THEY'RE PUSHING their way up through the TV ranks now: pompon girls, roller derby queens, reckless coeds, bronzed beach goers, slapstick blonds and underdressed agents - wriggling in and out of fun, trouble and temptation. The seeds of Charlie's Angels and Three's Company come to fruition.
Already the early pilot season has revealed the first of a few dozen TV movies and would-be series featuring physically impresive young ladies (and combinations thereof) in projects seemingly titled right off the paperback rack:
"Scandal Hall," "Grad Night," "The Cheerleaders," "California Coed," "Legs," "California Girls," "The Beach Girls," "Girl on the Road," "Roller Girls" and even "Go West, Young Girl."
So far, the most to-the-point titles for popular story concepts belong to projects from Warner Brothers TV: "Young Women in Crime" (ABC movie), "Women in Jeopardy" (NBC movie), "Centerfold" (NBC movie), "Wayward Girls" and "Down on the Beach" (both developing sitcoms for NBC).
Though each network undoubtedly has for actresses some vehicles on deck with all the components for excellence, there are widespread signs of factory sexploitation, or market pressure to superimpose a trendy ingredient.
"The networks are helping to create the appetite," said a writer who works for shows on all three networks. An appetite for what?
Of the first 40 TV professionals interviewed - writers, producers, executives and actors - only three failed to promptly identify the trend as "t-ts and a -- programming." It's hard to overlook the universality of that uniformly off-the-record quotation, since there's no other commonly used expression to replace it. That's what it's called, 37 out of 40 affirmed.
"They don't say, 'bring us sexy projects,' but there is an atmosphere created in which a certain something is in," said Lynn Roth, director of comedy development at 20th Century-fox TV. "It's not sex. It's more a time of titillation."
"This is supposed to be a time of women's projects on TV, but somehow all these women are good-looking, well-endowed and running toward the camera. One's absolutely gorgeous, one's a little dowly, and one's a little flakey," a Fox writer said.
"I have an idea for a series," said a producer of shows for Columbia Pictures TV, drolly. "It's just three girls - one black, one redhead, one blond - who each week go from network to network doing anything, waitressing, babysitting, whatever they want. It doesn't matter. It's just a microcosm of America in 38D cups."
Large breasts "are nt prerequisite, but it helps," said Tom Cherones, a producer of "Roller Girls," a half-hour sitcom for NBC currently in casting.
"Semi-scanty form-fitting uniforms" will be worn by regulars who include, he said, "a big Arkansas beauty" named Mongo Sue, a black woman named Mary Francis or M. F. for "mighty fine," and Eskimo named Shana "Pipeline" Olana, and teammates nicknamed HoneyBee and Books (because she reads a lot). As members of an expension roller derby team, The PItts, they share living area/locker room/front office space with a lecherous coach-owner.
Produced by the Komack Co. ("Chico and the Man," "Welcome Back, Kotter"), "Roller Girls" apparently impressed NBC enough for the network to order up four segments and schedule an April 14 air time for the first show even before it was cast.
"Yes, we certainly do see our show as part of a trend," Cherones said. "That's what the networks want. The public wants to see pretty young women in comedic situations or in jeorpardy situations such as 'Charlie's Angels'".
"Three's Company" is routinely referred to as the sitcom model of "titillation." On the ABC since January 1977, the show consistently ranks in the Nielsen top five. The three are two young women and their male roommate who share laughs and a flat.
"I wouldn't deny that we have a lot of sexual innuendo, and I'm sure it helps us," said Don Nicholl of Nicholl, Ross, West, the show's producers. "We don't think sex is funny, but sexiness is funny. Our show is very innocent, but there is something about being sexy or having sexy fun that is fun."
Noting that NRW wrote and produced "All in the Family" for its first five years, Nicholl said he doesn't think that show's real sexual issues and stronger social commentary has exhausted itself on TV, "but we wanted to do something lighter."
"I understand 'Three's Company' was offered to anoter network first and turned down because of standards and practices (cencors)," said writer Paul Wayne. "ABC was more liberal and saw a chance to do things that weren't being done on TV.
"It was largely Fred Silverman's baby. (Then head of ABC entertainment, Silverman is now "on vacation" before assuming reign at NBC in June). Silverman did most of the negotiating on 'Three Company' and always had faith in its potential."
Wayne and Nicholl are now at work on at least one new series creation, but not for ABC they said, declining to name the financing network. "One of the shows is very much concerned with more than one girl, lots of girls," said Nicholl.
"There's a dearth of beautiful girls who are good comediennes," he added. "It was Fred Silverman who found Suzanne Somers and asked us to test her after we'd already looked at more than 150 girls."
Somers, the lead blon-cum-teddy bear in "Three's COmpany," is slated to star in "Zuma Beach," an upcoming two-hour feature for NBC.
