You don't have to tell producer Paul Fusco how hard it is to find television programming that the whole family can enjoy. He knows, because he knows how hard it is to make.
"There are not enough shows that parents can watch with their kids and feel they're being entertained," Fusco told The Washington Post recently, "the kinds of shows where the kids, even if they don't always get the joke, they will be enchanted."What are the shows kids are watching these days?" the 36-year-old producer asked. "Turtles, `Ghostbusters,' `Beetlejuice.' They like things that are on the verge of disgusting - slimy characters. But there's nothing they can laugh at. And nothing that adults can enjoy watching with them."
Fusco has tried to correct that problem with his own work. He and Tom Pachett are responsible for bringing "ALF" to NBC's Monday night line-up. And now he's created The Wickedest Witch (Monday at 7:30 p.m., Ch. 2), a half-hour Halloween special that mixes a simple story with "ALF"-like puppetry and a few adult-oriented zingers in its attempt to provide a little something for everybody.
With Rue McClanahan in the title role, "The Wickedest Witch" is a light-hearted bit of whimsy about nasty old crone who has been sentenced to 300 years in the netherworld as a game show host and Bingo caller for a creepy-looking bunch of gargoyles. Her one hope of escape is to somehow trick an innocent child into doing something really despicable sometime before midnight on Halloween.
She is able to lure a youngster (Raffi DiBlasio) into her lair. But if you think for one minute that evil is going to triumph in this family-oriented comedy, you probably also think of Freddy Krueger as a benevolent folk hero.
And if the show's ending is a tad predictable, that's OK with Fusco. According to his view of family television, arriving at the final destination fully satisfied isn't as important as enjoying the journey itself.
Of course, not all network programmers share that philosophy. "ALF," for example, was a tough sell, having been turned down by the Disney people before it was pitched to NBC. And it was on the verge of being turned down there, too, until ALF himself put in an appearance.
"ALF sat next to Brandon, and they just stared at each other for a minute," Fusco recalled. "Then ALF picked his nose and wiped his finger on Brandon's sleeve. The room broke up. In five minutes, ALF and Brandon were talking to each other. I knew we were home free."
The same philosophy was applied to "The Wickedest Witch." And if it works on Halloween, it will also be applied to similarly structured specials for other holidays.