Locally made 'Raven' is one of two pilots

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

The television term "pilot" is an apt aeronautical reference because the vast majority of them never fly. And tomorrow night offers a couple of unusual chances to view the process:

* At 11:30 on WJZ-Channel 13 comes the premiere airing of "The Raven," the creation of a husband/wife Baltimore production team which is intended as a glitzy, predominantly black, late-night soap opera on the order of "Dallas" or "Dynasty."

"We're banking that the public is ready to see this kind of story line," says Darryl Pugh, co-producer with Renee Pugh in the firm of Mirror Image Productions. With an all-local cast of some two dozen, the 60-minute pilot was produced on a tight budget here this fall and is being pitched to CBS, as well as to national syndicators for potential first-run placement.

Darryl Pugh says the idea has been a dormant dream after an earlier pilot produced seven years ago did not find backers, although it was presented at a National Association of Broadcasters meeting and generated some interest.

A preview tape of this second pilot shows all the elements of the soap opera genre: rival family members, good-looking lovers, long lost family members, a criminal investigation sub-plot and even a show-business aspect that offers musical interludes. There also are a lot of nice Baltimore scenes.

The setup involves the death of a powerful man and the struggle between his surviving offspring for control of his recording studio/nightclub chain enterprises. But how did he die? (There's a cop on the case.) And where is his estranged twin brother? (In a mental hospital.) Those are just a couple of the elements of the boiling pot.

Although not up to slick network production standards, "The Raven" certainly engages attention as a novel local effort. WJZ spokeswoman Phyllis Reese says the station agreed to air the show "as an opportunity to showcase and provide a vehicle for home-grown talent."

* The second pilot is on the Showtime cable service at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Unfortunately, "The Steven Banks Show" illustrates the folly of trying to make a sitcom out of something else.

Banks is a young comedian whose one-man show on cable last year (and earlier, on the stage) was flat-out hilarious. His character was a guy who can't keep his mind on things longer than a few seconds, instead frequently soaring off into wild imitations of rock stars and other pop culture icons. Clever and creative, Banks was a hoot in that context.

In this pilot, however, the gimmick wears thin from the beginning, largely because of the conventions of a sitcom. Because there must be other characters with whom the star interacts (a landlord, a girlfriend, office workers, etc.), there's just not enough time for viewers to begin to get into Banks' best impersonations.

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