Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Family Plots

By Bill Frost

FEBRUARY 1, 1999:  NBC's new president, Scott Sassa, has declared that he wants less sex on the network and more "traditional families" represented in the programming, as well as increased ethnic diversity and the use of locations other than New York City. Ethnic diversity and getting the hell out of NYC once in a while make sense, but what exactly does he mean by "traditional families"?

Sassa couldn't be referring to the whack-job clan that inhabits Providence (Fridays, 7 p.m.) on NBC, could he? Sure, it's set in the capitol of Rhode Island--what's next? Boise on UPN?--and star Melina Kanakaredes is an impossibly gorgeous Greek beauty who easily stands out in prime time's Anglo-heavy landscape. Kanakaredes (ka-na-KA-ree-deez), roughly translated, means "Not even in your dreams, chump."

The non-Big Apple location and the ethnic diversity requirements seem to be there, but few heterocentric men can watch Kanakaredes' Dr. Sydney Hansen (yeah, there's an exotic surname) for an hour without the thought of sex crossing their minds at least once. Or twice. Or 16 times before the first commercial break.

And the Hansen family ain't so traditional: Newly widowed dad Jim (Mike Farrell of MASH fame) would rather hang out with the animals he treats in his basement veterinary clinic than actual people; sister Joanie is a neurotic, unwed new mother; and chain-smoking mother Linda dropped dead in episode one--during Joanie's wedding, hence her still-single status--but now turns up in Sydney's dreams to dispense wisdom and tips on cleaning huge clumps of dark, curly hair out of the drain.

Why would Sydney, a successful Los Angeles cosmetic surgeon, move back home to Rhode Island to work in a low-income medical clinic and manage this lovably dysfunctional brood? It's About Family(tm). Also, Syd caught her boyfriend playing soap-hockey in the shower with another guy--remember that stipulation about heterocentric men?

Despite cringe-worthy advance commercials (Soft-focus montages! Kanakaredes hugs and weeps! Duran Duran shoots and scores!), the show took off: Providence was NBC's highest-rated drama premiere since ER in 1994, with a 13.1 rating and 21 share in homes and a 7.3/21 among adults 18-49 in its certain-death timeslot. In less-technical terms, Providence beat the shorts off Trinity, the "traditional family" drama-bomb it replaced. Ratings tapered off in the second week, but Providence is probably safe from cancellation--until Jim starts getting a little too close to his, uh, patients.

Speaking of dogs, the WB's Hyperion Bay (Mondays, 8 p.m.), another It's About Family(tm) drama about returning to the small hometown, smells like a wet Collie with Gingivitis: Mark-Paul Gosselaar (from Saved By the Bell--spider-sense tingling yet?) stars as Dennis Sweeny, an impossibly handsome start-up software mogul who's returned to his seaside home to revitalize the economy. He plans to build a high-tech factory that will provide menial jobs for the down-and-out folks of Hyperion Bay, like assembling Y2K-tested fishhooks or something.

Sound dumber than Carmen Electra on nitrous oxide? You betcha, and that same former Mrs. Dennis Rodman and Baywatch floatation device has recently been cast as the jiggle factor between scenes of Dennis desperately trying to patch things up with his estranged family--you'd think they'd cozy up to the rich relative, but where's the It's About Family(tm) turmoil in that? The addition of Electra--who is said to be so dim that she can only count to 22 on a cold day--is supposed to boost Hyperion Bay's soggy ratings with some of that sex appeal NBC wants to hose down. Rule of thumb: When fired Baywatch thespians are brought in, get the resumes ready.

The latest It's About Family(tm) entry into prime-time is CBS' Turks (Thursdays, 8 p.m.), centered around tough, by-the-book Chicago cop Joe Turk (William Devane) and his lovably dysfunctional Irish clan of, well, Turks. It debuted just last week, so it's too early to tell if it will fare better than the It's About Family(tm) drama it's temporarily replacing, Promised Land.

Watch carefully: If ex-Baywatcher Donna D'Errico is introduced next week as Donna Turk, the estranged daughter returning home to crash on the hide-a-bed, Promised Land (with new co-star Carmen Electra, fresh off the canceled Hyperion Bay) will be back sooner than anyone expected.

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