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'Spenser's' Second Shot At Success

October 08, 1986|CLARKE TAYLOR

BOSTON — For Robert Urich, the return of TV's "Spenser: For Hire" for a second season means more than mere prime-time survival. It means a second shot at making the series about a Boston detective something special.

"Last year, we laid a good, solid foundation, and now it's time to let Spenser branch out and blossom," Urich said in a recent interview on location here.

"Good television doesn't happen by accident," continued Urich, every bit as erudite and idealistic in person as his latest TV character, which is based on the detective novels by Robert Parker. "A commitment of time and hard work" is a prescription for success, he said.

Urich noted his own commitment to the series, including moving his wife and two children to Boston from Los Angeles, where he has lived for most of his 20-year career, and that of ABC, which told him it would stick with the show.

"It was a little touch and go for a while," he recalled of the show's shaky ratings early last season. He also acknowledged that there had been a shakedown period in terms of quality. "But I was hopeful all along, and I saw what I thought was progress."

Unusually unguarded and unpretentious, the actor said he started keeping a notebook last season "to record emotionally" what a more permanent move here might mean, both to his family and to his career.

Pointing out that he spent his time off from the series playing a leading role in ABC's forthcoming 14-hour miniseries, "Amerika," Urich said he concluded that his career could be carried on from Boston as easily as from Los Angeles.

With a second season of "Spenser" now under way, Urich sounded engrossed in what he enthusiastically described as the ongoing work to improve the series.

He noted that "Spenser" has a new creative team, headed by the series' new executive producer, Juanita Bartlett, whose TV credits include "The Rockford Files." Also, a new character and potential romantic ploy for Spenser has been added in assistant district attorney Caroline McCormick, played by actress Rita Fiori.

The new character replaces Susan Silverman, a child guidance counselor played last season by Barbara Stock. "She and Spenser were locked into a relationship that was going nowhere," Urich explained.

"We're continuing to focus on human values and on how people really feel, rather than on flash and dash," the actor said. "I think people tune in for heart and emotion, not for loud rock music and slick camera angles. Hopefully, Spenser will also seem more human, even more entertaining, and less heavy-handed and somber. And there will be more focus on helping people with their problems.

"And I hope there will be less violence," he said, expressing his personal displeasure with last season's "graphic violence" and "high body count . . . we are not out to do 'The A-Team,' " he said.

"When I go back and look at the shows, I find there is something very satisfying about watching, as though at the end of the hour something has really happened ," Urich said.

"It's simple to know in your heart, but you have to learn over and over again that there is no substitute for quality and hard work," he said. "If you focus on these things, instead of rushing around trying to figure out what the audience likes, you may wind up a hit instead of a miss or a flash in the pan.

"More importantly," he added, "you may be able to sleep better at night."

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