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A Hint of Fall on the Airwaves : 'Baby Boom' Takes Baby Step Toward a Season Delayed by Writers' Strike

September 09, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

Welcome to a minuscule fall prime-time season. It consists of NBC's "Baby Boom."

This engaging pilot for a new comedy series airs at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on Channels 4, 36 and 39, well in advance of the rest of "Baby Boom" and the rest of the new season.

The now-settled marathon writers' strike caused a delay in the new season of the Big Three networks, wiping out normal scheduling plans and forcing ABC, CBS and NBC to dribble out fresh, regular-series programming starting in October instead of going for the traditional boffo, curtain-raising Premiere Week this month.

However, the "Baby Boom" pilot was completed prior to the strike. Production on the rest of the series is not scheduled to start until Sept. 27. It will air Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m., beginning Nov. 2. Such are the postponements caused by the strike.

Thus, the new season could be accurately titled "Beyond Tomorrow," which also happens to be the name of a new science-magazine series coming to Fox Broadcasting at 9 p.m. Saturday (Channels 11 and 6). More about that series shortly.

The "Baby Boom" executive producers, Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers, were also the creative team behind the "Baby Boom" theatrical movie that spawned the TV series.

Kate Jackson takes over Diane Keaton's movie role as an over-achieving executive with a Harvard pedigree who suddenly becomes a single parent when she inherits a toddler from a relative. Sam Wanamaker returns as her boss.

Using film instead of videotape gives "Baby Boom" an elegant, cinematic texture that visually separates it from most TV comedies. But it's the smart, amusing script by the co-executive producers, Shyer's direction (the pilot is so fast-paced that you get the feeling he used a bullwhip) and Jackson's appealing mix of ambition and vulnerability as J.C. Wiattthat give this early sampling of "Baby Boom" its main charm.

On Saturday, J.C. feels threatened by her preppy new assistant and has problems balancing her roles as parent and 5-to-9 executive.

The problem for "Baby Boom"--whenever it returns--may be avoiding the female-executive stereotyping and mommie cutesies that occasionally detract from the pilot.

Designed to help turn around Fox's disastrous Saturday night lineup, "Beyond Tomorrow" may be the young network's most-ambitious series to date, a sleek and breezy high-tech hour that entertainingly highlights the latest in scientific achievements.

Produced for Fox by Australia's Beyond International Group, "Beyond Tomorrow" is sometimes interesting, yet also unfulfilling, putting you as often on the cutting edge of slickness as on the cutting edge of science.

The format is tailored to TV attention spans, with stories ranging from 1 to 7 minutes in length, most falling in the 3-minute range and backed by driving disco music. The best on Saturday's premiere are a beautifully rendered piece on the "greenhouse effect" and another on the latest in deep-sea diving suits.

The four "Beyond Tomorrow" reporters--Gary Cubberley, Susan Hunt, Randy Meier and Richard Wiese--meet Fox's demographic goals by being 30ish, all being long on looks and short on big-time reporting experience.

Although "Beyond Tomorrow" easily beats anything else Fox has tried on Saturday nights, it may also be prime time's first pan-human series, its most lingering impression being a disturbing uniformity. The show looks and sounds pleasant. Everyone on the show looks and sounds pleasant. In fact, Meier and Wiese look so much alike that they may be the same person.

The series, Fox says, gives viewers "a sneak preview of life beyond the year 2000." More depressing, it may also give them a sneak preview of newscasts beyond the year 2000.

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