If good chemistry can be relied upon to conjure up a formula for a successful television series, CBS' "Charlie & Co." may fizz and bubble this fall.
The blending of comedian Flip Wilson and singer Gladys Knight has mixed well before, on a small scale. "I've worked with Flip on variety shows and we've always jelled together," said Knight. "He remarked on the chemistry between us, and I noticed it too."
So, apparently, did Bob Henry, Wilson's producer, who saw a television future for the pair. "He called me when the show shaped up," said Knight. After doing the pilot for the series, Knight said, "it feels pretty good."
Wilson and Knight are cast as Charlie and Diana, a Chicago couple with three children. He's an administrative assistant at the highway department and she's a teacher. Comparisons to the black doctor- lawyer couple of "The Cosby Show" are inevitable, a comparison that cuts two ways with Knight.
"I have two ways of thinking about it," she said. "I'm happy to be mentioned with a show as positive and successful as Bill's. Bill has opened the door for our show to get on. If something is successful, people want to tap into it.
"But I have a pet peeve about only being compared in one area," she added. In this case, race. As a singer, she said, she might be mentioned in the same breath with Aretha Franklin but rarely with Helen Reddy. "Blacks can't do country-western," she said. "It immediately becomes rhythm and blues . . .
"I don't like categorization. It limits our creativity and our possibilities. There are too many other shows we could be compared to -- 'Family Ties,' for example."
Comparisons and contrasts with other comedies aside, the series poses a serious challenge for Knight. Her acting experience has been largely limited to comedy skits, guest appearances and a 1976 movie, "Pipe Dreams," in which Gladys Knight and the Pips provided the soundtrack. "It was an unsuccessful film," said Knight. "But the experience I would take nothing for."
In Wilson she has a comfortable companion and a man who can deliver a funny line with the very finest. "With Gladys Knight and the Pips, we wanted to be the best," said Knight. "I feel the same way with acting. I feel I can be a good actress, but I know it will take a lot of work . . . I would like this to be an area I grow into. I would like to do something really dramatic one day."