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On View : Summer Tryouts : NEW PILOTS FACE A REALITY: FEW WILL GET A SECOND RUN

July 11, 1993|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER. Ted Johnson writes frequently for TV Times

"Tall Hopes" gets its shot at success during the dog days of summer, when viewers are more likely to be hanging 10 at the beach than channel surfing at home.

The CBS family sitcom, starring comedian George Wallace as the father of a high school basketball star and Spike Lee-like whiz kid, is one of a handful of fall-season wannabes the networks instead have on their summer schedules. An anticipated August air date is consolation prize for not getting a high-profile time slot in September.

"Ideally, you go on with tremendous fanfare," says Rich Eustis, executive producer of "Tall Hopes" with Michael Elias. "But we have a very good chance because we got a really good concept, not your typical 8 o'clock sitcom. We have a show with family dynamics and a little bit of an edge."

Other fall contenders that instead get limited summer runs include "The Boys" (CBS), about a writer and his girlfriend who move into a dead man's house and inherit three surviving friends, one played by Ned Beatty, and "Big Wave Dave's" (CBS), starring Adam Arkin as one of three Chicago men who open a surf shop in Hawaii. The network has assigned a premiere date of Aug. 9 at 9:30 p.m. for "Big Wave Dave's."

More often than not, shows that circle the mid-summer skies hoping to land a midseason berth don't make it beyond Labor Day. Remember "On the Air," an offbeat ABC sitcom from offbeat "Twin Peaks" creator David Lynch about a 1950s television variety show? Few do. It had a short summer life last summer.

"The networks sometimes are simply burning off the programs they have," says Paul Schulman, president of a New York company that consults advertisers on which shows they should pitch their products. "Most times they just come and go off."

Steven Spielberg's animated cartoon series "Family Dog" was delayed for years; its future after its summer bow on CBS (Wednesdays at 8 p.m.) is doubtful. NBC's "Route 66," which got a quick summer shot Tuesdays at 8 p.m., got the bad news after only two airings.

"Everyone hopes to get a fall slot, but I'm just happy to get on the air," says Bonnie Hunt, star of "The Building," which is scheduled to debut on CBS in August. She plays a struggling actress who moves into an apartment building across from Chicago's Wrigley Field.

"This is not just a regular sitcom," says Hunt, also executive producer of the series with David Letterman. "This is more of a relationship show. There's not the old sex and innuendo jokes. (My character) is a little bit old-fashioned. She worships Doris Day."

Everyone hopes to produce the next "Northern Exposure," the quirky drama that CBS gave a summer slot to and which placed second to reruns of "L.A. Law." The show generated enough heat to garner a regular season shot, where it did very nicely as part of CBS' powerhouse Monday-night lineup.

"Being on in the summer helped in a creative sense," says John Falsey, co-creator of the show with Joshua Brand. "(CBS) had bigger fish to fry. They were looking past us to their fall schedule, so we could be unique and different."

Different also sums up another batch of shows that likely will air only once this summer, almost guaranteed never to be seen again. These were pilots that for one reason or another programming honchos rejected for fall berths as well as six-pack summer airings.

Among that batch is "First Family" (Fox), a sitcom in a prehistoric setting, in which the grandfather's an ape, the father a Neanderthal and the son a human. Another in that category is NBC'S "Death and Taxes," with Teri Garr playing an IRS agent.

After spending big bucks on pilot episodes, networks often toss them off as original summer programming, scheduled at the last minute with no fanfare. They're even coy about whether they plan to air the show at all.

"This is the only business I can think of that programs their research and development for the world to see," says writer Lee Goldberg, the author of "Unsold Television Pilots," a chronicle of 3,000 shows rejected since the 1950s.

Fox didn't pick up "The Resurrector," about a man who stages people's deaths then brings them back to life to help solve crimes, as well as "The Messenger," the adventures of a guy who lives 15 minutes in the future.

Other pilots feature big name stars, such as Burt Young and Sally Kirkland. Both were in the cast of "Double Deception," which aired on NBC in June and starred James Russo as Joshua Kane, a Venice Beach private eye investigating the disappearance of a client's (Alice Krige) ex-husband. A lack of chemistry apparently killed chances for "Buddies" (ABC), with comedians Ritch Snyder and Rick Ducommun as two friends, one married, the other a single father. Rappers Kid n' Play were security guards in "Bodyguards," but ABC passed.

All this doesn't mean none of these pilots have no future. It's rare, but one of today's top shows started out as a pilot special on NBC in July, 1989, and it was about nothing. It still is. But "Seinfeld" now looks like NBC's Thursday-night mainstay.

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