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November 18, 1987 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-11-18

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falo Bill" for NBC, Patchett and Tarses
were on bad terms. Patchett did a lot of
directing, Tarses did a lot of writing and
they avoided each other in the studio.
When the much admired but low-rated pro-
gram was canceled after two seasons, the
team broke up. It's still a painful subject for
Tarses, and Patchett, who's now executive
producer of NBC's successful "ALF," turns
down interview requests on the matter.
Tarses believes that the partnership went
on seven years too long. Hugh Wilson says,
"They'd been together so long and survived
through such hard times that they couldn't
conceive of being apart."
Just after 5:30 p.m., Jay Tarses stands
with his hands in his pockets at Modern
Sound in downtown Hollywood. He's here
to watch next week's "'Slap' Maxwell" to
make sure it looks and sounds all right. It's
the show's beginning, the teaser, that causes
the most trouble. Slap has just insulted his
poker buddies, and one threatens him with
a heapingplate ofguacamole. Dabney Cole-
man, it turns out, has mispronounced 'gua-
camole," leaving off the initial 'gwuh"
sound. Plus, the engineers cannot find a
suitable splat noise in their library-reject-
ingone from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that
sounds like a bodily function. Tarses re-
cords a "gwuh, " but it doesn't match Cole-
man's voice, so the actor has to redo the line.
And a brand-new, squishy splat is created
on the premises.
Few producers ever land two shows on
prime time in a single season. For Tarses to
do it without conforming to
standard commercial formulas
is astonishing. And it nearly
didn't come off. "Molly Dodd"
was to be part of NBC's sched-
ule a year ago, but when net-
work executives saw the proto-
type, they wavered. "They got
very nervous about it," says
Tarses. "They thought it was
totally inaccessible to human
beings and too much of a depar-
ture." Brandon Tartikoff, in
particular, believed that the
show "didn't take advantage
of all of its opportunities
for humor."
Tarses did some retooling,
and NBC eventually scheduled
the show for last May. "Molly"
bowed as part of NBC's block-
buster Thursday-night lineup,
to good ratings and even better
reviews. The show was praised
for breaking new ground, with
unresolved story lines that car-
ried from one show to the next.
Molly was a complex person,
often unhappy and uncertain
of what to do with her life. 'Best' of'

Watching her cope was, by turns, funny
and disquieting. Sometimes you wanted to
cheer her on, and sometimes you wanted
to talk some sense into her. Blair Brown's
portrayal of Molly brought these facets
into sharp relief. For all its quality, how-
ever, watching the show was peculiar:
"The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd"
made you think.
" 'Slap' Maxwell" was much easier to get
on the air. When Tarses and Dabney Cole-
man went to ABC wanting to do a series.
together, the network bought it even
though there wasn't a pilot or script or even
a concept. The track record of Tarses and
Coleman on "Buffalo Bill" was enough.
Two years earlier that hadn't been the case
with "The Faculty," a pilot Tarses did with
Blair Brown. The show about teachers at
an urban high school had extremely dark
undertones. The man who turned down
"The Faculty," ABC vice president Stuart
Bloomberg, says, "It had flaws, but it was
quite wonderful. We wanted to redo the
pilot before going to series." Tarses didn't
want to make changes, however, so "The
Faculty" died. Two years later, says Bloom-
berg, "the relationship healed. We became
a different ABC." And Bloomberg bought
the new show.
"'Slap' Maxwell" is the odyssey of a 50-
year-old man whose life has come apart at
the seams. Slap has trouble at the newspa-
per where he works. He can't figure out
what to do about his wife or son, both of
whom he walked out on 17 years ago. And
he's having an on-again, off-again affair
with a secretary at the newspaper who's

half his age. All of his problems have their
funny consequences, particularly in the
way Slap handles them, but the humor
comes with an undercurrent of pain.
Seven people have been watching the fi-
nal cut of a "'Slap'Maxwell"show to de-
cide what music and sound effects it needs.
During a break, Bob Brush flips through
some literary classics looking for an "erotic
passage "to be quoted bysomeone on a forth-
comning "Molly Dodd. "He reads aloud part
of William Butler Yeats.'s "Leda and the
Swan. " Getting no reaction, he tries a cou-
ple of passages from "Lady Chatterley's
Lover." "That's more like it,"says Tarses,
who turns to the TV set and hits the remote
control to watch another " Slap'."
From the broader perspective of drama
in general, Tarses doesn't do anything rev-
olutionary. But within the extremely rigid
world of TV comedy, he is an iconoclast.
Network programmers choose shows for
mass appeal, based on what has worked in
the past (page 14). For more than 35 years,
what's worked is the sitcom. The mold was
forged by "I Love Lucy" in 1951. Since then,
many sitcom "innovations" have been
mere variations on the "sit"-a black fam-
ily on "The Cosby Show," older women on
"Golden Girls." What Tarses does magnifi-
cently is to concentrate on hard-to-predict
people-played by talented actors (page
12)-and not easy-to-predict situations.
The new comedy style relies on techni-
cal differences as well. Nearly all sitcoms
these days are shot on a stage, in front of a

'77: 'We've Got Each Other'ran 11 weeks


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