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TV in the Edwardian Age

March 01, 1998|IRENE LACHER

Everyone wants to be Hollywood royalty.

Even royalty.

So you think prince is a fancy title? That was fine for medieval Europe, but this is a town known more for feuds than feudalism. And what's a resume these days without a true title extraordinaire--like executive producer?

Today we introduce that other Windsor, the one who's been keeping a low profile while his older siblings and their amours have been hogging the headlines. Prince Edward quietly sailed through town recently to up his ante as a monarch--of television, that is. Besides being a prince of the realm, he's a TV documentarian in his hometown.

But first we should tell you that the 33-year-old Edward is actually the no-fuss, no-muss Windsor, the baby of the queen's three boys. Wearing his producer crown, he wants you to address him as Edward Windsor. That's instead of His Royal Highness, the Prince Edward, by the way. Clogs up the credits. Anyway, Edward's laid-back approach to his California colleague wannabes flipped out his Scotland Yard bodyguard.

"In Great Britain and wherever he goes on behalf of his mother, you don't speak unless you're spoken to," says his agent, Sam Haskell, the West Coast head of television for William Morris. "You don't shake hands unless he extends his hand.

"It's 'sir' or 'your royal highness,' and the detective who came with him was just astounded about how Edward wanted to be treated. He said, 'I want to be one of the group. I don't want them to feel intimidated by titles.' "

And hear ye, all you nutty TV types out there--you don't break into the receiving line. Needless to say, things were pretty darn unintimidating at a recent dinner Haskell hosted at his Encino home so the prince could mingle with television aristocracy, such as CBS Entertainment president Les Moonves, Brooke Shields, Walt Disney Network Television President David Neuman, William Morris Chairman Norman Brokaw, Diahann Carroll, 20th Century Fox Television President Sandy Grushow, Martin Short and USA Networks Entertainment President Rod Perth. They dined on duck in a heated tent behind the Haskell manse.

"I've known him for a year because I've been working with him," says the England-based Corbin Bernsen, who is developing projects with Edward's company, Ardent Productions. "I ran up and said, 'Hey, Edward,' and I didn't realize there was kind of a receiving line. A small social faux pas."

Oops.

But hey, Edward isn't the only hep-cat royal who wants to be one of the boys and girls in these raffish '90s. Moonves and family stopped by Sarah Ferguson's place in London for a bite last summer. The two have been talking about possible future projects--a talk show, specials--for CBS.

"We were on vacation and our kids played with their kids," Moonves says. "I got a kick out of it. There were two other couples there. Prince Andrew did the cooking. With some help, but it was very funny. There he was in a madras shirt cooking hamburgers on a grill."

What is it with men and fire? For that matter, what is it with royals and television?

"They like to mingle with the people of our community," Moonves says. "We're the movers and the shakers of the media world. We have a lot of control about what gets on American television. And also, we're pretty interesting people.

"I remember when I was appearing in front of a Senate subcommittee for the first time seven or eight years ago, and I was a bit nervous and my attorney said to me, 'Remember, they're as impressed with you as you are with them.' "

Of course, there are humble folk here, too. Like Prince Edward.

"I'm just trying to get on here as a television producer, as with many other people that are here," he says softly as guests begin to dribble in despite the rainy evening. "So we started at the same point, really."

Edward is warm and reserved at the same time, lightly deflecting questions about his sister-in-law's own romance with TV--stumping for Ocean Spray cranberry juice and Weight Watchers. But asked about his motherless nephews, William and Harry, he drops his diplomatic veneer and speaks from the heart.

"They're doing remarkably well under the circumstances, although I think most people forget that they do actually read newspapers, so that these people who go on about conspiracy theories . . . What they are doing to those two boys, it's nobody's business, really."

Edward came to William Morris' attention nearly two years ago with "Edward on Edward," a widely praised PBS documentary he produced and narrated about the duke of Windsor, the great uncle for whom he was named. Ardent has also produced documentaries on castle ghosts, classic cars and tennis, as well as a political drama series about members of Parliament.

But the big money, TV-wise, is on these shores, and Edward really got into the swing of that favorite American pastime, taking meetings. Haskell hopes as many as half a dozen deals come out of the prince's quick trip.

Could that mean that Edward will be setting up castle on the West Coast?

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