Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Profile : The Outer Banks : QUIRKY COMIC FINDS A BACHELOR PAD ON PBS

July 17, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PBS does have a wild and crazy side. Though best known for its high-brow documentaries, British dramatic series, nature shows and arts programming, PBS did introduce American audiences to the zany British comedy series "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

PBS' latest find: Steven Banks, a lanky baby boomer with a quirky sense of humor. A man prone to breaking into imitations of Rex Harrison, Bob Dylan and Katharine Hepburn.

"At Public Television, we believe there's no arena of the human experience which isn't appropriate or right," says Jennifer Lawson, executive vice president of national programming. "Humor has been a part of Public Television. We want to be open to innovative and creative talents from this country."

PBS thinks it's found one such "innovative and creative talent" in "The Steven Banks Show," premiering Sunday on KCET. Banks plays a 30ish bachelor named Steven Banks who lives in a horribly cluttered apartment where he constantly procrastinates. A fan of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Monkees, Steven loves to sing and play the piano, guitar and drums. And, of course, there's the previously mentioned imitating of celebrity icons.

Teresa Parente and Michael Kostroff play six recurring characters; Monkee Peter Tork, Bill Mummy ("Lost in Space"), Louis Nye and Penn & Teller are among the guests.

"The Steven Banks Show" is based on Banks' popular Los Angeles and San Francisco one-man show, "Steven Banks' Home Entertainment Center." In 1989, Showtime aired "Entertainment Center," which was taped live in San Francisco.

"We think Steven is an unusual talent," Lawson says. "He is a performance artist in many ways."

Because his show is on PBS, Banks says, TV stations have the option to air the series at different days and times. "It's on after 'Masterpiece Theatre' in Los Angeles," explains Banks, who comes across as a friendly and funny guy over lunch at an Italian restaurant in Glendale. "In Salt Lake City, it's on 12:30 Saturday nights. Orlando, Florida, is not running it. The state of Iowa is not running it. But that's OK."

The show is Banks' second attempt to translate his sense of humor to series TV. In the late '80s, several producers courted him. "Norman Lear wanted to do something. Brandon Tartikoff, Grant Tinker, Allan Burns, ABC. We ended up at Disney." (Tartikoff is now executive producer of the PBS series.)

Banks, now 38, shot a pilot at Disney, but it never sold. "It didn't work out," he says. "I learned a lot. Some things worked and some things didn't."

The PBS series deals with subjects that interest Banks. In the first episode, "Rock 'n' Roll Auction," Steven buys John Lennon's guitar at an auction only to discover he bought Julian Lennon's guitar case. "I collect stuff. I love rock 'n' roll."

He didn't want his series to be a carbon copy of "Home Entertainment Center." "It's sort of based on me and what I'm really like, and a lot of it's totally made up. The neat thing was to go into different areas and not just make it about procrastinating all the time.

"There are a lot of things within the show that are very different, just having two other actors play all the other parts. There's so much music and it's live music, which I think is very obvious. I said (to the producers), 'This has got to sound like a guy who is in his apartment playing his guitar and singing. It can't sound at all clean.' "

The Glendale native, who plays drums, piano and guitar, became interested in acting in 1962 when he saw Robert Preston in the movie version of the musical "The Music Man."

"I learned the whole record and pantomimed it," he recalls with a warm smile.

Banks went to Los Angeles City College for one year as a film major and attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Florida in 1975. "Then I did a lot of Equity Waiver dives around L.A. I also toured junior high and high school assemblies. That's a whole other story. That will be a miniseries. I was sort of a '70s and '80s version of Victor Borge. I played a lot of different instruments."

"Steven Banks' Home Entertainment Center" was an instant hit when it premiered eight years ago at Hollywood's 40-plus seat Chamber Theatre. "Entertainment Center," he says, was actually built around the set. "They had a set from a show that had opened and closed in, like, two weeks. It was a very realistic-type of Sam Shepard kitchen set."

Though "Entertainment Center" was taped in front of a live audience, the series' 13 episodes were shown to audiences after they were completed.

"We couldn't do it (in front of an audience) because it took so long to shoot each show because we had to do complete makeup and costume changes with the two other actors. It takes a long time to make them good and realistic. We were shooting two shows a week. I still can't believe we did it."

At the conclusion of each episode, viewers will be offered the opportunity to purchase the video of that show. Fans also will be able to buy the CD or cassette of the original songs Banks performs on the series. "I'm more excited about that than having a TV show named after me," Banks says with a smile.

"The Steven Banks Show" premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on KCET; it also airs Mondays at 9 on KPBS.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|