February 9, 1986 Sunday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: TV WEEK; Pg. 4; ZONE: C
LENGTH: 1076 words
HEADLINE: SEXUAL TENSION TEASES STARS AND VIEWERS
BYLINE: By Noel Holston, Orlando Sentinel.
Private eye Laura Holt said it in the final scene of the first "Remington Steele" episode, and it can be taken as the unofficial motto of a new generation of series built on the premise of attractive opposites resisting the magnetic tug of romance.
When her secretary asked her how she felt about her mysterious and debonair new partner, Laura smiled suggestively and purred one word.
"Itchy." The itch is all over prime time now, rampant but seldom scratched.
In the beginning, there were Laura (Stephanie Zimbalist) and Remington (Pierce Brosnan) on "Remington Steele" and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) and Sam Malone (Ted Danson), the barb-tossing barmaid and bartender of "Cheers." A season later, in 1983, along came "Scarecrow & Mrs. King," where in spy Lee Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner) and his homemaker helper, Amanda King (Kate Jackson), share cases and occasional longing looks but never a bed. That same season brought the premiere of "Hotel," where in the sexual tension between manager Peter McDermott (James Brolin) and his assistant, Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca), has been tightening ever since.
"Who's the Boss?", which throws together businesswoman Angela Bower (Judith Light) and housekeeper Tony Micelli (Tony Danza)), arrived in 1984. The spring of 1985 brought "Moonlighting," wherein supercool do-wop detective David Addison (Bruce Willis) lusts openly, if jokingly, after his icy boss, former model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd). Maddie can't decide whether she'd like to jump in the sack with David or put one over his head.
Lovers who wonder are the hottest non-items in prime time. Even Mary Tyler Moore's recent return to sitcomedy on "Mary" came complete with a boss (played by James Farentino) to whom she's attracted against her better judgment.
The creators of these series don't profess to know what's behind the popularity of their noncommittal couples, but in a series of telephone interviews, they were willing to take a flyer.
"Maybe America's in the mood for romance," said "Cheers" co-creator Glen Charles. "There was an absence of it for quite a long time."
Michael Gleason, who created "Remington Steele" with Robert Butler and remains its executive producer, attributes the popularity of indecisive romantic couples to "the way movies have gone. They show everything. They tell everything. Nothing is left to the imagination. People say hello, and they're in the sack after five minutes."
"The audience subconsciously was looking for the cleverness that writers used in the '30s and '40s motion pictures, when the production code was in effect, when you had to find ways around the censor to show that people wanted to go to bed with each other," Gleason said.
Several of the producers acknowledged a debt to movie comedies such as "Woman of the Year" (1942) and "Adam's Rib" (1949), with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and "His Girl Friday" (1940), with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Charles said the "Cheers" creators looked for a Tracy- Hepburn chemistry when they cast their leads. Gleason and "Moonlighting's" executive producer, Glenn Caron, got themselves in the creative mood by screening "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), "Monkey Business" (1952) and other screwball classics by director Howard Hawks.
Caron, who wrote several early "Remington Steele" installments before moving on to develop "Moonlighting," suspects that the appeal of such series "has something to do with the love and affection being unrequited. Dramatically, this has always been a strong thing to play. There's a sense of destiny about the relationship, yet the destiny at the moment that we peek in on it is unfulfilled."
How to keep relationships interesting and honest is the trickiest element of producing a continuing series in which romantic tension is a critical element, the producers agreed.
In his Oscar-wining movie "Annie Hall," Woody Allen observed that a relationship is like a shark--it has to keep moving or it dies. The repetitious relationships in series such as "Moonlighting" and "Scarecrow & Mrs. King" run the risk of becoming contrived and coy. On the other hand, commitment would fundamentally alter the relationships, perhaps destroying what made them popular.
More than one producer brought up the case of the 1970s sitcom "Rhoda," whose blockbuster-level early ratings started slipping as soon as the title character (played by Valerie Harper) got married. A divorce put Rhoda on the rebound but not the show's Nielsen numbers.
In some viewers' eyes, "Cheers" lost its snappy first-season stride when Sam and Diane consummated their relationship in the second season.
"We've been very careful," said "Remington Steele's" Gleason. "There were certain people at the network (NBC) who wanted them (Laura and Remington) to go to bed the first year--for the November ratings sweeps. I said, 'Wait a minute. Once they're married, or once they've made love, what do you do with them?' "
"The last thing we want to do is trivialize the idea of sex," said "Hotel" producer Geoffrey Fischer.
Noting that "Remington Steele" is in its fourth season, Gleason indicated similar changes for that show: "There does come a point when you have to commit (yourself) one way or another. And without giving away any trade secrets, I think the end of this season will take us a long way to some sort of resolution."
Blake Hunter and Martin Cohan, the co-executive producers of "Who's the Boss?", would like to sustain the sexual tension in their second-year sitcom for at least another season.
"Moonlighting's" Caron is unworried about trying viewers' patience with David and Maddie's hot and cold-running hormones. The series has the luxury of being new, as Gleason pointed out, but Caron insisted that a teasing relationship is risky "only if you're calculating about it."
Although the relationship between Amanda and Lee has warmed this season on "Scarecrow & Mrs. King," the show's executive producer, George Geiger, is in no hurry to take it further."
According to Geiger, there are no risks in altering the status of romantic characters.
"There are consequences," Geiger said. "Good and bad consequences."
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