Los Angeles Times
January 23, 1985
Changing Face of Prime Time on the Tube;
'Sara' at the Starting Block
You have to be crazy
to produce a new network situation comedy.
But Gary David
Goldberg, creator of the sitcom hit "Family Ties," has been overseeing
the last-minute preparations for a second show, "Sara," which debuts
tonight at 9:30 on NBC.
That makes him really
is a nutty experiment, which I can already tell isn't going to work, at least in
terms of my sanity," Goldberg said, wandering across an NBC soundstage,
eyeing a midday "Sara" rehearsal the other day. "Sometimes
I feel as if I don't even know what city I'm in."
The bearded producer
watched Geena Davis, a willowy young actress who plays the show's title
character, rummage around a kitchen set, tugging at her sweat shirt.
Staring intently at her wardrobe, Goldberg mused, "I wonder if we're
cleared to use UC Berkeley for the sweat shirt. I don't know why, but we
always have trouble whenever it's Ohio State."
With the comedy's
debut imminent, Goldberg and "Sara" co-creator Ruth Bennett had a lot
more than sweat shirt labels to worry about. Network executives have
already labeled the sitcom an '80s "Mary Tyler Moore Show," much to
the producers' dismay. "It's certainly a compliment," Bennett
said. "But we hope people will judge us on what we do, not what came
Neither producer had
much time to worry about the show's label. Bennett was locked away in her
office, surrounded by a mountain of scripts and unopened Christmas presents,
trying to polish several upcoming episodes. Goldberg,
who was busy leaving "official messages" for NBC Entertainment
President Brandon Tartikoff, had a limousine on call, waiting to whisk him away
for a quick visit to "Family Ties," where his "Sara" has
been affectionately nicknamed the "O.S." -- the Other Show.
isn't just the "O.S." with the Goldberg team. It's also starting
out as the Other Show in its time slot, airing opposite ABC's mega-hit
But just as
important, "Sara" is one of the network's new breed of yuppie sitcoms
aimed at the rising tide of upwardly mobile, increasingly sophisticated TV
viewers. Set in a San Francisco office complex, the program revolves
around a young, single attorney whose "family" is a trio of footloose
In addition to
Davis, the cast includes a likable but demanding girlfriend, played by Alfre
Woodard, and a pair of wisecracking male attorneys.
Brandon's idea that we try to bring the single-girl genre into the '80s,"
Goldberg said, sipping an ever-present cup of coffee. "But it's a
very risky kind of comedy to do, because the laughs come almost purely from the
characters, not from jokes. We're hoping that the audience will stick
around and let us play out some of the drama along with the comedy."
Even with Goldberg
as titular head, "Sara" is a show largely populated by women.
Goldberg proudly pointed to Bennett, who has written many of the initial
episodes while also serving as the supervising producer, as well as producers
Carol Himes and Merrill Markoe, who until recently was segment producer of
"Late Night With David Letterman."
"We push women
to the forefront for the simple reason that if we don't, who else will?" he
said. "In fact, I finally had to hire a male production assistant
because I wanted to have someone to watch the Super Bowl with."
also is a show that boasts that rarity of rarities, at least for network TV -- a
wry, acerbic and very gay character, played by Bronson Pinchot (who got
rave reviews for his fey art gallery staffer role in "Beverly Hills
Cop"). In one upcoming episode, Pinchot wanders into a ladies room,
admiring the lighting, while in an earlier scene, a male colleague tells Pinchot
that he's such an ardent womanizer "because guys like you don't pitch in
So far, the show's
producers have downplayed the Pinchot character's significance. "I guess it
will get a lot of attention," said Bennett, who wrote her first TV script
on a dare while she was a deejay in Boulder, Colo. "But when we came
up with the character, we thought, perhaps naively, that it wasn't such a big
deal. After we set the show in San Francisco, we decided, considering the
arithmetic, that it would be perfectly normal to have a gay man.
even have a gay relationship at some point," Bennett said, quickly adding,
"if the show lasts that long."
Pinchot, who kept
his co-stars cackling during rehearsals with his loopy ad-libs, was refreshingly
candid about his gay role. "I don't know what the affiliate in
Tallahassee is going to think about this," he joked while phoning People
magazine, trying to see when a story on him would run. "But I know my
grandmother is going to go through the roof!"
The rest of the cast
displayed the same relaxed, convivial spirit. During a break, Woodard
asked a crew member if she could have some tea with honey. Davis
immediately added, "And how about some cheese blintzes for me?"
Later, in front of
her makeup mirror, Davis, a co-star on the late but lauded "Buffalo
Bill" show, explained, "This is a loose, fun place. We get a lot
of opportunities to participate. The producers are very secure, so they're
very supportive if we want to try to work in some lines of our own. I'm
almost jealous of my character's energy. In real life, when I finish the
show, I go home, read my script and collapse."
Woodard, who won an
Emmy for a "Hill Street Blues" episode, agreed that the TV pace was
grueling. After a run-through that afternoon, Goldberg gently suggested
that she try to put a little more energy into a scene. Just before the
cameras began to roll, she slipped off her shoes and began to bounce up and down
on the balls of her feet, as if she were jumping rope.
problem isn't the long hours, but the way you have to constantly reestablish
your concentration because of the long breaks in between rehearsals," she
said later. "It's not the physical exertion so much as the psychic
strain. When the day's over, emotionally I feel like I've been through
Sartre's 'No Exit.' You just always have to be alert."
Watching one last
rehearsal, just before the final taping, Goldberg lingered out of camera range,
chuckling appreciatively at lines he'd heard dozens of times that day.
"It's important not only to let the cast know they're funny but to give
them a sense of where the laughs are, so it won't throw them off when
they perform in front of a real studio audience.
important of all, you've got to build confidence. This group doesn't know
if it's a winning team yet. To use a basketball metaphor, they don't know
whether they're the Boston Celtics or the Cleveland Cavaliers."
another line a loud guffaw. "We're not trying to figure out what makes
other people laugh -- it's what makes me laugh that counts," he
said. "That's how I make my living. If we're wrong, this is
network television. They can always get someone else."