight Emmys in September 1981, Hill Street regularly dwelled in the lowest-rating's precinct. During the fall of 1982, Cheers was dead last, and Co-Producer Les Charles wondered % if "maybe we should call NBC and tell them it'll get better. Instead we got calls from Brandon saying, 'Don't worry. We'll give it time.' " Soon after Family Ties made its debut, Tartikoff found himself slinking into Tinker's office: "I'd say, 'Family Ties just got a 16 share, and the renewal notice is up this week and we won't get to see another rating before we have to renew or cancel.' And he'd say, 'Brandon! Is the show still good? Do you think the ratings are going to improve? Then pick it up.' " Tinker insists there was no altruism in his strategy. "You're spending less money," he notes, "when you stick with the stuff you bought in the first place." As it happened, NBC's quality shows, however low-rated, were attracting what advertisers call a quality audience. Mad. Ave. ad mavens were discovering that a rule long applied to magazines--that 1,000 New Yorker readers are more valuable than 1,000 National Enquirer readers--made sense in prime time as well. Says Tartikoff: "When you pull a tab on the St. Elsewhere audience, you find that many of them don't watch any other entertainment show on network TV. They're well-educated, well-paid people whom certain advertisers are eager to reach because they can't be reached in these numbers anywhere else on TV. So we can make a very good living off St. Elsewhere even though it earns only a 24 share."

Demographics pay off. Last season Hill Street's rating was about 13% lower than that of its CBS competition, Knots Landing, yet both sold a 30-sec. commercial slot for about $200,000. And while viewing of all network programming declined by 4% in 1984-85, NBC increased its share of the 18-to-49 group by 10%. NBC also benefited from the shrinking of the network audience --15% since 1980. The threshold for ratings success was shrinking, thus giving shows with more specialized appeal a fighting chance for survival.

By 1982 NBC was revving up its Rolls-Royce schedule, but its financial graph was strictly De Lorean. A quick hit was in order, and Tartikoff lucked into it at the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney title bout in Las Vegas, where he saw Mr. T, fresh from Rocky III, monopolizing the crowd's attention. Back in Los Angeles, Tartikoff penned a legendary proposal to Producer Stephen Cannell: "Road Warrior, Magnificent Seven, Dirty Dozen, Mission: Impossible, all rolled into one, and Mr. T drives the car." Cannell cobbled up The A-Team, which won a 40 share in its first season and pulled hard-to-find adult male viewers back to prime time.

In the 1983-84 season, NBC introduced nine series, all of which were canceled. Worse, most of the shows were about as sophisticated as a mud- trucking derby. "The saddest kind of failure," says Tartikoff, "is when you aim low and miss. At least when you aim higher and miss, you can hide behind your target and say, 'It's the audience's fault.' " Fortunately for Tartikoff, one night in the dead of that bleak winter his baby daughter was crying, and Dad decided to keep Mom company. He switched on The Tonight Show, where Dr. William H. Cosby, Ed.D. (U. Mass.) was telling a story about middle- aged parents trying to instruct their kids in the facts of life. Next morning, Tartikoff phoned Cosby's agent and floated yet another of his brainstorming haiku: "A black Family Ties." The following autumn The Cosby Show became the first sitcom smash since Mork & Mindy in 1978, cemented NBC's Thursday-night schedule, and propelled the network toward No. 1.

Can NBC grab that laurel this season? Tinker and Tartikoff are pinning many of their hopes on Amazing Stories, which is slotted on Sundays at 8 p.m. against CBS's Top Ten sleuth game, Murder, She Wrote. Traditionally, notes Tinker, "people go to CBS for 60 Minutes, and many of them just sit there all night long, through some rather indifferent programming. With Amazing Stories we're asking them to get up and change that dial. And if we do hear the thunder of dials across the land, the whole face of Sunday night will change, because maybe they won't come back to CBS." NBC is spending about $800,000 per half hour--twice the budget of an ordinary show--and has committed to 44 episodes, or two years on the schedule. As Spielberg notes wryly, "Amazing Stories means a lot of money to NBC--a lot of money going out, so far." Says Tartikoff: "If it fails, it will be an expensive failure. But if we capture viewers at 8 o'clock, it will be a major and very profitable victory."

Amazing Stories takes prime-time TV not so much back to the future as forward to the '50s, when series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone invited viewers on a different adventure of the imagination each week. Because Spielberg has enlisted such directors as Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Clint Eastwood, Paul Bartel and Peter Hyams (Mr. E.T. will direct two of his own the first season), each of the Stories promises a distinctive style. Hyams' episode boasts sepulchral lighting and tension as taut as piano * wire; Bartel's is a slapstick black comedy; Spielberg's two shows are wistful parables about death as creative transcendence. Each offers a unique frisson, to be relived on Monday morning at the playground or around the water cooler.

