Time. Staff Writer

Friday July 16th 1987


wpe61978.gif (3342927 bytes)The time slot is 8 p.m. Thursday, and It belongs to "The Cosby Show" .

Many have tried but none have succeeded in     dethroning NBC.'S. top-rated king of    comedy "The Fall Guy" fell, "Our World" was  ignored; the face that launched a thousand Jell-O , Pudding Pops even sent "MAGNUM  P.I." fleeing  for a safer spot on the prime-time schedule                  

    But even though  it's dangerous out there on thursday's at 8 O'clock, the other networks have to put something on the air

        And both CBS and ABC are attacking with aggressive counter programming efforts in the fall CBS's new "Tour Of Duty" , a tough study of the life in a US platoon fighting in Vietnam , and ABC's year old "Sledgehammer" a satirical show about a hot-tempered detective who sleeps with his gun and who, as ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard joked ,has "a slow but steady following of kids, teenagers and disturbed young men". Both shows are produced by New World Television.

Neither network expects to lur away Cosby's loyal audience. Rather they they hope to attract the only group that doesn't routinely watch Cosby, young males in the case of Tour Of Duty ,CBS also hope that putting a show with adult appeal in the usually kid-oriented 8 pm slot might provide some older viewers with a much needed alternative

The decision  to schedule the hour long "Tour of Duty" against Cosby and its 8.30 comedy spinoff,
" A Different World, " came from CBS - but Travis Clark, a Vietnam veteran who co-wrote the "Tour of Duty" pilot with partner Steve Duncan, a former Naval aircraft officer, boldly calls the decision a "brilliant Choice."

"It's going to give the audience a clear choice," said Clark, who with Duncan will serve as executive consultants for the series, "It's, not like, 'Do I want to watch 'Cosby' or do I want to watch 'Designing Women' ? It could bring the male viewer back to TV."

A lot of money rides on  that hypothesis. Executive Producer Zev Braun predicts that 'Tour of Duty," which probably will be shot in  Jamaica or Hawaii to simulate the jungle climate of Southeast Asia , will cost about $1.1 million per episode; the pilot, containing more battle action than subsequent episodes are expected  to feature , cost about $12.7 million. New World Television will finance the first 22 episodes at a deficit of about $300,000 each.
  "If I were a Cosby aficionado and I am: I love the show-I would personally tape Cosby and tune into the hour long show called "Tour of Duty"  Braun said. "I wouldn't miss this show" .

"There are close  to three million vets, and the war was close to 20 years ago. Those vets have given spawn to another generation. There must be 25 or 30 million people who have a vested interest  in what happened in Vietnam" Braun. Travis and CBS Vice president of  Programs Kim LeMasters,  who came up with the idea of a Vietnam series which was later development Vice President Pat Faulstich, all insist that the project, which they call an apolitical, "grunt's-eye " view of the war. was in development before the movie "Platoon" stirred up a sympathetic interest in  the young men who fought in Vietnam.

Although a  TV show cannot be as graphic as "Platoon," the producer   say they will push for as much realism as possible in both the language and the violence. A number of the show's staffers served in the Vietnam war, Clark Went twice, volunteering  to return because he "couldn't adjust- "I felt guilty because I had friends over there". When he returned home for a second time in 1969, he attended UCLA, where he buried himself in his studies to avoid the campus war protest.                                                                                                                                                      

Following UCLA, Clark became a talent manager, and he still heads a management company called Magnum Artists. Writing partner Duncan is a producer of commercial and industrial films. The "Tour of Duty" script was the team's first major writing project. "I think of it as a catharsis. The first time I had to really deal with (the war experience) was in writing this pilot. " Clark said.

Some TV observers, including, NBC Entertainment President Brasndon Tartikoff, have suggested
that 'Tour Of  Duty" is inappropriate for young viewers  at 8 p.m. Braun doesn't think the 8 pm audience  wants to be protected 'I have a little girl who is   8 years old; she's seen the show and liked It. " Braun said. kids these   days have seen so much already, the realism is appropriate. We have a very sophisticated audience right now. I don't think they want pap; I don't think they want pre-digested programmes that won't come up on you"
Braun insisted that the cast of 'Tour or Duty" reflect the  disproportionate number of  black soldiers. who were  involved in combat.
LeMasters agreed that the show has a responsibility to be realistic-and that means that characters, even lead characters, are sometimes going  to have to die. In the pilot, a character whom the
audience fully expects to be rescued in fine old TV-war tradition gets blown up by a land mine.
"We were afraid of providing a revisionist view of the war, where nobody really got hurt" Le Masters said "We're going to try  avoid the situation where the guest star is the only one to ever take a bullet. We will have a dynamic cast, we will have characters who appear for three or four episodes and then unfortunately get damaged in the war".

The cast - initially, anyway - includes Terence Knox as the war weary platoon sergeant, Stephen Caffrey as a "green lieutenant with something to prove, Joshua Maurer as a war protester forced to fight in spite of himself, and Ramon Franco as a recruit from the Bronx.

Braun said that the young cast , which also includes Kevin Conroy, Miguel Nunez, Tony Becker, Eric Bruskotter, Keith Amos and Steve Alahoshi, comes from all country and reflects the diversity of the soldiers they portray.

Will audiences accept having characters with whom they become emotionally involved suddenly blown away? " That happened (in Vietnam) too." Clarke said simply.

During a presentation of the network's 1987-88 primetime schedule to ABC affiliate stations here in early June, program-chief Stoddard explained why the network put " SledgeHammer" into the Cosby battle zone.  "When we asked for volunteers, there was a long silence amongst the shows, and then one arm hold a pistol shot up ."Stoddard deadpanned ."Yes , of course, it was the man who knows no-fear SledgeHammer .Sledge said " I want the Cos"

Although now performing somewhat better since moving from Saturday nights to Fridays "SledgeHammer" still falls low in the ratings that some industry observers were surprised by its renewal, and even more surprised that the show will compete with Cosby. Stoddard explained that the network chose not to jeopardise the early performance of any of its strongest new shows - such as "Hooperman" created by Steven Bocheo and terry Louise Fisher ad starring John Ritter- by putting them in the Cosby time slot. He added that a known quantity is always easier to promote than a new show.

Alan Spencer , creator of "Sledge" takes the new time slot in stride " I have a feeling if God ever decided to appear on TV 'Sledge hammer ' would be on at the same time" he said  "I'm so used to having bad time slots ( that ) it's a way of life. "At least I don't think we'll be competing with "Tour of Duty" for laughs " he added hopefully.