Robert Townsend brings 'Variety' to Fox


LOS ANGELES -- Robert Townsend, Dame Edna and a new anthology series co-produced by Robert De Niro are some of the surprises Fox has for its viewers in the next few months.

With Keenan Ivory Wayans gone from "In Living Color," Fox executives can't say enough nice things about "The Robert Townsend Variety Show," scheduled to debut in late spring.

Townsend -- the writer and director of "Hollywood Shuffle" and "The Five Heartbeats" -- was all enthusiasm for the new show at a press conference to promote it here last week. But he was less than thrilled with questions about whether he felt his show was replacing "In Living Color," a show with a questionable future since Wayans left Fox to work exclusively in feature films.

" 'In Living Color' is still on the air. Isn't it? I mean, they didn't cancel it, did they?" he asked one questioner. "OK. I look at it like this. See, the thing I hate is when somebody says there can only be one show. It's like when Eddie Murphy came out, everyone said, 'Look out, Richard Pryor.' And I think that's a shame. You know, it's like Chevy Chase comes in, and nobody says, 'Look out, Dana Carvey.'

"I think there's enough for everybody. I think Keenan has done some great stuff with 'In Living Color.' And I just have a different voice. I mean, there are different things I want to say . . . I'm more of a vaudevillian. I like to sing, dance, perform, do impressions. And so the show will feel more like vaudeville. I'll say modern-day vaudeville."

Dame Edna (Australian comedian Barry Humphries in drag) will launch a series of specials next month, which she referred to as "this delightful, raunchy, little network," at a press conference. The specials are expected to lead to a weekly series.

A high-quality dramatic series that is going to seem out of place on that "raunchy little network" to some is "Tribeca," which features Joe Morton and Phillip Bosco. It's an anthology series about life in a New York neighborhood called Tribeca.

The series has not received an air date, but Fox brought Morton and Melanie Mayron, who wrote and directed one episode, to Los Angeles to promote it, along with executive producer De Niro on satellite from New York.

De Niro was, well, De Niro. When one reporter asked him why he had done an about-face from shunning the press to now doing sessions such as the one last week, he said, "Take advantage of it. It could change back again . . . soon."

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