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Fox heads to college and Florida with new Tuesday-night shows
by Jay Bobbin, Tribune Media Services
down, one to go.
That's the score for Fox Broadcasting as of this week, since it finally launches the delayed Tuesday-night schedule that will bring the six-year-old programming service within one evening of having a full prime-time lineup. (The last night left open, Monday, is used by Fox irregularly for movie telecasts.)
The Tuesday slate begins with "Class of '96," a drama tracing the experiences of several freshmen at havenhurst College, a private institution in the Northeast; with Peter ("thirtysomething") Horton serving as creative consultant and appearing as a professor in the premiere, the show includes Jason ("Backdraft," "Iron Eagle") Gedrick, Lisa Dean ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") Ryan and MTV alumna Kari Wuhrer among its regular cast members.
Following "Class" is "Key West," the saga of a lottery winner (played by Fisher Stevens, of such films as "Short Circuit" and "Reversal of Fortune") who uses his sudden windfall to pursue his dream of becoming a writer, by moving from New Jersey to Florida. There, he lands a newspaper job and meets a diverse assortment of characters, ranging from an alcoholic politician (Denise Crosby, formerly Tasha Yar on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") and a prostitute (Jennifer Tilly, sister of fellow actress Meg) to protective Rastafarian (T.C. Carson) and an outwardly rugged businessman (Gino Silva) with an autistic son.
"Key West" is being filmed on location, which top-billed star Stevens admits has posed complications, since the writing staff has remained in California. "If the show goes on," he projects, "I think they really have to be down there (in Florida). Otherwise, it's very difficult for them to really understand the true essence of the area." Since Stevens - primarily a film and stage actor - hadn't spent much time in Florida prior to making "Key West," and also had never done a series before, he found much in common with his newly relocated character.
"It was like taking a dive off a 40-foot cliff," he recalls of signing his contract for the program. "I was just at a point where I wanted to try to play different types of roles, and I kept ending up playing the same kind of weird guy in the movies I did (also including "The Flamingo Kid" and "The Marrying Man"). This was an opportunity to carry a project, and to play someone I really liked, who's interested in communicating and who's influenced by Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. I'd been offered a bunch of other TV series, but this had the best pilot script I'd ever read. It was about someone with a real passion, and someone who's also out of place."
Fox originally had planned to unveil its new Tuesday entries last October, and as it turned out, filming on the 13 initial "Key West" episodes was finished before the show could hit the air. Though he feels the delay was "the best thing that could have happened to this show, because it's coming on when nothing else is," Stevens also sees the opposite side. "The problem with it is that you have no idea of the audience reaction, so we couldn't make any (related) adjustments while we were shooting. I've only seen the dailies (the raw footage at the end of each day's work), and you can't really tell much from those."
Still, Stevens (a gossip-column fixture for a while, as Michelle Pfeiffer's now-former beau) appreciates the uniqueness of the program's setting, which he deems to be "wild. I've been living in big cities my whole life, so it's been interesting to try another lifestyle."
"However," he adds, "this also as been the hardest, and probably the worst, acting experience of my life. I now have total respect for people who do (weekly series work); it's so hard to be good, because you're going at such a rapid pace. Sometimes, you get the script the morning of the day you're going to shoot it, and it's like being part of a machine. I had no idea what I was getting into, because we had shot the pilot over three weeks. I had done a 'Columbo' episode on a six-week schedule, and I also did a 'Young Riders' story, and even that gave us at least eight or nine days. By comparison, what we've been trying to do (with "Key West") is insane. I look at this as my graduate school, because it's very fast. I can't wait to get back to New York and do a play."
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