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For Lynn Loring, Real-Life Drama Behind the Scenes : Television: The outspoken former actress, who is the industry's highest-ranking female executive, is trying to balance her career success against its toll on her personal life.

January 24, 1990|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the end of the TV season, and Lynn Loring didn't want to be a studio executive any longer.

Loring, the child actress who grew up to be president of MGM/UA Television Productions, was not having a good day. Six months into a three-year contract to fill one of Hollywood's most powerful positions, Loring was announcing her retirement.

"This will probably be my last three years," Loring said emphatically during a conversation last July. "I'm coming to a time in my life when I'm not finding it to be the fun I thought it would be.

"This is not a golden age for television," Loring continued, staring pensively into the nearly deserted breakfast room of the Four Seasons Hotel with eyes as round and wide as those of her childhood publicity stills, cigarette smoke framing her face along with her curly russet hair. "The \o7 show \f7 has gone out of it, and we're left with the \o7 business.\f7

"I never wanted to grow up to be president of a studio."

But that was July--following a TV season that was about as much fun as a car wreck for Hollywood's producers. Besides the devastation of the writers strike, the 1988-89season resulted in two casualties for MGM/UA: Its NBC series "Baby Boom" died quickly and "Dream Street," a youth-oriented, blue-collar drama from "thirtysomething" executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, lasted only a few episodes.

By the time the new season began in September, however, Loring had decided that being president of a major TV studio just might be a decent way to make a living after all.

MGM/UA's "thirtysomething," which had walked away with the Emmy Award for outstanding drama in its first season, had just netted 17 Emmy nominations (it went on to win two major Emmys), and Loring had high hopes for the studio's new ABC drama, "The Young Riders," a sort of new-age Western about the teen-age riders of the Pony Express. The studio had also just inked a development agreement with Dan Curtis, producer and director of the ABC miniseries "The Winds of War" and its mammoth sequel, "War and Remembrance."

And Loring--who had vowed to renounce her studio presidency to become an independent producer, or a lawyer, or the president of a network, or an author, or a ski bum--now declared herself back in the game.

"What happens is, at the beginning of the year, you don't examine yourself," she said. "At the beginning of the season, when everybody is up and has all these ideas, it's like having Mounds Bars and Almond Joy and Eskimo Pies--this feast of sugar. By the end of that season, the sugar is starting to wear off, and you have the sugar lows."

Now at mid-season, MGM/UA has no new crises to deal with, since its shows--"thirtysomething," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Young Riders"--have all been picked up for the remainder of the season. There is little time to enjoy the success, however: Pilots for new shows are being developed.

"In terms of the Top 10 shows, nothing new is really (a hit)," Loring said. "It's a tough year." "I guess the basic question none of us can answer is: Why do we \o7 do\f7 this?"

Loring has become the most highly placed woman executive currently at a Hollywood television studio without ever really figuring that out.

Second in command to MGM/UA Television Productions Chairman and CEO David Gerber, Loring does not carry the same clout in the TV business as former Columbia Pictures' president Dawn Steel did in the feature-film industry, and Barbara Corday outranked Loring when Corday served as president and chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures Television in the mid-'80s.

Still, at least in terms of title, Loring's at the top among female TV executives at the studios--and, although Gerber's the boss, Loring and Gerber make most decisions as a team.

"I don't look at it as something I've accomplished for all womanhood," she said. "But in my position, I have an obligation to stand up and be counted. I'm not looking to be a spokesperson for women, but I find what I say matters, and that excites me."

They say life imitates art; in the case of a studio executive, life apparently imitates TV. Loring readily acknowledges that her decision to get off the executive roller coaster--and to get back on again--is part of an annual ritual that mirrors the ups and downs of each TV season.

In one way or another, television has dedicated the pattern for most of Loring's life.

At age 6, she landed a guest appearance in CBS' anthology series "Studio One," which ran from 1948-58. At 7, she became a spokeschild for RCA Victor; her TV commercials won her the moniker "The Junior Set's Betty Furness." From 6 to 16, she played Patty on "Search for Tomorrow."

After years of guest appearances on shows including "Playhouse 90," "Hallmark Hall of Fame" and "The Defenders," and study at New York City's Barnard College, Loring married actor Roy Thinnes in 1968. They divorced in 1984; Loring married attorney Michael Bergman in 1988.

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