It is relatively early in the development of Lucie Arnaz's new television series, and the producers are, seemingly, keeping their options open.

There are questions even the star of the show, or one of the stars, can't answer with certainty. Like, how does your character, a single woman, come to have an adopted Oriental child? Has she been married? Is there, or will there be, a man in her life?

"From what they told me," said Arnaz, referring to the show's producers, "she decided she wanted to adopt a child at around 25 or 26. They don't imply that there were any outstanding motives. It's something independent she wanted to do. She's never been married. As far as I know she's open to having a relationship. She's had the child from her infancy."

And then there's the extended-family structure of the show, making it resemble in some ways "A Year in the Life," a series that lived, briefly, on critical praised but died on low ratings. It too featured a lot of people variously related to each other, but the tone of the show was more serious than Arnaz's new show for fall, which is called "Sons and Daughters."

That difference in tone -- the relatively somber compared to the relatively light hearted -- may mark the difference between the two ensemble series and may also reflect the way Arnaz looks at life.

"Even when my life has what I think are great troubles, you look back 24 hours later and they seem funny," she said. "People tend to {complain} and moan about everything. People are under stress and everything becomes very large. Real life is made up of lots of those moments, sprinkled with a couple real high moments and some real tragedies."

As shooting got under way recently for the series, which makes its debut in the fall, Arnaz had read three scripts and was beginning to see the story emerge. "There's a pattern to them, and I see that there's a pattern to real life," she said. Her own immediate family has dispersed geographically, but one of her friends has a family that is both large and fairly centralized. "Her father is 80, there are grandparents, there are lots of little kids -- and they all live in Los Angeles. They have totally separate lives, but they get together because there are so many of them.

"There's always a birthday or someone's track meet. There's always a reason for them to get together. And when you get together, you realize that you love each other -- kind of, sort of."

And it figures that there will always be something to draw together "Sons and Daughters's" sprawling cast -- and plenty of problems to drive them apart. Add some pratfalls from Arnaz, who learned them from the master -- two masters, really -- and you have the lighter touch that should distinguish this series from "A Year in the Life."

CBS says the show may not debut until after the baseball playoffs and World Series in October. The program is being put together by producers Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, who have "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" to their credit.

The cast has Arnaz as Tess, one of three grown Hammersmith children; Scott Plank and Peggy Smithhart play the other two. They are married in the show to, respectively, Stacy Edwards and Rick Rossovich. Adding spice to the mix is Don Murray, as the father who deserted the three Hammersmiths when they were children. He has shown up with a young wife, Lisa Blount, and a son, Aaron Brownstein.

It's an ensemble cast, but in the pilot Arnaz definitely comes off as first among equals. "When I read the script, I didn't see that one character was more than the other," said Arnaz. "Tess has a lot of problems, and I'm not the nicest person in the show. She carries around a lot of anger that she filters through different channels. She has more problems than anyone else, so maybe we identify with her."

She became the family matriarch by being the one left largely in charge when the family broke down. "She raised the kids and became the boss," she said. "Even though they're adults, there's a pattern, where she's the decision-maker -- go ask Tess."

Arnaz has her own family background to draw on, especially when it comes to relationships between parents and children. She and her husband, actor Laurence Luckinbill, have five children, two of them her stepchildren. She recalled that she once had to sneak into school to give something to one of her children without being seen by a teacher. Look for a similar escapade in the series.

And, of course, she has her own comedy family to draw on: She is the daughter of the husband-wife comedy team who practically invented the television sitcom -- Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. At 39, Lucie has worked extensively on stage, has her own nightclub act, has done a film or two and a number of television productions. But she chould practically have a television series by divine right.

For Lucie Arnaz, television has been a family affair, at home to start, and with CBS, which carried her parents "I Love Lucy" series and most of Lucie's own television work.

And she and CBS are having what might be called a quiet family spat. At a time when she could be basking in the glow of a new series of her own, the network has set in motion another show, a TV movie about the lives of Lucy and Desi, that figures to take some of the glow off the family legend. Early reports on the show say it deals with Lucy's having to cope with Desi's interest in other women.

While she cheerfully answers questions about her own show, inquiries about the movie on her parents are an annoyance she dispenses with as quickly as possible.

"Here's how I feel about it," said Lucie. "I believe the climate is wrong to try to tell my parents' story accurately, at this time, no matter who tells it. Period."

Asked to elaborate, she said, "CBS should be the network to tell this story when it's ready to be told, and when they can tell it absolutely accurately. And I don't think anybody can do that right now. Not even me, so I won't be involved in it."

Her own effort to turn her parents' lives into art has been focused on stage rather than television and, perhaps surprisingly, centers on her father rather than her mother. "I'm writing a Broadway musical based on his life story," she said.

The comparisons of Lucie to her mother are inevitable. And they will spring to mind in "Sons and Daughters," too, for instance when Lucie's character has a scene filled with muddy pratfalls.

Easily overlooked in the family history is the contribution Desi made to the series as a student of the television business and its artistic techniques.

"He never studied formally," said Arnaz of her father. "He had a good ear and eye, picked up the good stuff and discarded the bad as he went along.

"There is an art to listening, reacting well, and still stepping aside and seeing hot to make it more funny than dramatic. When you're in a drama and a comedy you want to be believable. Try to make it funny, and it always fails. That's the kind of actors they were. They came from movies. There were not sitcoms to watch."

The secret to comedy, she said, is for an actor not to show that he or she knows they're being funny. "The situation can even be tragic to the person who's being laughed at at the moment," said Arnaz.

"We laugh at the person slipping on a banana peel," she said. "But we know it's not funny to the person hitting the concrete."