Main > Series > Articles/Interviews > TV "Kids From Fame," NBC Special
By JOHN J O'CONNOR
The New York Times March 3, 1983
This evening at 8 on NBC, the series "Fame"' is being preempted for a one-hour special called "The Kids From Fame." It seem that "Fame" which has been having its ratings problems in this country, is extremely popular in Britain, sometimes No. 1 and always placing in the Top 10. Songs from the program have made the best-seller record charts. So, presumably in gratitude, several members of the cast headed by Debbie Allen, agreed to participate in a stage production that was given a British tour last December. According to reports, that too was extraordinarily popular. Tonight's TV special is the story of that tour. George Burns has been recruited as the host/narrator, wandering around the deserted studio set of "Fame" and showing us that the MGM crew is working am in the early morning. "Look," he adds gently, that's what a host does -- he explains everything. It would be nice to report that "The Kids From Fame" conclusively demonstrates that American audiences should take a cue from their British cousins. In fact, "Fame" is one of the better weekly series available on the current schedule. It is uneven, but it explores different performance areas and regularly comes up with an exceptional episode. If nothing else there is, as just about everybody has noted, the unflagging energy of its young cast. A stage production, however, is something else again. The energy is still there, with enough light up Piccadilly Circus. But while these performers may be credible within the context of a scenario portraying them as fledgling actors and singers, they are way out of their depth in what is meant to be a slickly professional production. With the exception of the seasoned Miss Allen, whose credits include a sizzling Anita in a recent Broadway revival of "West Side Story," the "Fame" kids generally seem amateurish in this instance. The producer, Nicholas Clapp, and the director, Terry Sanders, almost concede as much. The cameras are nearly always jumpy rarely staying on a production number from beginning to end. Instead, we get a few bars of a song and then are whisked to, among other places, the dressing rooms where other performers are preparing for the next act. About halfway through the hour, even Mr. Burns offers what sounds suspiciously like an apology: "At last, the kids know they're finally reaching the audience. It's good now, and it's going to get better." It doesn't. Obviously, these young people are talented. The dancer, Gene Anthony Ray; for example, can be dynamic, but he dissipates his impact by assuming an attitude that is somewhat haughty toward the audience. Lee Curreri, framed in a mass of dark curls, is coming on so gently sensitive that he almost disappears before your eyes. And so it goes, one disappointing way or the other, with Erica Gimpel, Carlo Imperato, Lori Singer and Valerie Landsburg. In fact, some of the best work is contributed by the anonymous members of the backup chorus line, who seem to be thoroughly trained dancers. Obviously, the kids from "Fame" have connected solidly with their British fans. The audience at the Royal Albert Hall did not seem to be disappointed. Perhaps young audiences want something of their own, something that may not equal the Beatles but that still may serve in some personal way. The success of the Puerto Rican group Menudo with Hispanic audiences reflects something of the same phenomenon. In that sense, "The Kids From Fame" has its place. But the show is not likely to help the ratings of the regular series over here.