That "Southern California look" is a popular descriptive phrase for shows built around roving bands of women and, as producer Walt DeFaria of the "Beach Girls" said, "It gets us down to the beach where the girls can wear bikinis."
Like the Barbi Benton "rock" trio in the ABC-Komack show, "Sugar Time," and the syndicated "Hee Haw Honeys," DeFaria's "Beach Girls" are a singing threesome trying to break into show biz. Aspirants for the half-hour syndicated sitcom from Hanna-Barbera tried out in bikinis. Those chosen can sing, DeFaria said, explaining that the first show was overdubbed with another group's voices "because we wanted to be certain we had it right."
"Beach Girls" is Hanna-Barbera's first departure from animation, and through made for the early evening family audience, it's a long way from Huckleberry Hound.
In the first episode, the trio was tricked by their conniving agent into house-sitting Frankie Avalon's beach pad, while an unsuspecting Avalon slept (and eventually awoke) in the next room.
(Three seems to be a magic number. Also in the offing are "Three on a Date," an ABC movie, and "Three Way Love," a series plot from Paramount.)
"California Girls," an NBC pilot that goes into production March 6, also "represents the Southern California lifestyle" in an early evening time slot, said producer Bruce Johnson. "This is not 'Charlie's Angels.' Our men and women are very young and going to college. They are not sexpots. The idea (behind the beach motif) was not to have to create an unnatural setting in order to get attractive bodies into some form of undress."
Twenty-six miles across the sea, Catalina Island is the goal for a group of Southern California teens in "Grad Night," a Ten-Four Productions TV movie with script commissioned by NBC.
In general, schoolgirls and schooldays are very big. "California Coed," a developing Ten-Four pilot for NBC, features a 30-year-old divorced woman returning to college. As a dorm mother, a spokesman explained, she weathers "the normal campus problems, getting hit on by young guys, coed dorms, rape, the psychological rape of middle-class students earning their way through . . ."
"Pretty women in a problem situation always gets a viewing audience," said Ten-Four president Sam Strangiss. "Right now I'd say that's the dominating trend. The average producer is not doing sex. He's taking what the networks want, the girls with the good bodies and the looks, and putting them in good, solid, honest stories."
"Girls Town," a developing Ten-Four "presentation" for CBS, will have 7 to 18-year-olds mired in misfortunes that include "running away, having illegitimate babies and teen-age prostitution."
A Jane and a Jill head the cast of characters in "Scandall Hall," a pilot script from 20th Century-Fox set in academia for ABC. Four sorority girls were in a comedic situation in the syndicated sitcom "Sorority 62," while women in jeopardy cowered in the ABC movie "The Initiation of Sarah." Both already aired. "Senior Prom" is coming from Warner Bros.-CBS.
The undercover agent and bosom-buddy devices popularized with ABC's "Charlie's Angels" continue in three of that network's announced pilot projects: "Jackie and Darlene," concerning a police department office worker and a decoy, a Len Goldberg production featuring two lady cops, and "Wild and Wooly," tomorrow night's two-hour movie set in the turn-of-the-century West and featuring a trio of attractive goverment agents.
Produced by Aaron Spelling ("Love Boat," "Charlie's Angels," "Starsky & Hutch"), "Wild and Wooly" is backed by a reported $1.5-million budget and padded with such name talent as Jessica Walters, Vic Morrow, Doug McClure and Paul Burke. But the focus will be on the leading ladies, escapees from Yuma Prison (they were framed) who become instrumental in foiling a plot to assassinate President Theordore Roosevelt.
Many young women landing TV roles these days are relative unknowns, enjoying the windfall of salaries from "the chics are back" bonanza, as one producer described it. Chris De Lisle, Susan Bigelow and Elyssa Davalos headline "Wild and Wooly." De Lisle, a 1971 journalism graduate and one of the country's top TV models, was taking acting lessons and girding herself for a long breaking-in struggle when she became the first woman cast for the project. De Lisle said she is thankful for the show's period costumes which, by definition if not design, soft-peddle the flesh. She seemed slightly uneasy, however, about being assigned the wardrobe's only low-cut dresses, worrying that in one "you could see all the way to Toledo."
About an ABC publicity photo of the women sudsing away prison grime in a tub, she said, "Underneath the water, we had no body stockings and cut-offs," adding that she wouldn't have done it any other way.
"Go West, Young Girl," a Columbia TV movie for ABC, is the story of a young female Horace Greeley, as described by one Columbia publicist. It is said that Fred Silverman initially conceived the concept for "Go West" and "Wild and Wooly" as a single idea, and was personally supervising script and cast selections before departing the network.
Whichever show does best gets the series funding. And in what looks like a horse race, there are reportedly at least two other woman westerns being developed somewhere in the industry.