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Female Stars ‘Veronica’s Closet,’ ‘Dharma & Greg’ Will Add To TV Programs With Women In Lead Roles

Tue., July 29, 1997, midnight

Who needs movies?

Realizing the limited number of opportunities for women on the big screen, female stars are heading for television.

NBC’s Monday-night lineup of sitcoms featuring women, dubbed “chick-coms” by one TV critic’s 15-year-old daughter, offers four leading-lady roles plus numerous female comic sidekicks. And those are returning shows.

Among this fall’s newcomers, the two most-talked about programs also star females.

Writers gathered on the Television Critics Association press tour agreed that testosterone-fueled shows like ABC’s “Timecop” won’t grab public attention, but smart and funny shows like “Veronica’s Closet” on NBC and “Dharma & Greg” on ABC are already receiving high marks.

Kirstie Alley stars in “Veronica’s Closet” (Thursdays beginning Sept. 25) as Veronica Chase. She’s the country’s leading romance expert.

Chase runs a lingerie company, building her career on her own sham of a happy marriage. That facade falls when Chase finally dumps her philandering husband in the first episode.

In a recent meeting with TV critics, Alley joked about how her own personal life (she’s in the process of divorcing husband Parker Stevenson) mirrors the character on her new show.

“You see what happened, when they wrote that she was divorced; I had to get one,” Alley said.

After winning an Emmy award, Alley once thanked Stevenson for “giving her the big one.” Saturday she told critics that her choice of words was completely spontaneous.

“All these things flash through your mind, like you’re on your deathbed or something,” Alley said. “I just thought, ‘What would a man like to hear.”’

The show’s creators, who also dreamed up NBC’s “Friends,” said they came up with the concept long before Alley’s divorce or the marital turmoil of Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford. Is this art imitating life or what?

Judging by the show’s pilot, “Veronica’s Closet” should be a hit. With intelligent writing and talented supporting players, including Kathy Najimy from “Sister Act,” NBC has finally found a hammock show between “Seinfeld” and “ER” that deserves such a coveted time slot.

Real-life similarities also play a role in “Dharma & Greg” (Wednesdays beginning this fall).

Jenna Elfman stars as Dharma, a child of hippies who follows the same path.

Thomas Gibson is Greg, the son of wealthy conservatives.

In the first episode the two meet, immediately marry and then begin to get to know each other.

Elfman has been tagged as the season’s breakout star thanks to a blend of charisma and good looks. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of Dharma is in her, too.

“I was raised more like (Greg), but I turned out more like Dharma,” Elfman told critics Monday. “Her freeness and playfulness - that’s very much me.”

Elfman brushes off a suggestion that she’s a star on the rise.

“This is what makes me laugh about that; it’s everybody else’s viewpoint of me,” she said.

“I’m not in my life the ‘breakout star.’ I’ll still be living the way I live my life.”

Elfman previously was seen on last fall’s “Townies” with Molly Ringwald on ABC. Unfortunately the show flopped.

Following the cancellation of “Townies,” creators came up with “Dharma & Greg” with Elfman in mind.

“I auditioned for ‘Townies,’ but this was something they started for me, so I can bring a lot more spirit to it,” Elfman said.

“Dharma & Greg” doesn’t lack spirit; the question is whether the show will be able to sustain the momentum of its warm and loopy pilot.

Elfman and Gibson work well together, and the laughs are plenty, especially with the parents of each character (hers are hippies who never married, while his are cold and aloof blue bloods). This isn’t a “will they or won’t they?” show since they say “I do” in the premiere, but where will the show go after that?

“They’re going to have all kinds of rocks thrown at them, from their parents, from their different jobs, from their friends,” said executive producer Dottie Dartland. “Week after week it’s ‘how is the marriage going to sustain through these forces trying to pull them apart?’ That’s really the series.”

And that’s my fear: that week after week, “Dharma & Greg” will be one-note and too often the same.

Meanwhile, “Veronica’s Closet” looks like a home run.

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