LOS ANGELES -- He's been a boxer, a preacher and TV commercial pitchman.
And in the fall, George Foreman will be a sitcom star in ABC's "George."
"This is a whole new world for me," says the 44-year-old ex-heavyweight- champ of the world. "The only thing I know about acting is that I'm not an actor. But I've had a lot of coaching . . . Tony Danza told me it's a lot like boxing . . . only he's promised me that the camera will not hit me back."
Danza -- who co-starred in "Who's the Boss?" -- is one of the executive producers of "George," in which Foreman stars as an ex-boxer who runs a youth center for troubled kids.
Foreman really does run a youth center in Houston. He says the only difference between the sitcom and his life is that he's not willing to think of himself as an ex-boxer yet.
"I've been saying I'm through boxing for six years, every time I come home with a big swollen eye," he says. "But it never seems to work out that way . . . I still feel like a boxer."
"Before our first taping (with a live audience), I thought, 'this won't bother me.' But, as soon as I stood back there behind the stage waiting to go out, I really got nervous again -- like my first time in the ring . . . I was shaking in my knees.
"But as soon as I got my first laugh, it was just like boxing. As soon as you get hit, you say OK, and you're all right."
Judging from the pilot, Foreman is still more of a boxer than an actor. But it doesn't necessarily mean "George" is going to be KO'd in the ratings.
ABC is clearly trying to capture his appeal as a personality -- an overweight, fortysomething ex-champ who returned to the ring and fought with tremendous courage. Public respect for that comeback, coupled with Foreman's ability to joke about himself, have made him a hit in TV commercials.
The challenge for ABC, Danza and the other producers is to shape the sitcom persona of Foreman so his courage and dignity are also part of the mix. The pilot fails to do that.
In the press session, Foreman starts out playing the joker and kidding about his weight. Asked how his training has changed as he's aged, he tosses out a joke.
"Previously, I used to eat a dozen cheeseburgers," he says. "Now, I only 11."
When he senses that his audience is comfortable with him, he gets serious and talks about his youth center.
"You got to make the kids know that you love them," he says. "Be consistent. You have to convince them that you'll be there tomorrow for them.
"The main thing is hope. Put hope inside of yourself. Kids don't listen to anything you say. But if they can feel hope inside you, they'll connect with that. It's like a baton and you got to keep handing it down.. . . Make them believe."
Foreman says he believes he's on the path to being a better actor.
"Bill Cosby told me to just work hard," he says. "Be the first one there and the last one to leave -- that's what Bill Cosby said. . . . I'm working with that."