Titans Article #18

Soapy sleaze invades family hour

(from The Cincinnati Post)

By Rick Bird, Post staff reporter

Two very different NBC dramas have their premieres Wednesday - the new ''Titans'' and the return of multiple Emmy winner ''The West Wing.''

''Titans'' (8 p.m. NBC, Channel 5) marks the return of producer Aaron Spelling (''Dynasty,'' ''Beverly Hills 90210,'' ''Melrose Place'') to prime time with another of his trademark trashy soaps. The plot focuses on a powerful, rich and mostly dysfunctional family (what else?), this time in Beverly Hills.

The prodigal son returns from the service to find Dad has taken a young, gorgeous and wicked bride. Of course, the son and his new stepmom have their own history. Adding to the turmoil is the family matriarch (Victoria Principal), who lives in a mansion across the street from her divorced husband.

When clips for the show were screened last July in Pasadena, TV critics broke out laughing at the hokey dialogue and over-the-top plot.

The king of prime-time soap sleaze took it in stride.

''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,' '' Spelling said.

Some may raise an eyebrow that this show airs at 8 p.m., the so-called family viewing hour. In a single episode the cardboard characters in ''Titans'' manage enough sexual promiscuity, alcohol abuse and general lying and cheating to pack into a whole season on ''Dallas.''

Ms. Principal, who returns to a weekly series for the first time since playing Pamela Ewing on ''Dallas,'' says times have changed.

''What I remember about "Dallas' is the story lines developed much more slowly, then through the '80s they began to speed up,'' she said. ''American's attention span is shorter. ... You must have quicker cuts, faster stories and multiple story lines.''

It remains to be seen if Spelling has burned viewers out on this genre. ''Titans'' at least has a monopoly this season, since there are no other prime-time soaps airing on the major networks. And Spelling makes no apologies for giving the American public what he says it wants.

''There are too many people in our country who are poor, who work hard. They come home to relax in front of their television sets. I don't know that you can get that relaxation from shows like ''Cops'' or all those reality shows,'' he said.

''Some can't afford to go to the movies once a month, much less once a week. I think our job is to entertain people. I don't think entertainment is a dirty word. I don't think serials or soaps are dirty words.''

Nine-time Emmy winner ''The West Wing'' returns Wednesday (9 p.m., Channel 5) for a special two-hour season premiere. And producer/writer Aaron Sorkin has got some explaining to do. The season ended last spring with an assassin opening fire on the president and his staff. We didn't know who was hit or how bad. Some fans felt a bit cheated by the cliffhanger from a show that was alluring for its intelligent style and rarely resorted to histrionics.

Bradley Whitford, who plays the opinionated deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, defended the season-ending tease when talking to reporters this summer.

''It was interesting to me that people were upset, because it's something that three times in my lifetime has happened, where somebody has shot at the president,'' he said. ''A lot of the appeal for the show is what goes on behind the castle walls. ... And to see what happens at a White House when shots are fired at the president is fascinating.''

Producers are keeping it a secret what happens in the premiere amid rumors that a key cast member is killed. We know the show uses the trauma of the shooting to explain the history of how President Bartlet's staff came together through a series of flashbacks.

Part of the show's attraction is it often plays as a model for good government, with its cast of efficient, dedicated characters running the country. Whitford, who has spent time hanging out in the real West Wing as part of the research for his character, doesn't think the show is that far from reality.

''I was expecting a much more cynical outlook from these people.'' he said. ''The people I met at the White House, the people I met on both sides of the political spectrum, are by and large people who could be making a massive amount of money doing something else and are in Washington because they believe in it.''