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'Sons' Aims to Expand the 'Texas' Franchise

Television: CBS hopes the new show's edgier format will build on 'Walker's' Saturday night popularity.

March 06, 1999|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chuck Norris would never be mistaken for Rodney Dangerfield.

But even with the long-standing success of his CBS action series, "Walker, Texas Ranger," which has almost single-handedly energized Saturday night television, respect--particularly any sort of critical acclaim--is still hard to come by.

"It's really tough, but that's how this business is," said Norris, the star and executive producer of the drama about modern-day Lone Star lawman Cordell Walker, who uses his wits--and his fists and feet--to fight bad guys in Texas.

"I've never felt that 'Walker' has gotten credit," Norris said. "It's not controversial or edgy. It's just a down-to-earth show."

But CBS gives Norris plenty of respect, characterizing him as one of the mainstays and staples of the network. That support is prompted by the sustained popularity of "Walker." Now in its seventh season, the show has been the top-rated Saturday night network series since 1994. This season, "Walker" has averaged about 15 million viewers weekly.

And with tonight's premiere of a "Walker" spinoff that has a more youthful kick, CBS is clearly hoping for lightning--in the form of "Sons of Thunder"--to strike twice.

"We clearly see this essentially as the expansion of the 'Walker' franchise," said CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem of the new series. "It's a blend that is very appealing to viewers. This genre has been extraordinarily successful for us, and we hope it continues with 'Sons of Thunder.' "

Norris Will Make Cameos

As in "Walker," the new drama has Norris and his brother Aaron Norris as executive producers. Norris will make cameos on the series, which has an initial six-episode run in the "Walker' 10 p.m. Saturday time slot while that series is on hiatus.

"We would love for 'Sons of Thunder' to become a lead-in for 'Walker,' and we've never been more excited," Aaron Norris said.

The series stars recurring "Walker, Texas Ranger" cast members Jimmy Wlcek and Marco Sanchez as two private investigators who team up to battle the bad guys. Wlcek provides much of the kick in the series as former military man Trent Malloy, who is trained in the martial arts, while Sanchez brings more of a lighthearted touch to his role as Carlos Sandoval, a former police officer.

Both Norris brothers characterize "Sons" as a hip show that will still provide the action, but will have more comedy and banter between the two partners and the people they encounter. The visual style of the series is grainier and edgier, and the music is more rock-oriented.

"I refer to it as 'Starsky and Hutch' in the '90s," Wlcek said. "The 'Walker' audience will really relate to it, but it will have a much younger vibe."

Tellem said CBS would be delighted if "Sons" could catch some of the fire of "Walker." Besides being the top-rated Saturday night show, "Walker" is also No. 1 in several key demographics, including the 18-49 and 25-54 age groups, and men and women 25-54.

Said Tellem: "The appeal of the show goes right down the middle. Critics may think that highbrow or quirky shows are more appealing, but they are not always keyed in to what the demographic is looking for and what's just entertaining. 'Walker' is just good plain entertainment."

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