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INSIDE TV

'Valerie' Takes A Look Outside Sitcom Land

November 07, 1986|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

Anyone who's ever bristled at the way TV sitcoms conveniently wrap up stories and solve problems within a single episode will be interested in the episode of "Valerie" airing on NBC Sunday.

In a Pirandello-like exercise, the comedy series will try to show young viewers that TV programs like the very one they're watching don't necessarily mirror real life.

"We're not trying to bite the hand that feeds us," Tom Miller, one of the executive producers of "Valerie," explained Thursday. "We're just trying to open a space to say (to the audience), 'Examine what you watch. This is a play, not real life.' I guess it's a little Kafkaesque, in that it is a TV comedy, but it's the only format we have."

In the episode due for broadcast Sunday at 8:30 p.m., 13-year-old Willie (Danny Ponce) takes his father's car out for a ride, hits a parked car and then leaves the scene of the accident.

When he gets home, he hopes his mother (Valerie Harper) will be as understanding as the sitcom father he'd seen on TV earlier, who forgave his son for stealing money. He even imagines how it might be played out on TV.

When he actually confesses, however, Mom is furious--and even more so when Willie wants to know why she's not acting like the TV parent. "Sure he understands!," she snaps. "It's a TV show--you know, where every problem has a happy ending. Listen, you can wish that the world was that simple, but it is not!"

Willie says he's sorry and promises he won't do it again.

"Don't you pull something this serious and then expect to get off with a little speech and a hug," his mother snaps. "That's not how things work in the real world. Do you understand me? That's television--that's entertainment."

Miller said that the idea for the episode was suggested by Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment. Its implied criticism was not directed at any particular series, he said, acknowledging that the practice of "wrapping things up in a bow at the end" is endemic to the sitcom form.

Not this time, though. "There's no way we're going to solve this in half an hour, believe you me," the mother tells her son in "Valerie." And they don't.

That doesn't mean it crops up again next week, however. The problem simply gets resolved and disposed of in the netherworld between episodes.

"Next week we're back to being a situation comedy," Miller confirmed. "This was one little step--an out-of-tube experience."

MORE ON TV: "Television," an eight-part series about the history of the medium, will be coming to the Public Broadcasting Service in 1988.

The announcement was made following agreement by MCI Communications Corp. to underwrite the presentation with $1 million.

"Television" largely will come from a British documentary series produced by Granada Television, but also will include new material geared specifically to the U.S. television experience, featuring the people and programs that helped shape the medium here.

Production of the U.S. version will be overseen by KCET Channel 28 and WNET-TV in New York.

NEW SERIES: "You Can't Take It With You," the classic Broadway play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, will be adapted to a TV series for the NBC-owned TV stations, including KNBC Channel 4.

Harry Morgan, the former star of such series as "MASH" and "Pete and Gladys," will star in the weekly comedy, which is scheduled to premiere in the fall of 1987.

The series is one of five that the NBC stations will employ in the Monday-through-Friday period between the end of their local news and the beginning of the network prime-time schedule.

ON THE MOVE: Directors of the National Assn. of Television Program Executives have voted to relocate the organization's headquarters from New York to Los Angeles. Their target date for the move is Aug. 1.

The association, whose annual convention is a showcase for the selling of syndicated TV programming, said that the decision to switch coasts was based on financial considerations, the fact that most of the major studios and production companies are based here and the hope of finding a permanent site for its convention either in Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco.

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