When the ABC sitcom Baby Talk, a spin-off of the 1989 movie Look Who's Talking, made its debut last spring, it became an instant top 20 hit in the Nielsen ratings, but among its own cast members, the show was about as popular as diaper rash. Connie Sellecca, the show's first star, quit after the pilot. Costar George Clooney and the show's producers left shortly thereafter. Sellecca's replacement, Newhart's Julia Duffy, criticized the show's infantile humor and begged off after 13 episodes, and L.A. Law's Michele Greene turned the role down flat. Critics reviled Baby Talk, and its first taped episodes were so unwatchable that ABC sheepishly withheld them until late in the season.
Yet Baby Talk did what thirtysomething and China Beach couldn't it survived ABC's ax and will return this fall with a new Mom (Mary Page Keller of Duet), a new leading man (Scott Baio), a grandmother (Polly Bergen), and new producers who are determined to shake the stigma. ''We felt the show could be more realistic,'' executive producer Saul Turteltaub recently told reporters. So the show's heroine, single mother Maggie Campbell, will move from a spacious loft to a smaller apartment, and the new version of Baby Talk will de-emphasize both the baby and the talking (although Tony Danza will still provide voice-overs) to focus on Maggie's life. Still, Keller admits to trepidation about her apparently jinxed role. ''I had some very long discussions with my agent,'' she says. ''I knew that the show had a lot of problems. But Saul and Bernie (Orenstein, his partner) have a clear sense of who this woman is.'' The producers even considered changing the title (they stayed with Baby Talk to increase its syndication value). ''The show is different,'' Turteltaub promises critics. ''And if it's still the worst show on the air, I'm sure you'll let us know.''