By FRANK SWERTLOW
Lilly Tartikoff, widow of network television wunderkind Brandon Tartikoff, has become the driving force behind “Blade Squad,” a planned series for Fox Television about high-tech, rollerblade-riding cops that her husband first began developing four years ago.
Tartikoff views the project as a kind of living memorial to her late husband, who died last summer. If the pilot clicks, the series could be on next fall.
“I kept Brandon’s company open,” said Tartikoff , who is executive producer of the show. “I had to make a decision whether to shut it down or not. But it really was impossible for me to close it. This was my way of not letting go of Brandon.”
The series is a sci-fi yarn set in the future about a squad of cops who catch criminals with the help of jet-propelled rollerblades.
“Gridlock is so bad in the cities that the normal way of capturing criminals has to be reinvented,” said David Stapf, a spokesman for Warner Bros. TV, the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary that is developing the series for the Fox Television Group. “You need somebody on rollerblades a rowdy team of street-smart young cops who slice through crime on streets.”
“A lot of these characters are not squeaky clean,” Tartikoff said. “They are getting a second chance by joining the squad.”
Peter Roth, president of Fox Television Group, said that before his death, Brandon Tartikoff showed him a soda commercial for Japanese TV featuring daring rollerbladers. From that ad, the concept of cops on rollerblades took flight.
“There were these guys in a flying wedge who were coolly dressed and who used jet-propelled rollerblades,” Roth recalled. “I went crazy. I loved it.”
Roth gave Tartikoff, who once worked with him at ABC, a green light to develop a pilot for Fox. Tartikoff’s production company is H. Beale Co., a humorous homage to Howard Beale, the mad anchorman in the film “Network.”
At the time of the pitch, Tartikoff, whose programming genius made NBC the No. 1 network in prime time, was battling Hodgkin’s disease. But few knew how ill he actually was. Last August, Tartikoff died and his project languished.
Enter Lilly Tartikoff, who said she and a girlfriend went to Hawaii last fall and sat on a beach going over her late husband’s projects. One pile was for active projects, the other for company’s library of existing shows.
“Here we were an ex-ballerina (Lilly) and an ex-junior high school teacher, parked on a beach,” Tartikoff said. “Somewhere, I thought, Brandon is looking down on us laughing.”
One of those active projects was “Blade Squad.”
“I saw the potential, especially for its global appeal,” she said.
Tartikoff went to Warner Bros. TV to help her develop the series. “They saw the potential,” she said, “and jumped on board.”
Tartikoff said the pilot was cast within six weeks.
“I loved being there every single day,” she said. “I loved the process.”
The pilot took five weeks to shoot and was completed last week.
“It kept me connected to Brandon,” Lilly said. “This was something that was very important for me to go through.”
Tartikoff admitted she had some trepidation about becoming a producer, even though she has seen her husband work as a network executive and independent producer for years.
“I had a tremendous amount of TV information just living with Brandon,” she said, “but I was by no means ready to do anything big on my own. It was a collaborative effort. But it was impossible for me not to have an opinion.”
While the dramatic series is Lilly’s first foray into prime-time programming, she has produced a series of informational videos to help women detect breast cancer. The tapes were also shown on NBC-owned stations.