Carl Weathers did not look like a man on trial, but he was definitely waiting for a jury to bring in a verdict.
His "Fortune Dane" series was in the midst of a six-week run and the Nielsens had been anything but encouraging. The sixth and final show airs Saturday at 9. Then ABC will weigh the ratings evidence and decide whether to bring "Fortune Dane" back in the fall. Weathers expects the decision early next month.
Coming on with a series in midseason has its drawbacks, Weathers noted. "You're inheriting someone else's failed time slot and someone else on the other channel is already doing well." His first two outings barely budged the Nielsen meter. But after the third episode showed some life with a 16 share, Weathers sat in one of his favorite New York restaurants marveling at how much the series meant to him -- whether it succeeded or failed.
"I don't know anyone at age 38 who gets that kind of commitment (six shows) without previous TV experience," he said.
Actually the past several months -- two years, to be exact -- have given Weathers enough experience, on screen and off, to last an average man five years.
In that time he's wound up his work in the "Rocky" series (even if there's yet another sequel, he won't be in it, having been hammered to death in "Rocky IV") and he's managed to get two projects on television, both as actor and producer. His remake of "The Defiant Ones" aired recently with him in the Sidney Poitier role, and now he's playing "Fortune Dane," an ex-policeman who's called upon by the mayor to be a political troubleshooter fighting white-collar crime.
Add to all of that the fact that he recently marked the second anniversary of his second marriage, and you have quite a pair of years.
"It's been like going down rapids blindfolded in a boat with lots of patches," he said, "hoping the rocks don't rip the patches before you get to calm water, and every now and then there's a laugh along the way."
The past two years are even headier when Weathers takes the long view, seeing himself as a child of modest upbringing in New Orleans who at 13 recognized California as the Promised Land. He moved there at 16, recalling that first impression of California as a place that was clean and full of parks that were full of kids, a place where people of all kinds mixed freely on the streets. "California -- and New York too -- are indicative as to what the country is all about: social and religious melting pots. Places where you can be lost and discovered at the same time. Places where you can lose what you no longer want to be part of and discover what you want to be part of."
One of the things that was discovered was his athletic ability. Weathers attended San Diego State on a football scholarship, while majoring in theater. The acting came first and last. "I did plays early before discovering football and girls," he noted. At one end of the campus he practiced knocking people down while at the other end he was doing "West Side Story."
After college he played linebacker for the Oakland Raiders. But he never lost sight of his boyhood dream, nurtured in the dark of New Orleans' movie houses, where Sidney Poitier first captured his imagination -- and refused ransom -- in "The Defiant Ones" and "Lilies of the Field."
Weathers appeared in a number of films -- "Semi-Tough," "Force 10 From Navarone," "Death Hunt," and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." But it was the "Rocky" series that made his face familiar. With Apollo Creed going down for the count in "Rocky IV," Weathers is now challenged to create a new screen personality, this one with the equally nifty name of Fortune Dane. And this time it is his fortune -- and burden -- to be the show's number-one character.
It is a chance he cherishes. "Opportunities don't get lost," he said, "they just go to other people. When they come, you have to capitalize."
"Fortune Dane" started with Carl Weathers. "I had an idea of (the show) I wanted to do. I discussed it with Ronald Cohen and he came back with an idea I considered similar but superior." Cohen, who worked on the "Call to Glory" series, shares co-executive producer credit with Weathers, and they were joined by Barney Rosenzweig of "Cagney & Lacey," one of television's most praised and successful shows.
As co-executive producer, Weathers managed to get "Fortune Dane" filmed in Oakland so he could be near his two sons, 9 and 7, from his previous marriage.
Now, with the show on the ratings rocks, Weathers, borrowing a term from his football days, acknowledged that he's facing a fourth down, long-yardage situation. With its time slot opposite 'The Golden Girls,' " fourth-and-long from the start," he said.
But of course, Weathers had come a long way, to be a movie star and executive producer and to be sitting in a Manhattan restaurant thinking about such problems in the first place.
"Here's a kid from New Orleans whose parents may never have reached the teens of thousands of dollars in yearly earnings," said Weathers, whose father has worked on the New Orleans waterfront, driven motor freight and now works for an airplane manufacturer. His mother has been a domestic and has worked in a hospital. "It's a long way for me to be the producer of a TV show."
He waits for an ABC decision with the hope that this opportunity has not been wasted.
"I'm anticipating winning," he said. "I don't like losing."