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New Series : Ritter And Bochco Are Teaming Up

January 12, 1987|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

Here are "three" that definitely sound like good "company": actor John Ritter, formerly of "Three's Company," and "L.A. Law" creators Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher are teaming up on a new half-hour series for ABC.

Ritter will star and Bochco and Fisher will write the first three episodes, ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard told TV reporters gathered at the Century Plaza Hotel late Friday.

Sources say the show will be an "unconventional" comedy, perhaps bordering on the dramatic. Details are sketchy since the pilot episode has yet to be scripted.

Both Ritter and Bochco have deals at 20th Century Fox Television--Bochco is exclusive to that studio for the next few years--but they got together through unofficial channels. The pair reportedly met last June while vacationing separately with their respective families in Hawaii.

Why would Bochco, who rose to prominence at NBC with "Hill Street Blues," jump across the dial to third-ranked ABC?

The answer is that ABC has a long-standing commitment to put on another series by Ritter, who helped deliver the network a hit with "Three's Company." So any writer that becomes associated with him right now is also working for ABC.

Bochco himself had the same kind of deal at NBC, which is why "L.A. Law" ended up there after Bochco and "Hill Street's" producer, MTM Enterprises, parted company. Now that that commitment has been fulfilled, Bochco's allegiance--the kind spelled out on paper and sealed with big, big paychecks--is to 20th Century Fox, not NBC.

No start date or title for the Ritter series has been divulged.

While Bochco was soaking up sun on Maui in June, another alumnus of MTM and NBC, Grant Tinker, was bidding farewell to the latter company and the network's affiliate station managers, who happened to be partying on the island at the time.

Now, seven months later, Tinker, founder of MTM and most recently chairman of NBC, is head of his own new TV production studio. His T/G Productions expects to have a sitcom on the air one year from now.

That's T for Tinker, and G for Gannett Co., the communications giant that owns USA Today. Tinker, leaving NBC while on top, was eager to work but not for anyone else. Gannett was eager to enter the program business but was happy to make Tinker the boss and co-owner. The company shelled out $24 million for the Laird Studios in Culver City and is spending another $15 million to renovate the facility and thereby give Tinker a base from which to create new series.

"We're talking primarily about series programming for the three networks that we know," Tinker, flanked by Gannett executives Allen Neuharth, chairman, Douglas McCorkindale, vice-chairman and John Curley, president, told the gathered TV critics on Saturday morning.

Initially, the emphasis will be on comedies, Tinker said. Made-for-TV movies, feature films, and productions for syndication and cable eventually could follow.

Tinker, who mentioned that he is so often referred to in print as "self-effacing that I was beginning to think it's part of my name," bore out that claim before the press when asked his new title. "I suppose when it gets written down and structured it will be President," he said.

He also demonstrated another typical Tinker trait--his seemingly irresistible urge to speak more candidly than chief executives normally are counseled to do.

Asked if he would have suggested that NBC form a political action committee (PAC), as his successor, Robert Wright, has, Tinker said:

"There's a great temptation to second-guess your successor in anything--sports or work . . . or marriage. I really don't want to give into that temptation. No, of course I wouldn't have written a memo about PACs or even had the thought. But that doesn't mean he (Wright) was wrong.

"For that matter, I would take Larry (Grossman, president of NBC News) to task for scrubbing '1986,' " he added. At the inception of the recently canceled "1986" prime-time news show, then-chairman Tinker said it would be on the NBC schedule "forever," and he defined forever as "as long as I'm at NBC." With Tinker gone, Grossman decided that a slate of one-hour documentaries was preferable to a weekly show, but Tinker said Saturday that Grossman "could have taken '1986' out once a month and run the documentaries in that time period."

Tinker also made a not-so-veiled reference to former wife Mary Tyler Moore's recent, failed CBS series. "Bill (Cosby) with me is unique, but Mary and everybody else in this business better have the writers first. That's where it starts with me.

"You can do an 'A-Team' if you do it well enough," he later remarked. "But it's not the sort of thing we would be rushing pell-mell to do."

A high school student who's also a CIA operative, an older-woman-younger-man romance and a sitcom-variety hybrid all are on the initial lineup of weekend series announced Saturday by the Fox Broadcasting Co. (FBC).

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