Kristen Baldwin
September 29, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It’s only the 10th day of shooting on Titans, Aaron Spelling’s new backstabbing-rich-folks drama, and there’s already a catfight in progress. The scene is pivotal: Heather (Yasmine Bleeth), a conniving young seductress, is dropping in on her fiance’s ex-wife, Gwen (Victoria Principal) — who lives across the street — to introduce herself and engage in a little neighborly knife twisting. As the actresses rehearse a subtext-heavy chat about home decorating (”Let me guess. You subscribe to the old is better theory,” Heather purrs), Bleeth jokingly pretends to kick her costar in the behind when — bonk! — her platform sandal flies off and hits Principal square on the leg. ”Ooh! I’m so sorry!” she gasps as the two finish the scene (First Wife unceremoniously slams door on Second Wife-to-be), and the crew, breaking its quiet-on-the-set silence, emits a playful chorus of ”Meeeoooow!”

Okay, so it’s not exactly Krystle and Alexis’ infamous hair-pulling hissy fit in the lily pond, but give the show time. Trumpeted by NBC as ”this fall’s guilty pleasure,” Titans is a glitzy, gleefully biting serial chronicling the business and bedroom adventures of the wealthy Williams family. It resides somewhere between the overwrought opulence of Dynasty and the bitchy silliness of Melrose Place, and features a hilarious episode 1 cliff-hanger that rivals Dallas‘ Bobby-in-the-shower trick for sheer audacity. ”There’s a hole in television for this kind of show,” says creator and former Melrose exec producer Charles Pratt Jr., ”a good old family saga [about] the twisted, mixed-up, dysfunctional lives of a Beverly Hills family.”

Just how twisted? Exhibit A: Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) plays Chandler Williams, a straight-arrow Navy pilot who returns home to discover that his dad’s new fiancée (Bleeth) is his old lover. Not that he’ll be pining away all season. ”I was told by Chuck Pratt to be prepared to be in bed with a different woman every week,” he says. ”I think he might be joking. Maybe not. In that case, I’d better go to the gym right now.”

However high the bedmate count gets, Titans subscribes to Spelling’s long-held theory about successful prime-time soaps: Wealthy folks plus excessive suffering equals one addictive series. ”What [viewers] loved about Dynasty is that they could laugh at the rich,” Spelling explains. ”[Titans] is all done with humor — we call it ‘humor, fashions, and passions.’ That says it all.”

Actually, that doesn’t explain everything, like how did a tongue-in-cheek sudser end up on NBC, a network not exactly known for its programming flights of fancy? (Admits Pratt, ”Everybody who saw it said, ‘So, is it on Fox?”’) The credit (or blame) goes to NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier; having worked with Spelling on the Southern-fried serial Savannah while the head of programming at The WB, Ancier enlisted the megaproducer to revive the power-soap genre. His fellow NBC execs, however, weren’t as eager to lather up — especially after Titans‘ first in-house screening.

”The lights came up,” recalls Ancier, ”and I stood up and said, ‘Questions?’ Someone very senior raised their hand and said, ‘Could you explain that to me?”’ No doubt contributing to the confusion was the fact that previous attempts to launch old-school prime-time serials (ABC’s The Monroes, CBS’ Central Park West, NBC’s recent Bo Derek embarrassment Wind on Water) were shot down faster than J.R. Ewing. But Ancier, who admits to attending Dynasty viewing parties in the ’80s, just kept on pushing. ”If I didn’t think there was a real show there, I would not have fought so hard for it,” he says. ”It’s not West Wing … This is just fun.”

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