Titans Article #25

Froth of guilty pleasuresí in prime-time sudser

(By TOM FERAN , cleveland.com)

Television has reached a stage where almost no form of programming can be considered "gone away" or "coming back." You name it, and itís out there, somewhere, on some channel - if not in first-run production, then in repeats.

But itís always a good bet that a form is nearing exhaustion when it starts to spoof itself.

And it looks as if NBC and producer Aaron Spelling might be hedging their bets by claiming that "Titans," the new series at 8 tonight on WKYC Channel 3, is some sort of "tongue in cheek" take on sprawling prime-time soap operas.

Unlike "Grosse Pointe" - the WB Networkís flat-out comedic goof on youth dramas from "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place" creator Darren Star - "Titans" plays its melodrama straight. It just happens to go over the top more than the 1980s series "Dynasty" and "Dallas" that it so much resembles, an element that was heightened after laughter greeted the showís introduction to NBC affiliates and advertisers last May.

"Weíre hoping for that reaction," co-star and former "Baywatch" babe Yasmine Bleeth told critics last summer, when asked about NBCís promoting the show as a "guilty pleasure." "If we donít have that reaction, if everyone was silent, then weíd be worried. Weíre not expecting to be taken for the most serious show on television."

Lead actress Victoria Principal, the former Pam Ewing of "Dallas," put it in different terms. "I donít think this is where we left off," she said about revisiting prime-time soaps. "I think this is a new beginning. I think to answer the requirements of the American public, where the attention span is shorter, you must have quicker cuts, faster stories and multiple story lines."

In other words, if you think "Titans" is a juicy Spelling sudser about the rich and beautiful, thatís just fine with NBC. If you think itís intended as a fun cheese fest, thatís OK, too.

Either way, it gets off to a fast start.

The players Chandler Williams (Casper Van Dien, "Sleepy Hollow") returns home to Beverly Hills from service as a Navy fighter pilot. He first visits mother Gwen (Principal), who seems to have made a pile from hotels and resorts, then walks across the street to Dadís house, which looks like a hotel.

Dad is billionaire industrialist Richard Williams (Allianceís Perry King, "Melrose Place"), who is celebrating his engagement. Dadís fiancee, Heather (Bleeth), turns out to be the same woman with whom Chandler just had a hot fling.

Well, not really a fling, since Chandler is the straight arrow. For him it was the real thing, which makes it all the more ironic and troublesome when Dad says, "This is real love, pure love, the kind of love I hope youíll experience for yourself some day." And when, of course, Heather is revealed to be - surprise! - a scheming gold digger who - surprise! - can drop her clothing as easily as she can drop her nice-girl act.

The road to soap plots, like the road to hell, is paved with good intentions. So Chandler nobly agrees not to reveal Heatherís past to Dad, because, she says, "It would kill him."

Alas, itís not going to help much.

Not to give anything away, but Dad is scheduled to go toes-up in the fifth episode. Kingís Richard looks like a turkey ripe for plucking in tonightís episode, and producers decided they needed someone who could play a darker patriarch. Just as they decided - honest - that they needed to get Bleeth out of her costume faster.

Richardís younger brother Jack (Jack Wagner, "Melrose Place") will take over as head of the family, which also will spell trouble for Principalís Gwen, whose relationship with ex-hubby Richard is clearly too amicable to survive.

No show succeeds by being so-bad-it-was-good. For "guilty pleasure," weíll look for more guilt and more pleasure.

Also tonight Drew loses his job at Winfred Louder, Kate will get one at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Mimi will become a mom on the sixth season of "The Drew Carey Show," starting at 9 on WEWS Channel 5. ... The seventh and final season of "Star Trek: Voyager" opens at 9 on WUAB Channel 43, preceded by a repeat of last seasonís final episode at 8. ... "Norm," which will move later to Friday, starts its third season at 9:30 on Channel 5.