By Jefferson Graham
''Now and Again' a
revival for creator
TV innovator back after 'Moonlighting' in film
Ask Glenn Gordon Caron to describe his new CBS show Now and Again, about a man whose brain is put into the body of a government-engineered man, and you'll get a mouthful.
''It sounds ridiculous,'' says Caron, best known for his quirky ABC detective drama Moonlighting. ''But this is an action/drama/comedy/romance. . . . Make that a sneaky romance.''
Perhaps the most unusual rookie of the 1999-2000 TV season, the show premiered with images of subway passengers immersed in blood, and an odd elderly villain known as ''the Egg Man'' who drops deadly yolks here and there.
Eric Close plays Michael Wiseman, the high-tech Frankenstein who longs for interaction with his wife, Lisa (Margaret Colin), who believes her husband is dead. Some critics have called the show X-Files-style strange, and Caron admits that he's out to shock the senses. ''The challenge is to do something where the audience doesn't anticipate what's going to happen next. All I'm trying to do is startle and engage you.''
CBS has been pleasantly surprised by how well Now and Again (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET/PT) has done in its first two outings, winning its time slot both in total audience and viewers ages 18 to 49. Ratings are up 50% from Buddy Faro's performance in the slot a year ago, with 11.6 million viewers tuning in last week.
It's a nice return to TV for a veteran writer (going back to Taxi and Remington Steele) who discovered Bruce Willis and engineered a career comeback for Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting. He exited that show after three seasons of wrangling with quarreling stars and production problems.
Caron, 45, turned his attention to the movies, where he directed Clean and Sober, Love Affair, Picture Perfect and Wilder Napalm.
But CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves wanted Caron back in TV. ''I was a huge Moonlighting fan,'' Moonves says. ''He took a traditional form and made it into a whole different genre. I knew there was another show in him.''
Moonves left it up to Caron to decide what sort of show to do.
''So I came up with this nutty idea,'' the producer says. ''I thought it was so out there and was worried it would be too crazy for CBS.''
Caron and Moonves -- both big Broadway musical fans -- found an instant rapport when they met to discuss the project.
''I immediately got that the show was inspired by Damn Yankees,'' says Moonves of the 1955 musical about a man who sells his soul to become a great baseball player -- and ends up missing his wife. ''The show excited me because young people would tune in for the action, but it would also appeal to the core audience with romance.''
Quite a different experience from Caron's first go-round at creating shows for ABC in the early '80s. His first two pilots were rejected, he says, because they were ''too arty for the room.''
For the third show, ABC told him what to do: ''A boy/girl detective show, like Hart to Hart . . . but you can do anything you want with it.''
Says Caron: ''I clung to that second part of the sentence,'' attempting to make the private-eye show as offbeat as possible. ''I wanted to do a detective show that didn't take itself seriously.''
The irreverent result: black-and-white episodes, a takeoff on The Taming of the Shrew, and guest turns from names as diverse as Orson Welles, Ray Charles and Mark Harmon.
On Now and Again, Caron's eclecticism is again showing in his choice of soundtrack music, with Janet Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, the Young Rascals and Something's Coming (from West Side Story) all featured in the first weeks.
As for where Caron is going with the show, he's not saying. The three-part story arc with the Egg Man draws to a conclusion tonight -- although Caron does say he'll come back. Look, too, for Wiseman to make more contact with his family as the series evolves.
Has TV work changed much since the Moonlighting days?
''It feels the same, except we have a wonderful cast and they all get along,'' Caron says. ''It's exhilarating'' to be back in television, ''but I forgot how hard it is. The relentlessness of it. You're done with one episode, and have to get right back to work on the next one.''
October 8, 1999