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Fox pitches 'guy' humor, betting it'll scratch a niche


Los Angeles -- It's retro, ultra-male and mainly dumb. But it's probably going to be one of the hits of the fall season on Fox.

I'm talking about "Hardball," the locker-room sitcom about a major league baseball team called the Pioneers.

It wants to be a little bit "Major League" and a little bit "Bull Durham." And it has some of those jock-jokey moments that you can't help smiling at. But, I promise you, "Hardball" is going to be the subject of one hot gender debate -- with some men being told by spouses and lovers to choose between watching "Hardball" and having a relationship.

Executive producer Bill Bryan described "Hardball" yesterday as sitcom "about a bunch of young guys living a privileged, occasionally irresponsible, lifestyle."

Irresponsible and proud of it. The main storyline of the pilot involves Dave Logan (Bruce Greenwood), the "wisecracking veteran pitcher of the Pioneers." Logan spots an attractive woman sitting in the stands while warming up and, three scenes later, they're red-hot in bed together. And she's the only character in the series who could be described as having any sense of maturity.

What follows are lots of locker-room, elbow-in-the-rib, hey-big-fella, guy jokes about Logan and the woman sleeping together. It turns out she's the manager's daughter. (If you're having trouble picturing the premise here, think of Jim Palmer sleeping with Earl Weaver's daughter and everybody in the clubhouse except Earl knowing about it.)

If it's so dumb, why is "Hardball" going to be a hit? The answers are football and scheduling.

"Hardball" will air Sunday nights, which means it is going to be promo'd endlessly on Sunday afternoons during Fox's new ZTC schedule of NFL games. Fox believes those male pigskin fans are going to flow on a sea of suds straight from Joe Montana to Dave Logan.

"Yeah, I think it was a very conscious attempt of Fox to carry over the football audience," said Jeff Martin, another executive producer for the show. "It was their idea. They said to us, 'Do you guys want to do a series about a baseball team?' And we went off and came up with it."

Talk about great location -- "Hardball" will air after "The Simpsons" and before "Married . . . With Children." That dream spot in the Fox batting order is no accident.

"It so happens that my two collaborators on this show are veterans of those two shows," Bryan said. "And we will have things in common with them tonally, which is to say that we feel we have a license with this audience to be more irreverent . . . getting away with things that you wouldn't try to do on a family show."

Bryan, Martin and Kevin Curran, the show's other producer, are pretty good when it comes to irreverence. They are not, however, especially sensitive to points of view that aren't white and male.

Asked, for example, how a show about major league baseball could not have any featured African-American characters, they said they hadn't thought about that when making the pilot. They are now remaking the pilot to include an African-American player in a lead role.

They were asked if they were going to have any major leaguers or former major leaguers as technical advisers. "I think we can police that one ourselves," Martin said. "I mean, I'm a guy who watches a baseball movie or something and gets very offended if someone throws like a girl."

The producers said they were going to add other characters to the new, improved pilot, including a woman who inherits the team from her husband. Their press release describes the woman as "an old bat."

And then there was the moment when they were asked about the Sunday night competition -- specifically, "Murder She Wrote" on CBS.

"Does Angela Lansbury scare you?" they were asked.

"Not since the last time I saw her naked," Curran said.

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