Sometimes a little tinkering is all a show needs to click with the public. The CBS family western "Paradise" returns for a third season after a fall vacation with a new title, "Guns of Paradise," at 8 p.m. Friday on Channel 4.
Apparently, the title "Paradise" confused fans who thought the series was about Hawaii, not the 1890s mining town where gunslinger Ethan Allen Cord (Lee Horsley) raises his sister's four children.
After 44 episodes, "Paradise" bit the dust in the spring for 24 hours. Creator David Jacobs, who gave the network "Dallas" and "Knots Landing," rushed east at the news. "I begged and cajoled, and landed in the hospital with pneumonia," says Jacobs. That's one way to gain a reprieve, a midwinter second chance.
The network is not about to snub creator Jacobs unless it has a death wish. But programmers wanted a harder edge to the show, more action and violence. Adding "Guns" to the title sends the message. Now the show is going to be "Little House on the Prairie" one week, "Gunsmoke" the next.
Jacobs doesn't mind mixing up stories if he can stay on the air and still focus on the kids and star Lee Horsley.
"This show means a lot to me," David explains. "I have a family now, and I can't visualize a life without children.
"Before I put 'Paradise' together I read a magazine article about yuppies who don't want to have children. 'These are the people who ought to have kids,' I told my wife. She disagreed. 'Perhaps those are the people who shouldn't.'
" 'All the more reason,' was my answer. 'They don't know what they're missing.' "
Out of this came "Paradise" and now "Guns of Paradise."
Yet the family western never took off in the manner of predecessors "Dallas" and "Knots Landing."
"Our viewers were fanatics," according to the producer, only there weren't enough to go around. "We were largely unknown."
The original Thursday night time slot against the powerful NBC lineup had a lot to do with it. It should be easier on Fridays at 8 p.m. against "Full House" and "Quantum Leap."
With a second chance, Jacobs and co-creator Robert Porter begin on a note of optimism when the mining town strikes it rich again over the discovery of an unknown copper vein. Lee Horsley's Ethan Allen Cord reluctantly agrees to be town marshal when a corrupt marshal, Blake (Robert Fuller), is bilking protection money from the townspeople. A hot-headed young gambler called Dakota (John Terlesky) is drawn to the boom town that Paradise has become and Ethan finds time to tie the knot with widow Amelia Lawson (Sigrid Thornton).
Like "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie," the kids will make or break this show. "We're writing for their personalities," says Jacobs of Claire, 15 (Jenny Beck), Joseph, 13 (Matthew Newmark), Benjamin, 10 (Brian Lando) and George, 7 (Michael Patrick Carter). They are not wise little adults. Our kids have the Newhall ranch to themselves when we shoot on location, and two schoolteachers. I've always been leery of child actors because it's not a good environment, but with four kids and the ranch, we're pretty normal."
Family is the Jacobs message, and to get it he will use a little western violence. Either way he's treading a thin line. Western fans want gunplay, and that makes parents uneasy. The following weeks guns are quiet and the kids take over. This winter viewers must pick their spots.
With "Dallas" slowly inching its way back up in the ratings, and "Knots Landing" as solid as ever after 12 years, CBS can't afford to offend a David Jacobs, their major provider. Yet Jacobs doesn't sell all his ideas. Over a year ago the producer enthused over a nighttime serial, and was sneered at. Then along comes David Lynch and "Twin Peaks." Jacobs' "Barrenger's," a series with 16 characters, bombed quickly because of all the confusion.
"Our enemy today is economics," the producer explains. "We must cut costs, and that means cut characters. Sixteen was too many, I admit. We get along with eight on 'Knots' and seven on 'Dallas.' The game is to simplify."
Although he could buy part of California, Jacobs lives for TV because it turns him on. And he yells at the medium, saying: "Network TV has failed in recent years. We've forgotten to show what happens to characters after the curtain has gone down. That's TV's biggest asset. ABC seems to know this with shows like 'thirtysomething,' but you look around and you see the same thing over and over again."