Titans Article #5

'Titans' is Spelling's latest effort 'Titans' delights the critics

PASADENA, Calif. - During most of the sessions this month between series stars and producers and members of the television critics corps, the critics kept their views close to their vests - preferring instead to save their praise or poison pens until later.

Not so with the forthcoming NBC prime-time soap "Titans," however. The series from executive producer Aaron Spelling ("Dynasty," "Melrose Place") generated the biggest open response from the members of the Television Critics Association since the group was stood up by Dr. Laura Schlessinger three weeks ago.

The critics, who convened in Pasadena for two-plus weeks to preview the fall TV season, already had been shown an early version of the pilot of the glossy, intentionally over-the-top series that in some ways is a throwback to the days of "Dallas" and "Dynasty."

Airing at 7 p.m. Wednesdays this fall, ahead of dramas "The West Wing" and "Law & Order" in NBC's lineup, the program will combine glitz, power and a turbulent family struggle in a serial about the passionate lives of the rich and beautiful.

Unlike other hours in prime time, this one won't take itself too seriously, indicated Spelling.

When critics were shown a condensed package of the more outrageous moments of the opening installment, they were howling with laughter - in a good way, mostly.

Spelling seemed pleased with the response.

Said the series creator, "I think shows today have to have a sense of humor, even a little sense of camp. We can't play like we did 'Dynasty.' We can't play like some of the old series on television."

With "Titans," it looks like individual critics are either going to love it or loathe it. Judging by the way one press tour exchange played out, it seems more will like it than not, however.

Said one print scribe to the executive producer, "Mr. Spelling, there's a difference between laughing with a show and laughing at it, and I get the sense in this room that people are laughing at the show."

He may have misjudged the room, however, because the questioner was loudly booed by many of his colleagues.

Spelling, a senior veteran of prime-time serials, was quick to capitalize on the chorus of support for his show.

"I think they're angry at you for saying that," the executive producer said to the writer. "Not with you, at you."

Applause followed, both from the assembled critics and the stars on stage.

Joining Spelling on his left and right were five of the best-looking celebrities and soon-to-be celebrities yet presented. They were Victoria Principal, Lourdes Benedicto, Yasmine Bleeth, Perry King and Casper Van Dien.

Bleeth ("Baywatch," "Nash Bridges"), in particular, seems to relish her new role as TV's latest wicked girl. The vixen Heather in "Titans" is the role she's been waiting for, she said.

"You know, it's very funny," Bleeth said. "I've been lucky enough to be working in television for a long time now, and I've always been cast as the good girl. ... I don't know what took people this long to get it, you know."

"Titans" centers on 26-year-old fighter pilot Chandler Williams (Van Dien, "Starship Troopers"), a prodigal son who comes home to Beverly Hills and finds his filthy rich family torn apart. Keeping the turmoil boiling are his divorced parents, aviation entrepreneur Richard Williams (King, "Melrose Place") and club owner Gwen (Principal, "Dallas"), who have staked out their rival mansions across the street from each other.

But adopted son Chandler's reunion turns bittersweet when he meets his father's young, deliciously wicked fiancee Heather (Bleeth). She's the same woman who shared Chandler's bed just two months earlier.

Principal, who hasn't done a TV series since leaving her most identified role (as Pam Ewing on "Dallas") in the 1980s, said she initially resisted going back to a weekly TV serial. She changed her mind because of the part she was offered, she said.

"I'm 50 years old," Principal said, "and I love the idea that I'm going to play a 50-year-old woman on television. We're not going to pigeon-hole me and make me play someone younger so that she can have a full life. She's going to be a 50-year-old woman with a full life."

At a time when viewers are obsessed with non-dramatic programs such as "Survivor" on CBS and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" on ABC, NBC's move to launch "Titans" and other programs is being called anachronistic and old-fashioned.

The cast of "Titans" doesn't see it that way, however.

Offered Bleeth, "I'm sorry, but is 'Survivor' a reality show? I mean, do 12 people ever really get marooned on a desert island? This isn't reality we're watching."

Spelling will continue staking his career on fantasy programming, not the so-called reality shows.

"What we're trying to promote is escapism," Spelling said. "I mean, it's fantasy. You want to sit down at 8 o'clock at night after your dinner, and I think you want to get away from your everyday life."