The secret to the bitch slap, according to Morgan Fairchild, is twofold: First, find a partner with malleable hair. ”Mine is like a horse’s tail, so coarse it’ll hardly move. But Bo Derek’s is really long and silky so when I whack her, all this hair goes flying, and it looks great.” Next, take as good as you give. ”She slaps me really hard, and I spin out of frame. I’m doing everything but popping my eyes out of my head to sell this.”
Fairchild’s technique — both as slapper and slappee — will be on display with the Sept. 5 launch of MyNetworkTV, a Fox-backed programming block created for former WB and UPN affiliates that were dropped after the creation of The CW. The new network will consist of two prime-time telenovelas: Desire (following two brothers in love with the same woman — scandalous!) at 8 p.m. and Fairchild and Derek’s slaphappy Fashion House (high-powered women in gloriously lowbrow catfights) at 9 p.m. The programs will air five nights a week in 167 markets, with recaps on Saturday. Adapted from the wildly successful Spanish-language soaps you’ve flipped past on Telemundo and Univision, think of the MyNetworkTV offerings as Aaron Spelling sudsers on speed. Think of them as beach reads that wrap up nicely after 65 episodes. Or maybe, don’t think at all.
”Crazy, fun, dramatic, melodramatic. That’s the [telenovela] genre, and we’re embracing it,” says Twentieth Television’s programming president Paul Buccieri. ”There hasn’t been a country in the world where these [types of] shows have failed. There’s a sense of jeopardy and unpredictability knowing that after 13 weeks, you’re never gonna see these characters again. No one’s safe. Every night there’s a cliff-hanger.”
That unpredictability intrigued Fashion House’s seasoned stars. Fairchild stayed up half the night reading when she first received the scripts, which slowly reveal why her character, Sophia Blakely, has spent years plotting to destroy Derek’s Maria Gianni — the owner of a falling fashion empire. (Of course, Gianni has a whole other set of problems, waging war against her son’s designer girlfriend and even her own fiancé.) ”I have to be honest, I wasn’t interested in working this hard,” Derek says of filming the equivalent of three television seasons in under four months. ”But this character is so evil and horrible, it’s great fun.”
Desire’s Nate Haden — who plays ambitious restaurateur Louis — certainly isn’t complaining. ”I’d give my wife a full report at the end of each day: ‘I had this many shoot-out scenes, one really emotional scene, and then two love scenes.”’ Louis’ one-night stand with a Mob boss’ daughter will endanger both his family and his relationship with a woman also coveted by his naive brother, Alex (Zack Silva). ”If Louis’ shirt comes off,” says Haden, ”someone’s probably lyin’, cryin’, or dyin’.”
Expect all three things to continue once both these shows have run their course, since MyNetworkTV is already in production on its next pair of telenovelas: Watch Over Me, a Bodyguard-like story starring Casper Van Dien; and Art of Betrayal, with the always vivacious Tatum O’Neal as a jilted lover. Says Buccieri, ”Boy, she’s out for some revenge on that one.” Aren’t they all?