Titans Article #11

Fall TV Preview: Titans

(From Entertainment Weekly)

Trumpeted by NBC as ''this fall's guilty pleasure,'' ''Titans'' is a glitzy, gleefully biting serial chronicling the business and bedroom adventures of the wealthy Williams family. It resides somewhere between the overwrought opulence of ''Dynasty'' and the bitchy silliness of ''Melrose Place,'' and features a hilarious episode 1 cliff-hanger that rivals ''Dallas''' Bobby in the shower trick for sheer audacity. ''There's a hole in television for this kind of show,'' says creator and former ''Melrose'' exec producer Charles Pratt Jr., ''a good old family saga [about] the twisted, mixed-up, dysfunctional lives of a Beverly Hills family.''

Just how twisted? Exhibit A: Casper Van Dien (''Starship Troopers'') plays Chandler Williams, a straight arrow Navy pilot who returns home to discover that his dad's new fiancée (Yasmine Bleeth) is his old lover. Not that he'll be pining away all season. ''I was told by Chuck Pratt to be prepared to be in bed with a different woman every week,'' he says. ''I think he might be joking. Maybe not. In that case, I'd better go to the gym right now.''

However high the bedmate count gets, ''Titans'' subscribes to Spelling's long held theory about successful prime time soaps: Wealthy folks plus excessive suffering equals one addictive series. ''What [viewers] loved about 'Dynasty' is that they could laugh at the rich,'' Spelling explains. ''['Titans'] is all done with humor -- we call it 'humor, fashions, and passions.' That says it all.''

Casting the Williams clan wasn't such a lighthearted endeavor. Hoping to land Bleeth as ''Titans''' home wrecking Heather, NBC execs first had to persuade CBS to spring the actress from ''Nash Bridges'' so she could film the pilot. As it turns out, the former ''Baywatch'' babe -- who was planning on leaving her role as ''Bridges''' no-nonsense Caitlin at the end of the season -- was eager to add a little vixen to her résumé. ''Even in the beginning of my career, I wouldn't get auditions to be the hooker. I was like, 'I could be a hooker with the best of them!'... I guess I'm kind of sweet looking,'' says Bleeth. Plus, she adds, ''I've been wanting to do a sitcom. With this, I get a sitcom with better clothes.''

Luring Victoria Principal back into the prime time soap fold took a trifle more prodding. When NBC -- impressed with her guest starring run as a wealthy seductress on ''Providence'' -- initially approached Principal to play ''Titans''' poised matriarch Gwen Williams (''We sent a small caravan of executives to the set,'' says Ancier), the former ''Dallas'' star turned them down flat. That's when Ancier and Co. promptly went into emergency schmoozing mode, but it was Principal's old pal Spelling who ultimately did the trick. ''Aaron and [NBC Studios president] Ted Harbert were very clear that they would respect my wishes to play a whole human being,'' explains Principal. ''As much as I loved being on 'Dallas,' Pam ended up being a goody goody. I want Gwen to have good days and bad days, do good things and bad things, have good hair and bad hair.''

With wives past and present locked in, ''Central Park West'' vet John Barrowman on board as boozy black sheep Peter Williams, and Perry King (''Melrose Place,'' ''Riptide'') signed on to play the tycoon husband, Richard Williams, Spelling assumed ''Titans'' was ready for prime time -- but NBC was having doubts. ''As much as we like Perry as an actor,'' explains Ancier, ''we wanted... someone who could play a little more of a dark side.'' After a network/ studio huddle, the decision was made to send Richard to the great boardroom in the sky in episode 5.

Filling the patriarch void will be former ''Melrose Place'' scoundrel Jack Wagner. As Richard's slick and ruthless younger brother, Jack, Wagner will assume more power in the family conglomerate and tangle with both of his former sisters-in-law. ''It was a little weird the first day,'' says Wagner of coming late to the ''Titans'' party. ''But Perry was very gracious. He said, 'I'm so glad you're doing this because you're perfect for it.' And I immediately said, 'Too bad you're dying,''' Wagner deadpans.

Now the only question hovering over Spelling's newest potential TV empire is, Will viewers laugh with ''Titans''' over the top camp antics, or at them? While the series got a raucous reception at NBC's presentation to advertisers last May, some critics sniffed that the serial is way more guilty than pleasure. None of them, however, had better say as much within striking distance of Bleeth. ''Of course we feel like we're being laughed at -- but in a good way!'' she huffs. ''I think people try to be overly highbrow at times -- they don't want to admit that they like to have fun. I embrace life. I love to eat, I love to shop, I love men -- you know what I'm saying?''

You bet. Besides, who'll be able to resist all those delicious catfights? Actually, we may have found one person: ''I won't be in any catfights,'' says Principal. ''I think seeing Gwen participate in a physical fight with another woman would be really demeaning -- not just to the character but to all women.'' Fair enough. Yasmine? ''I'll do it.... I crave a catfight,'' Bleeth insists. ''Maybe in Jell-O. If they can somehow get me in Jell-O, or some sort of oil product...'' Meee-yowza! -- Kristen Baldwin