Weekend TV: Jack WagnerBy BRIDGET BYRNE, For The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jack Wagner is smooth. As Jack Williams on NBC's new prime-time soap, ``Titans,'' he'd like to be even smoother.
Williams is the CEO of Williams Global Enterprises and patriarch of the tempestuous family made filthy rich by the company's fast-track deals. (``Titans'' airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST.)
``It is so not my nature to use business dialogue. I am much more a tongue-in-cheek kind of guy. I am trying to handle the dialogue so Williams is never really in search of what he wants to say when he's got his business face on. So the dialogue is clipped, the dialogue is smooth,'' he says, snapping his fingers in quick time.
When ``Titans'' debuted, Perry King was head of the Williams clan and corporation. Younger brother Jack showed up for an episode to manifest disapproval of Richard's wedding to a much younger woman, then vanished back to Europe.
Now Richard is dead. He died - in the customary style of Aaron Spelling's glossy nighttime soaps - overdoing it with his young bride, Heather, played by Yasmine Bleeth.
So Jack is back, conveniently on cue for November sweeps.
Wagner is tactful about the plot development that removed King and made him kingpin. ``I don't know how that all came about. You never really know.''
This isn't Wagner's first nighttime soap. He played Dr. Peter Burns on Spelling's hit melodrama ``Melrose Place'' from 1994-1999. There he was the lover. Here he's the boss.
He's amused to find himself marked as a veteran.
``The cast, they are so young,'' Wagner, 41, says. ``Being literally `married' to Heather Locklear two years ago and coming in for my first read-through (here), these two beautiful young girls call me Uncle Jack. Is there a typo there? Do I get my walker now?''
Maturity has not dented his blond, hit-the-jackpot, good looks. The ``Titans'' crew and cast clearly appreciate the confidence and good humor he exudes on the set.
Script supervisor Mary Donner, who worked with Wagner on ``Melrose Place,'' says she learned he was cast on ``Titans'' while she was at the doctor's office for a mammography. ``It just brightened a horrible day. We love him.''
Sound mixer Forrest Williams adds, ``Jack just lightens it up. It's not possible to be in a bad mood with him around.''
Victoria Principal, who plays Gwen, the family matriarch, says she appreciates Wagner because ``he brings an edginess, an unpredictability and quirkiness along with his experience and his good sense of humor.''
So far, the action between Gwen and Jack has been, in Principal's words, ``vertical.'' But who knows where the twists of plot may lead them if the series is picked up for additional episodes?
Born in Washington, Mo., Wagner acquired his taste for acting in high school when he played the unglamorous role of Mr. Bumble in the musical ``Oliver.'' He played Frisco Jones in the daytime soap ``General Hospital,'' and has made several records, including the hit single ``All I Need'' in the mid-1980s.
Wagner, who hasn't lost his love for musical theater, has starred in national productions of ``West Side Story'' and ``Grease.'' Recently, he spent six months on Broadway as the famous split-personality in ``Jekyll and Hyde.''
Wagner and his actress-wife, Kristina, have two young sons - Peter and Harrison. He's an avid golfer, and works out most mornings before going to the ``Titans'' set.
This day on a sound stage in the working-class suburb of Van Nuys, all the lead characters are gathered in the dining room of the family mansion. Ostensibly they are celebrating the birthday of prodigal son Chandler, played by Casper Van Dien. It's only breakfast-time, but already relations are not friendly. Verbal barbs are flying amid the glamorous clothes and lavish decor, which includes chandeliers, tasseled drapes, real flowers, crystal and fine china, all reminiscent of Spelling's ultrasuccessful ``Dynasty.'' ``I'm in charge of this family. I'm not going to let emotion dictate strategy,'' Jack snaps at Gwen, setting the tone for a tart-tongued conflict.
Between takes, Wagner joshes all comers. He believes it's important to have fun on the set, but not waste time. He feels free to cut what he calls ``the fluff'' out of dialogue, and likes to encourage the cast to run lines together whenever possible.
``Everyone wants to do that. It just needs someone to say it, because when you have these ensemble scenes, you've got to run it and run it and run it and run it,'' he says, snapping those fingers again. He understands the style of this Spelling show and the impact of close-ups in which ``just a look'' can tell the audience what the character is thinking.
He believes actors in prime-time TV shows like ``Titans'' are often underappreciated. ``I've always said you can take the most respected actors in our business - (Robert) De Niro, (Al) Pacino, (Meryl) Streep, whoever you want - and put them on a soap opera or a long-running show and see how long their bag of tricks lasts.''
NBC is clearly hopeful that Wagner's own bag of tricks as Williams boosts the show's prospects of attracting a solid fan base.
Wagner describes Williams as ``one of those characters who is charismatic, charming, would shake someone's hand, and then all of a sudden the next day, he had bought their company.''
Oh, and one more thing.
``You've got to have charm, miles and miles and miles of charm,'' he sings softly, as he muses on one vital asset that smooth-talking Williams must possess.