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Tartikoff, PBS Plan Comedy Series : The former NBC and Paramount Pictures chief is scheduled to produce 13 episodes, set in New Orleans.

July 29, 1993|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brandon Tartikoff and public television are going into the sitcom business together.

PBS announced Wednesday that the former chairman of NBC Entertainment and former chairman of Paramount Pictures is producing 13 episodes of a half-hour comedy series to air on the public TV network no sooner than fall of 1994.

Called "Under New Management," the show will be set in a restaurant/bar, sounding reminiscent of NBC's long-running hit "Cheers"--or perhaps CBS' short-lived "Frank's Place." Like "Frank's Place," the Tartikoff series will be set in New Orleans, where Tartikoff is living while his daughter is undergoing therapy after a severe auto accident.

The new show will also be shot in New Orleans.

In making the announcement, Jennifer Lawson, PBS' chief programming executive, said the network of "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Sesame Street" should not be boxed into producing certain kinds of programming.

"Comedy is part of television and shouldn't be excluded from public television," she said. "Brandon's concept is fresh, it's immediate and it fits public television's commitment to regional voices."

Lawson described the series as "water-cooler comedy" that will deal with "topical issues," much like CBS' "Murphy Brown" dealt with the Dan Quayle-single mother debate.

"Under New Management" will feature a white bar owner and an African-American real-estate woman who wishes to evict him, Lawson said at a press conference during PBS' leg of the annual TV critics' tour.

Tartikoff and writer-producer Stephen Tyler will produce "Under New Management" in collaboration with New Orleans public TV station WYES and will feature the use of local actors, Lawson said.

Asked how PBS could possibly produce a series with Tartikoff considering the network's limited funding, Lawson quipped: "That will be the challenge."

Although he did not attend PBS' presentation, Tartikoff said in a statement that "new ways" are needed to bring series to television, adding "that the old pilot-driven process, focused on both coasts, was somewhat archaic."

There was also an NBC tie to the other presentation during the morning press conference: Discussion of the PBS' acquisition of the canceled drama "I'll Fly Away."

PBS will go into production next week on the 90-minute PBS movie updating the story of an attorney (played by Sam Waterston) and his black housekeeper (Regina Taylor) in a small Southern town at the dawn of the civil rights movement. The movie will air Oct. 11 and then PBS will replay the 39 episodes that aired on NBC during the show's two seasons.

Waterston, Taylor and John Falsey, one of the show's creators, discussed, more in sorrow than anger, the elimination of the series on commercial television.

Unfortunately, Falsey said, "drama doesn't draw as much (viewers) as it used to. And some of the topics we dealt with have been . . . painful."

He insisted the NBC management did "not tamper" with the show's content. Still, he faulted the network for failing to allow the program to build an audience, instead moving the show to four different time slots.

Taylor said the show was a "rare opportunity" for her and working on it was "a dream."

Waterston said the sorrow for him was that the series ended in 1962 just as the civil rights movement was coming into its own.

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