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Life And Death Alter Course Of 5 Tv Series

April 01, 1985|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

What's more, executive producer Jay Bernstein said neither he nor CBS considered a replacement for Stacy Keach--which meant the series couldn't return shortly with a new actor as did "Cover-Up."

As a result, "Mike Hammer" went off the air when the last completed episodes with Keach aired. One week before Christmas, Bernstein and Columbia Pictures Television, co-partners in the show, had to lay off 208 people.

Eight scripts ordered by the network were never shot.

Keach's scheduled release June 7 (a nine-month sentence minus three months off for good behavior) would allow the show to return to the airwaves in the fall. But the network will say only that it will "wait and see" about renewal, according to a CBS spokesman.

Keach's particular predicament compounds the problem. Though Harvey Shephard, CBS' senior vice president of programming, publicly stated that Keach would not be blacklisted for his misdeed, one industry source observed that it is "highly unlikely" CBS will make any commitment to the show while its star is in prison.

Los Angeles Times Friday April 5, 1985 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 18 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
In the April 1 edition of Calendar, William Conrad was credited with having narrated a tribute to Jon Erik Hexum on a "Cover-Up" episode after Hexum's death. The narration was done by Richard Anderson, who has starred on the show since its inception.
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 6, 1985 Home Edition Calendar Part 4 Page 4 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in Monday's Calendar about cast changes in television series reported incorrectly that Chris Robinson, who plays Dr. Rick Webber on ABC's "General Hospital," was charged with and pleaded guilty to tax evasion, a felony. The charge in fact was willful failure to file income-tax returns, a misdemeanor.
Robinson is serving a sentence nights and weekends and remains available for daytime taping of the soap opera.

Bernstein, best known as the manager who made stars of Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers, recently spent $50,000 of his own money on a "fact-finding mission" to radio and TV talk shows in 15 cities.

"I had to see if the public viewed this as a quality television show," Bernstein said after returning.

Bernstein gave the network recordings of responses to the talk shows, most of them forgiving of Keach and favoring the show's return. He believes they make a strong case that "Hammer" can again make a dent in the ratings.

In the case of the short-lived "Spencer," NBC may have turned to its advantage the loss of the title star.

Even before Chad Lowe announced he was leaving the show after only six episodes, "Spencer" was having problems. It was a teen-oriented show airing in a family-oriented time period, Saturdays at 9:30 p.m., after "Diff'rent Strokes" and "Gimme a Break."

Executive producer Mort Lachman likes to say that "Spencer" turned into "Under One Roof" because NBC's Brandon Tartikoff "didn't have enough to keep him busy one Sunday."

Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment, had loved a pilot show from Lachman called "Not in Front of the Kids," about a family where three generations lived under one roof. As Lachman tells it, Tartikoff, while puttering around the house, came up with the idea to merge the shows, thereby de-emphasizing Spencer's teen-oriented escapades and at the same time bringing back the lovable coots from "Not in Front of the Kids."

Lowe was replaced by Ross Harris, who had a major role in the film "Testament." The show also took on Harold Gould and Frances Sternhagen as Spencer's grandparents and dropped Ronny Cox as Spencer's dad. Mimi Kennedy remains as his mother, Doris.

The success of these shows in coping with their losses has varied.

" 'Coping' is an interesting word in terms of this particular situation," said "Cover-Up" executive Allan, who was with Jon-Erik Hexum when he was rushed to the hospital. "There is one thing that enabled us to 'cope,' and it sounds like a cruel and callous thing, but it's 'the show must go on.' "

But the show was always trying to catch up to a sensible production schedule, and twice couldn't make its air date. "Cover-Up" eventually built back up a viewing audience close to what it had been as of Hexum's last episode. It has slipped slightly in the last few weeks.

In light of the show's tragic first year, Allan asked CBS to decide on "Cover-Up's" fate by last Thursday so he could announce the hoped-for renewal as a present to cast and crew at the season's wrap party. CBS turned him down; the top-rated network will not confirm renewals until about a week before the fall season is publicly announced on May 10.

CBS has been equally willing to keep "Mike Hammer" in limbo. Once a hit opposite "Fantasy Island" at 10 p.m. Saturdays, the show was trailing ABC's "The Love Boat" in the 9 p.m. slot as of its last airing.

After Keach voluntarily returned to London to stand trial last December, the series never had the chance to prove its mettle in the second half of the season, when cold weather typically accounts for increased TV viewing and therefore overall higher ratings.

Even the last few completed shows presented a sticky situation. Three were missing Keach's distinctive first-person narration as the hard-boiled Hammer. After Stacy's actor-brother James proved "too emotional" at the time to do the voice-overs, executive producer Bernstein said, Rich Little ended up with the role. Bernstein said the results were "slightly disappointing."

If "Mike Hammer" fails to turn up on CBS' fall lineup, it could still become a "second season" entry, a series that becomes a replacement show starting early in 1986. "The good news," Bernstein said regarding chances for renewal, "is that nobody at the network has told us 'no.' "

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