Flashback: Summer 1998. EW asks Terry Turner, cocreator of the new Fox sitcom That ’70s Show, what will happen four years from now, when his 1976-set series hits decade’s end. He pauses thoughtfully. ”I guess,” he finally quips, ”it’s going to become That ’80s Show.”
That was a pretty good joke, apparently. In case you haven’t checked your current TV listings, Fox is about to unveil a splashy family comedy named—hold on to your Rubik’s Cubes—That ’80s Show. Set in 1984 amidst a not-so-quiet riot of Reaganomics and huge hair, the series introduces a fresh batch of time-warped troopers: altruistic musician Corey (Glenn Howerton); his dippy sis, Katie (Tinsley Grimes); his faux-hip single dad, RT (Geoff Pierson); his materialistic Republican bud/car sales- man, Roger (Eddie Shin); his biting record-store boss, Margaret (Margaret Smith); his defensive punk rock coworker, Tuesday (Chyler Leigh); and his bombshell ex-girlfriend, Sophia (Sweet Valley High’s Brittany Daniel), who enjoys diff’rent strokes from all sorts of folks, if you catch our bisexual drift.
Just don’t expect to see any totally awesome drop-bys from ’70s dudes Kelso and Fez in white Miami Vice jackets with pushed-up sleeves, because—guess what?—this isn’t a spin-off! Although Fox asked the producers more than a year ago if they wanted to conjure up a new series starring a ’70s character, they wound up selling the network on an unrelated next-generation comedy involving twentysomething friends immersed in club culture (and Culture Club). ”You’re out of college, now you’re an adult, it’s the ’80s, let’s go!” is how Linda Wallem, who created the show with fellow ’70s exec producers Turner and Mark Brazill, describes it. ”That’s what we found interesting and that’s where these characters are. The decade is telling them, ‘You better grow up and ride the wave now,’ as opposed to the ’70s, where it’s like, ‘Well, just stay in the basement and behave.’ In the ’80s, there’s more room for experimentation.”
She’s not kidding. In addition to the bisexual angle (Sophia pursues her ex’s sister in the first few episodes), the show will make cheeky references to classic ’80s indulgences, including cocaine use. ”Every time anyone’s in a bathroom, you’re going to hear tapping and chopping somewhere in a stall,” says Turner. ”Because that’s all I heard in the ’80s when I went into the bathroom.” But Turner pledges that the main characters won’t be doing any sampling, the way the ’70s kids did with the wacky weed. In fact, the ’80s folks insist their show will be as different from the Me Decade series as Wang Chung is from Cheech & Chong. ”It’s inevitable that people are going to compare the shows,” says Daniel. ”They can compare all they want….The only thing similar about the two shows is that we have a couple of the same words in our title and the same creators.”
For sure, but then why go with a name that practically begs for comparisons? ”The network loved That ’80s Show,” answers Wallem. ”To be honest, we really didn’t want to call it that because we thought it would be confusing.” And maybe a bit daunting. ”I think that if it brings people to the show, we’d better deliver when they get there,” says Turner. ”It does put some pressure on us.” Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman—who’s still interested in a ’70s spin-off—sees the name game in a different black light: ”I’d rather look at it as an opportunity for the audience as a point of entry. It conjures up certain things, and then we take it from there.” And if that doesn’t work? They can always try changing the title to something really rad like…That Hot Bisexual Chick Show.