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Bob Saget: Getting the Last Laugh on ABC

March 21, 1990|RICK DU BROW | TIMES TELEVISION WRITER

Maybe Bob Saget has a fairy godmother somewhere.

He is, at the moment, the star of not one--but two--hit comedy series on ABC, including the nation's most explosively successful new weekly show, "America's Funniest Home Videos."

His other show, "Full House," in which he plays a broadcast personality with three daughters, is quietly trotting through its third season, averaging a strong 28% of the TV audience in its Friday-night time slot.

In fact, of course, the real stars of "America's Funniest Home Videos" are the videos, sent in to ABC by viewers at the rate of more than 1,000 a day.

And Saget, 33, understands this--and, in fact, seems intelligently wary of his sudden fame. Only half-jokingly, he likes to introduce himself by saying: "Hello. I'm Bob Saget--Danny Tanner on 'Full House.' "

Of the "Home Videos" series, he says simply and with wonderment: "Little did I know it would turn into this giant thing." It was the second most-watched program on TV last week, with more than 20 million homes tuned in. It was first the week before.

Sitting in a tiny room in his publicist's Wilshire Boulevard office, Saget seems as unlikely a candidate as possible to be starring in two TV hits. There is no big-time aura about him.

And maybe that's the secret. He has an easy-going, friendly, funny manner--the kind that has carried hundreds of actors through faceless sitcoms through the years, making viewers comfortable and themselves rich.

But "America's Funniest Home Videos" isn't faceless. Loved and hated, yes. But definitely not faceless. And suddenly Saget has an identity.

"I've just stumbled upon it," he says.

As one of the three writers of "Home Videos," Saget also faces problems from viewers who may be upset by sequences like last Sunday's tapes of little children running into walls. Some TV watchers may have flinched instead of laughing--and Saget knows it.

"One of my jobs is to soften any violence that we see," he says. "It's unfortunate that a good 30% to 40% of the show is accidents--slapstick accidents. I don't like seeing anybody hurt. It does jar me.

"But this is true stuff. Everything obviously has to be checked with the families of these people to find out the back story. If a person is seriously hurt, they will not run the clip. That's the policy, I've been told."

That's really not good enough, of course. Viewers don't know or care anything about policy procedure. They may just see things like kids running into walls.

Saget acknowledges the point and doesn't argue it.

But "America's Funniest Home Videos" has struck a public nerve. A British newspaper describes it as a "program of people making fools of themselves." President Bush reportedly is a fan.

And Saget, a stand-up comedian, worked like mad this season as he acted in "Full House" and, in between shooting scenes for that show, co-wrote the script for "Home Videos."

He did it by having fax machines in both his "Full House" dressing room and at home so that new sequences of "Home Videos" could be sent to him.

On this particular day, Saget, a native of Philadelphia who lives in Sherman Oaks with his wife, Sherri, and their daughter, is especially at ease--"Full House" has wound up shooting for the season--and he looks it in khaki trousers, a yellow T-shirt, sneakers and a light-colored lavender sweater that opens down the front.

Tall--6-foot-4--and with glasses and long brown hair, he looks studious, eager to please and definitely accessible. He breaks his almost non-stop comic patter--every other line seems to have a gag--to contemplate his double-duty season:

"It's like I got crazy and I was complaining for a week and a half. And then I realized, what am I complaining about? I was out of work for years. And now I've got three shows--the third is an HBO comedy special I'm writing for myself."

Moving around a lot as a kid because of his father's work--Saget lived in Encino for several years in his teens--he finally came to Los Angeles in the late '70s and moved into a one-room apartment in Palms.

"I came here after college--I'd been a film student at Temple," he says, "and I won a student Academy Award. So the motion picture academy flew me out. That was a big deal. I came to go to grad school at USC, but didn't go. I went to the Comedy Store and started doing stand-up full time. I still can't figure out why. I was kind of a cocky kid, and I wanted to save my parents the money grad school would have cost--like seven grand a year."

With his easy flow of gags, Saget is told he could work forever as a game-show host.

"Never," he says. "You'll never see me with a long mike in front of people. I've never wanted to do a game show. My aversion to this thing was that I didn't want to do the hosting moron guy. I'm a comedian who's an actor, and I want to direct."

In the meantime, he thinks "America's Funniest Home Videos" is a kick:

"You're peeking in on people's lives, but you're not making fun of them. It's like a safe way to play with your perceptions of people. We're looking at somebody's furniture. You're in somebody's house. To me, it's cool to drive past a house and you think what it's like to be in there right now. There's a light on, and I wonder what the carpet looks like. It's just to see how people live."

Some people, anyway--especially those who think accidents are hysterical. And the nation's curious fascination with "America's Funniest Home Videos" has given Saget a hot hand--a full house.

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