Therein lies the daunting challenge that Amazing Stories faces. Prime-time series attract loyal viewers by their familiarity, not by offering a vagrant astonishment each week. The operative word-of-mouth phrase is "you ought to see," not "you should have seen." Amazing Stories has no continuing characters, tone or stars--not even a regular host, like Hitchcock or Rod Serling. Viewers may prefer to settle in with Angela Lansbury's rumpled caginess in Murder, She Wrote instead of taking a chance with the faceless brilliance of the Spielberg series.

Harvey Shephard, the CBS programming chief who preferred to retool The Twilight Zone rather than take a chance on Spielberg's anthology of original stories, is convinced that Amazing Stories is actually his network's secret weapon. Shephard predicts "a high initial tune-in sample" of the NBC show, followed by a return to tele firma. And if that does not happen, all CBS has to do is contrive to let a Sunday-afternoon N.F.L. broadcast run overtime, thus pushing 60 Minutes back by ten or 15 minutes, and 60 Minutes loyalists will miss the first half of an Amazing story. That is precisely the tactic CBS used to shoot down ABC's Mork & Mindy when that hit show challenged the CBS Sunday lineup in 1979.

NBC can hardly be faulted for encouraging Hollywood's top talent to put big visions onto the small screen. Nor can the NBC brass be accused of gambling everything on one show. The network's other new series, including Hell Town, starring Robert Blake as a vigilante priest, and the highly touted sitcom The Golden Girls, have decent shots at survival. So do any number of new entries on the competing networks' rosters. Tartikoff, one of whose ten TV commandments is the famous "All hits are flukes," is sanguine about the immediate future. "We won't be surprised," he says, "if CBS and ABC, even by sheer luck or by stepping in it, come up with a Cosby-size hit. In that case, we'll just have to regroup--and for the past three years we've been pretty good at scrambling."

Because NBC's prime-time schedule is the most stable of the networks', Tartikoff has time to devote to the rest of the broadcast day. The Today show, the most bracing of the three sunrise coffee klatches, has mounted a strong assault on longtime ratings champ Good Morning America at ABC, while the CBS Morning News continues to flounder with the abrupt departures of Anchors Bill Kurtis and, last week, Phyllis George. The Saturday-morning kidvid schedule remains No. 1. Carson is still king of late-night, and Letterman the hippest of clown princes. Only daytime is a slum for profits when it could be a gold mine; ABC's supremacy with its afternoon soaps helps it lead NBC in total network profits, despite the tailspin ABC has taken in the evening. Recently, NBC's afternoon schedule has begun to mimic the NBC prime time of the early '80s: its ratings are still abysmal, but its share of women in the 18 to 49 age group now rivals CBS's. Each week Tartikoff hosts a "Santa Barbara lunch," in which he and his staff watch the network's newest soap and discuss how it and other daytime fare can be improved. Tinker knows habits die hard among the soap watchers. "It's like turning an ocean liner around," he says.

One suspects that the two Mr. T's will accomplish this feat; they have worked miracles enough in prime time. The trust they lavished on producers has resulted in fruitful relationships. Tartikoff is especially well liked because he participates fully in a show's creation, unlike the committee that runs CBS. ABC has more severe problems. Lew Erlicht strikes the flagellant's pose when discussing last year's flop shows: "We had to ask ourselves in each case, 'Why did this show fail?' And usually the answer was: 'It stinks.' " As for ABC Broadcast Group President Tony Thomopoulos, Analyst Hoffman maintains that he "went Hollywood" when he took over. "That is a critical mistake," Hoffman says of Thomopoulos' style. "The production community in Hollywood likes to feel that they're the dazzlers. Tartikoff is smart enough not to compete. Compared to Thomopoulos, he's just an average slob who does his job and does it well."

The "average slob" maintains a sense of humor about his good fortune. "Sure, it's different," he admits. "Where last year I'd have seats in the left-field stands, now I have seats in the center-field stands." And at his weekend softball games, almost everyone stops by for a "Hi, Brandon." Between innings on a recent Saturday, an NBC secretary brought her little Sarah to meet Tartikoff. "Sarah, this is Mr. Brandon," she said. "Do you know who he is? Do you remember the dog named Brandon on Punky Brewster? Well, this is the man he's named after." Unimpressed, Sarah stuffed the hem of her dress into her mouth and turned back toward the action on the field.

March 04, 1985


DIED. Efrem Zimbalist, 94, Russian-born violinist of high technical polish and emotional understatement, a considerable composer of songs and chamber music and a musical administrator and teacher who for 27 years, until 1968, headed Philadelphia's Curtis Institute; in Reno. He was the father and grandfather, respectively, of TV Actors Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Stephanie Zimbalist.

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