Jueves 8 de Agosto de 2002, Ip n 21

Urban NBC is looking for laughs in Suburbia
Por Alessandra Stanley

In ''Hidden Hills,'' a new NBC sitcom, all the suburban dads are besotted with Porn Mom, a mother in the neighborhood who helps coach Little League and has her own erotic Web site. Except perhaps for Brad, who is happily married with children, but flaunts the sibilant speech and arch mannerisms of Jack, the gay sidekick on ''Will & Grace.''

NBC, which has been buoyed by ''Seinfeld,'' ''Friends'' and ''Frasier,'' comedies about urban singles, is promoting this suburban family sitcom as ''a comedy about us.''

And in a way ''Hidden Hills,'' is exactly that: a show that illustrates NBC's search for a new identity at a time when viewers seem to be in the mood for cozy family shows like the CBS hit ''Everybody Loves Raymond'' or ''My Wife and Kids'' on ABC.

NBC is introducing three sitcoms this season. Two, ''Hidden Hills'' and ''In-Laws,'' are family comedies.

As Karey Burke, who is in charge of prime-time development at NBC, put it, ''The next 'Friends' may look like the next 'Cosby Show.' ''

''Hidden Hills,'' though, is more like a ''Cosby Satyricon.''

The Nol Coward humor that veins such hits as ''Will & Grace,'' ''Frasier'' and ''Just Shoot Me'' is so much a part of the NBC brand that last year top NBC executives joked with reporters that they worked at ''the gay network.''

At an NBC presentation here today of its third new sitcom, ''Good Morning Miami,'' set in a television newsroom, one of the show's executive producer, Max Mutchnick, who also is a creator of ''Will & Grace,'' was asked to comment on why the networks have not introduced any gay characters for the fall season.

''I just got back from the mafia meeting,'' he said, mocking the recent suggestion by Michael S. Ovitz, the onetime reigning Hollywood agent and dealmaker, that a ''gay mafia'' runs the entertainment industry. Mr. Mutchnick joked that the gay dons assured him that it was O.K. to back off.

The metamorphosis is not simple. Watching hip, urban NBC -- which was criticized last year for having no children on prime-time sitcoms until Rachel on ''Friends'' gave birth to big ratings at the end of the season -- struggle to embrace traditional family values in two of its three new sitcoms is a little like watching the actor Rupert Everett try to imitate Jim Carrey.

While picking up his kids at school, Doug, a sex-starved dad on ''Hidden Hills'' who is played by Justin Louis, drifts into a gauzy, slow-motion fantasy about Porn Mom. The accompanying music is ''Time to Say Goodbye,'' an arialike duet sung in Italian by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.

In a scene repeated over and over in promotions for the show, Doug is so distracted by Porn Mom that he gets hit in the crotch by a softball.

A voice-over narration by Mr. Louis is meant to lend a patina of sophistication to that, as well as other gags centered around dog droppings, cellphones, S.U.V.'s, carpools and parental sex in laundry rooms and showers while the kids watch the cartoon ''SpongeBob SquarePants.''

''I love this show because it's very much my life,'' said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment. ''It's, you know, dealing with kids living in the suburbs. You know, I think this is an incredibly relatable area for many people.''

The very urban Mr. Zucker divides his time between Manhattan and Los Angeles, and television critics have been amused by his attempt to paint himself as a typical suburban dad. He blushed when asked to name his suburb.

NBC, which remains the No. 1 network, is not in any kind of programming crisis. But ''Friends,'' the country's top-rated show, is beginning what NBC executives insist is its final season this fall. Last week NBC received 89 Emmy nominations. ''Frasier,'' however, was passed over for an Emmy nomination as best comedy for the first time in its nine-year history. The network efforts to create hits have not been highly successful.

Its ''Scrubs'' is faring well but is not a breakout hit. ''Inside Schwartz'' and ''Leap of Faith,'' are already off the air.

Of its new comedies, only ''Good Morning Miami'' remains in line with past NBC comedies about single people who form an ersatz family in the workplace. The show, to be broadcast at 9:30 on Thursday nights, is scheduled to follow ''Will & Grace.''

Asked if he feared that that show's Carmen Miranda-like anchorwoman would offend Hispanic viewers, Mr. Zucker said the ''Will & Grace'' writers specialized in creating ''over the top'' characters, but that they would be asked to ''tone her down a little.''

''In-Laws,'' about newlyweds who move in to the bride's parents' house, is more heavily indebted to ''Everybody Loves Raymond.'' NBC's version stars Dennis Farina as a domineering father and Jean Smart as the blithe mother; the executive producer is Kelsey Grammer, the star of ''Frasier.''

Mr. Grammer said that he hoped the show would be ''a combination of Archie Bunker and 'Frasier.' '' There could also be another kind of domestic farce: Mr. Zucker said the network was rushing a Martha Stewart television biography into production.

For ''Hidden Hills,'' Ric Swartzlander and Peter Segal, the executive producers and writers, said they drew on their suburban lives in creating such characters as Porn Mom and straight dads with gay mannerisms.

''Actually, there are a couple of very successful dads in heterosexual relationships, and yet there was an affectation,'' Mr. Segal explained. ''And somebody said, I know a gentleman just like that in my neighborhood.'' Mr. Segal conceded that he lives in an entertainment industry enclave, but said the pilot had gone over well with test audiences.

''We think the audience that responded to 'Friends' has progressed a little, gotten married, had kids, moved to the 'burbs,'' Mr. Swartzlander said. ''And they will find 'Hidden Hills' just as relatable.''

Correction: July 31, 2002, Wednesday An article on Thursday about NBC's fall schedule referred incorrectly to the phrase ''gay mafia,'' which arose in a discussion of the absence of new gay characters in the networks' lineup. The term came to prominence recently when the Hollywood agent Michael S. Ovitz, in an interview in Vanity Fair, blamed a ''gay mafia'' for his own professional downfall; he did not say such a group ran the entertainment industry.

  25/07/2002. The New York Times.