Putting together a new television series for the fall schedule is like running a marathon.
The usual process is to shoot a pilot in January or February, submit it to the network in April and then have it undergo audience testing, whose computer-complied results are scrutinized by network executives in May.
But "Angel Falls" short-circuited that process.
The serial drama that premieres at 10 tonight on CBS (Channels 2 and 8) was sold to the first-place network without a pilot or cast. Instead, it found its way onto the fall schedule on the strength of five scripts written by Joyce Eliason.
"I read all the scripts in one sitting and thought it was just excellent and would attract good actors," CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky said. "The hard thing here was the casting because the scripts were all done in May."
Larry Sanitsky, one of the series' executive producers, said Sagansky's decision was a throwback to years past.
"This is the way people made programs 10 years ago, when programmers would go with their gut instincts and not a lot of research," Sanitsky said. "You had a good concept and good scripts and people who programmed the networks who believed in the materials and gave you the go-ahead to do it."
Given the go-ahead, the producers signed James Brolin to portray Luke Larson, the high school basketball coach in the Montana town of Angel Falls. Peggy Lipton portrays his wife, Hadley. Jean Simmons, a two-time Academy Award nominee who also appeared in "Spartacus" and "Elmer Gantry," plays Brolin's mother, Irene.
Chelsea Field, a regular on ABC's short-lived 1990 newspaper drama "Capital News," stars as Rae Dawn Snow, a single mother who returns to her hometown and renews old passions.
The lack of a pilot isn't the only unique production factor about "Angel Falls." Because baseball's league championship series and World Series wipes out much of CBS' prime-time schedule in October, the "Angel Falls" premiere was set for today so that its entire six-episode initial order can be seen on consecutive weeks.
Sanitsky expects to know within three weeks if "Angel Falls" will get a renewal order. If it does, he expects it would be for 16 additional episodes, pushing the total to 22, now the full-season standard.