Will Missing Persons Survive?

The fate of Missing Persons, an hour-long weekly ABC television series inspired by the activities of missing-persons investigators in the Chicago Police Department, is up in the air. ABC programming brass are expected to decide by November 15 whether to kill Missing Persons or order more than the 15 segments they’ve already paid for, which would keep it on the air through the end of the year. Series creator and executive producer Gary Sherman and his production team have almost finished that first batch of episodes, shooting them entirely on location around the city. For Sherman, a native Chicagoan who has spent the past several years getting to know members of the Chicago police force and honing his concept for Missing Persons, it’s a difficult moment. “I feel fortunate to have done this show,” he says. “It will be very sad if we lose it.” Now a resident of Los Angeles, Sherman has returned to his hometown frequently over the years to work on other projects, including the film Poltergeist III and the short-lived television series Sable.

As is almost always the case in television, ABC’s decision about whether or not to keep Missing Persons will be heavily influenced by the show’s ratings. Though the series has demonstrated significant ratings growth since its September debut, last week’s Nielsens still put Missing Persons fourth nationally in its Thursday time slot–it’s on at 7 PM central time–behind programming on NBC, CBS, and Fox. Missing Persons pulled a 14 share (the percentage of TV sets turned on that are tuned to a particular show), while such competition as The Simpsons scored a 23 and NBC’s Wings managed a 25.

Sherman and others at ABC have speculated that one reason for their show’s disappointing performance may be its early time slot. On November 11 ABC will air the show at 8 central instead of 7 to see how the shift affects ratings; if they improve markedly, ABC might opt to order more segments and move the program to a later time. Normally the first hour of prime time is devoted to fare that appeals to children as well as older viewers. But Missing Persons is aimed at mature audiences who can deal with the show’s complex structure and often intense emotional situations. Each 60-minute segment cuts back and forth between three stories, which means viewers must pay close attention. It also means writers on the show have to cram a considerable amount of information into each script and yet make it flow smoothly. Sherman says he paid more than $200,000 to west-coast writers who didn’t pan out before he found one he liked: Chicago-based Denise DeClue. A veteran of numerous Hollywood projects (and former Reader staff writer), DeClue finds the Missing Persons format “very demanding.”

ABC’s decision will affect not only Sherman but also the city’s film industry and huge pool of acting talent. Missing Persons has already employed more than 300 Chicago actors, including regulars Paty Lombard and Latino Chicago Theater Company’s Juan Ramirez. The series also marks the first time all of the lucrative postproduction work (film processing, editing, and film-to-video transfer, among other things) for a prime-time network show has been done in Chicago. Industry workers hope other producers will follow in Sherman’s footsteps and help expand the amount of film and television work in the city.

New Jazz Joints

The jazz club business is jumping. In the past couple of months two new clubs with different concepts have opened to vie for acts and audiences: Yako’s, at 1330 N. Halsted, is aiming for a younger crowd with what owner Ed Marshall calls a “New York dingy romantic” ambience, while John Dubiel is trying to attract both young and old with a menu of jazz and reasonably priced food at the Jazz Buffet, 2556 W. Diversey. “People are growing older and looking for more sophisticated music such as jazz,” says Dubiel. The new clubs, of course, mean increased competition for those already established, such as John Moultrie’s 18-month-old Jazz Oasis, at 343 W. Erie. Moultrie claims he’s not worried. “I hope all the new activity isn’t just a fad,” he says. Dave Jemilo, who’s run the Green Mill Lounge for seven and a half years, thinks the new clubs will keep the old ones on their toes. “I would rather have competition, so I don’t get lax in how I run my own club,” he says. Moultrie points out that some clubs and promoters–the China Club, the Cubby Bear, Jam Productions–have mostly abandoned jazz recently. He maintains that the big-name acts are inclined to play smaller clubs these days because it makes better business sense: “When a well-known jazz act plays a small venue, it’s a guaranteed success, whereas the act might lose money in a larger space that the act can’t fill.” Marshall, a former rock band drummer with college degrees in marine biology and English, wants to put Yako’s on the map quickly by booking name acts. Up later this month are Daniel Benoit and Stanley Jordan.

Donny Saves the Day

Technical snafus are rare in such carefully designed, multimillion-dollar spectacles as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But at last week’s Tuesday-evening performance at the Chicago Theatre, sources report, a stage manager who sounded genuinely panic-stricken was forced to stop the show ten minutes after the curtain went up when a giant mobile stage-framing mechanism failed to open. Rather than leave the audience sitting idle in their expensive seats while stage hands rushed to fix the problem, leading man Donny Osmond chose to make the best of a bad situation by promptly returning to the stage to give an impromptu concert. One person in the audience asked him to sing his teen-idol hit “Go Away Little Girl.” When the orchestra’s pianist said he didn’t know the tune, Osmond sang it a cappella. He also displayed considerable stylistic range by singing a bluesy rendition of one of Joseph’s big numbers, “Close Every Door,” and even revealed some unintentional comedic talent during the lengthy 20-minute delay: every time he reassured the audience that the show was just about to start again, loud hammering noises commenced backstage.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.