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A Bad Dude Does Good

February 09, 1986|MORGAN GENDEL

The man who was Apollo Creed first and foremost is expected to come out slugging. He's a good guy but a bad dude, the kind that fans want to see firing a gun or hot-rodding a car or otherwise making life bad news for bad guys.

Carl Weathers, hot off a dramatic death at the hands of Soviet no-goodnik Drago in "Rocky IV," is about to do battle again. This time the ring is television and the adversaries are a quartet of little old ladies from Miami.

Weathers stars as "Fortune Dane," premiering Saturday at 9 p.m. on ABC opposite the NBC smash hit, "The Golden Girls" and CBS' "Saturday Night Movie." And like "Rocky" in his first bout with Creed, he doesn't have to win the fight to be a hero. He only has to go the distance; any improvement in that time slot will satisfy third-rated ABC.

Yet, expectations are high. Weathers, as Hollywood wisdom holds, is a real star contender.

Says New York media buyer Paul Schulman, who analyzes and predicts prime-time performances for potential sponsors: "A lot of people are very unhappy that Apollo Creed died. And they're going to be very happy he lives on in the body of Fortune Dane."

"Fortune Dane," about a political trouble-shooter fighting white-collar crime and corruption, also has some earmarks of a "quality" show. Weathers, one of a trio of executive producers, is joined by Ronald Cohen ("Call to Glory"), who provides the reality-based scripts, and Barney Rosenzweig ("Cagney & Lacey"), who lends proven production skills.

But Weathers, 38, is the only one whose hair is stylishly cropped and whose 6-foot-2 frame gets tucked into smart leather jackets and custom-made boots. Carl Weathers, producer, knows exactly what he wants from Carl Weathers, star.

"I've always thought 'action-oriented,' " Weathers says, speaking in the overly concise diction of a TV evangelist. "But I had always wanted--the only word that comes to mind is tenderness . A character who on one hand could kick butt, but on the other hand would not be afraid to cry."

Says Rosenzweig, "It's clear when you talk to a guy like Carl Weathers that he's not going to play a brain surgeon. He is one of the more intelligent people I've ever been in business with. But he is a physical animal. He's gorgeous. He's got a 31-inch waist and, I dunno, 44-, 46-inch shoulders. The guy looks like a Greek god. . . ."

Rosenzweig, who is executive producer of "Cagney & Lacey" and therefore expected to know something about quality, might also be forgiven some of his enthusiasm. He and the many partners in "Fortune Dane"--Weathers not the least--each are counting on different things from the series. And at the top of the list are clout, fame and money.

Even as "Rocky" and its successors were turning Sylvester Stallone into Hollywood's most bankable actor, the critics were predicting stardom for Weathers, Stallone's screen nemesis-turned-pal.

"Carl Weathers is a real find," Pauline Kael wrote in her 1976 New Yorker review of "Rocky." As with other critics, she credited Weathers/Creed's "flash and ebullience" with "putting the fairy-tale plot in motion."

But film roles for black leading men were in short supply. Weathers, who had made his film debut in "The Four Deuces" shortly after coming to Hollywood in 1974, was offered cartoon characters and superheroes that he considered "pointless and meaningless."

TV responded more readily to Weathers' particular magnetism. He was offered the role in "Dynasty" as Diahann Carroll's husband and turned it down (Billy Dee Williams was asked first and said no, but eventually accepted). He was offered a sitcom, never produced, in which he would have played father to a young son. He turned it down. He was offered an action ensemble show, a sort of "Dirty Dozen" for TV. . . .

Weathers was holding out for a true starring role. "I see myself as a person who has the ability to carry a show, and that's what I wanted to do," he says.

Now, eight films (including "Semi-Tough" and "Force 10 From Navarone"), one record ("You Oughta Be With Me" in 1982) and three sets of TV producers later, Weathers could be poised on the brink of mass-media stardom.

Getting there hasn't been easy. One potential series originally called "Cutting's Edge" came to a grinding halt under the new name "Braker" at MGM/UA. Later, Weathers and Robert Urich ("Vega$," the current "Spenser: For Hire") teamed up for a TV remake of "The Defiant Ones," the original film of which first inspired Weathers to become an actor. But to get the project finished, they had to take huge up-front pay cuts.

When the ensuing musical chairs of studios and producers finally stopped, Weathers found himself teamed up with Columbia Pictures Television, Rosenzweig and Cohen--and only a few weeks to build his "Fortune" in time for ABC's schedule. (As Rosenzweig described the first few weeks, "Instead of a courtship, we were all thrown into bed together. . . .")

What's more, each of the partners in "Fortune Dane" seeks something different:

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