TV or not TV. . . .
GOLDEN GIRL: Without Susan Harris, it is safe to say, NBC would be in a pickle.
She created two series, "The Golden Girls" and "Empty Nest," that have helped keep the network atop the ratings.
And this weekend, another of her sitcom creations, "Nurses," which is set in a hospital, joins the two established hits in its debut--giving her three NBC series each Saturday.
That alone makes her a major TV power broker. But she's also created yet another sitcom, "Good and Evil," which debuts Sept. 25 on ABC and deals with two sisters, one nasty (Teri Garr), the other sweet (Margaret Whitton).
So that's four series.
But NBC is gambling with the "Golden Girls"-"Empty Nest" tandem in the new TV season, splitting them up and sticking a new sitcom called "The Torkelsons" in between. Former NBC honcho Brandon Tartikoff has described the characters in "The Torkelsons" as "the kind of people who watch 'Roseanne.' "
"The Golden Girls" airs at 8 p.m., "The Torkelsons" at 8:30, "Empty Nest" at 9 and "Nurses" at 9:30 in NBC's new strategy.
What does Harris think?
"Obviously, it would be preferable if 'The Torkelsons' followed 'Empty Nest,' " she says--meaning her three series would then go back-to-back. "But possibly this way makes sense."
If things don't go well, she says, "I'll depend on NBC to take care of us."
Harris, who also created "Soap," is nothing if not imaginative at the network game.
" 'Empty Nest,' " she says, "originally was about a couple who were going to be neighbors of 'The Golden Girls,' giving us an opportunity for crossovers (of characters between the two shows). But it didn't work as a couple. We realized it was going to be a complaint-of-the-week show."
Thus evolved the "Empty Nest" format centered around a doctor (Richard Mulligan) and his two daughters (Kristy McNichol and Dinah Manoff).
"Good and Evil" also required re-thinking.
"I wrote it eight years ago," says Harris, "about two brothers who were twins and worked at a university. It was turned down by ABC when they decided (TV) comedy was dead. It was resurrected last year when they decided it was live again.
"So I did some updating. And I prefer to write women--it's easier for me, being a woman--so I changed it to sisters. Only the title is the same."
Like "Soap," "Good and Evil" is a zany, continuing tale.
"It's a luxury for writers and actors not to have to turn out a story with a beginning, a middle and an end every week--just to be able to do good scenes," says Harris. "Otherwise, everything is relegated to plot. Once you're free of that, things open up tremendously. You can really get to know the characters. There are infinite possibilities."
Harris has a reputation of creating and then leaving series: "It's true. I'm the first to admit that. My husband has referred to me as a creator-deserter."
But, she says, after "Soap," in which she was constantly writing, "I vowed I would never do that to myself again. But it doesn't mean I just write the pilot and take off. I'm writing my second 'Nurses' now. I'll write five or six of the first 13 shows."
Besides, she says, "I write notes, read scripts. I'm around."
LIFE GOES ON: Marion Ross, the All-American mom for 10 years in "Happy Days," graduates to grandma in CBS' new "Brooklyn Bridge" series.
What's more, she gets top billing as the matriarch of a 1950s Brooklyn family in producer Gary David Goldberg's new comedy that debuts with an hour special Sept. 20.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: You don't usually think of Fox TV for its specials, but it should have a good one Oct. 6 with "Ray Charles: 50 Years in Music," a 90-minute entry.
Scheduled to be on hand are Paul McCartney, Bill Cosby, Gloria Estefan, Quincy Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Townsend, Stevie Wonder, Randy Travis and Willie Nelson, among others.
Let's hope all the names don't get in the way of the truly great artist who's being honored and who could do a fast 90 minutes all by himself.
MATCHMAKER: According to David Letterman, New York and hell have become sister cities.
ONE MAN'S OPINION: Benny Hill is still funnier than just about every new network comedy show I've seen for this fall.
EDUCATION: My car radio has 24 pre-sets, I programmed them all and now discover that six are more than enough.
CHOICES: Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings all know their stuff, but my favorite anchors are Brian Lamb of C-SPAN (the best), "Nightline's" Ted Koppel and Charles Kuralt of CBS' "Sunday Morning."
HANGING TOUGH: Good to see that NBC renewed the notable interview show "Later With Bob Costas" for two more years.
GAVEL-TO-GAVEL: Coverage of Judge Clarence Thomas' Senate confirmation hearing for appointment to the Supreme Court is scheduled to begin live at 7 a.m. today on C-SPAN, with a repeat of each day's entire session at 5 p.m. Tape-delayed PBS coverage is scheduled for 10 a.m. on KCET Channel 28.
POINT AFTER: A highly placed news source says the Soviets now are so hip to TV that they really wanted last week's ABC Gorbachev-Yeltsin interview with Americans to air after "Monday Night Football"--but the revolution sort of got in the way.
SWITCH SIGNALS: ABC says that Lamont, Ill., originally was one of the cities to take part in the Gorbachev-Yeltsin interview "because it is a heavily Lithuanian community. But it was dropped because with the change in the Baltic status, it wasn't as relevant as when we selected it."
OVER THERE: If you're heading to the Big Apple, the Museum of Television & Radio (formerly the Museum of Broadcasting) opens its new building to the public Thursday. It's at 25 W. 52nd St.
BEING THERE: "Abracadabra, the guy's a cadaver."--Bruce Willis in "Moonlighting."
Say good night, Gracie. . . .