|The Monkee Shines Continue
Reincarnated comic troupe plans hair raising TV adventures
By DAVID WENSTROM
Jared Chandler could hide a Mack truck in the Rock of Gibraltar that juts above his forehead. If Dino Kovas' duck tail gets any longer, he'll waddle. Larry Saltis, the youngest and cuddliest New Monkee (remember Davy Jones?), has wavy blond locks enough to satisfy the fingers of a dozen screaming teenagers. And Marty Ross could knit an Icelandic sweater with his mop.
These guys make the original Monkees look like ROTC cadets. But is it enough hair to hide that perennial bald spot of television remakes, namely comparisons?
"It's a hell of a challenge," said Ross, 28. the oldest of the four New Monkees. "We have to be better than the old show, because people are going to be making comparisons. The only similarity I would like them to see is that The old show, which ran two seasons on NBC-TV" from 1966 to 1968, was indeed funny - a zany bleed of comic antics, satire, mad scientists and Beatles sound-alike music. It also was a bonanza for Monkees Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork, who scored 24 gold records, and who, minus Nesmith, staged a successful comeback concert tour last summer. The comeback continues with the Monkees scheduled to play Aug. 29 in Marcus Amphitheater.
The new half-hour show, which begins in September on WCGV-TV (Channel 24), is touted as a zany bleed of comic antics, satire, mad scientists and music - winch sounds a lot like the old show. In fact, the creators of the original "Monkees," Bert Schneider and Robert Rafelson, have a hand in its production.
So, what's different?
Well, there are the '80s nuclear-mushroom-clod coiffures. There's also what Ross called the "'80s rock 'n' roll." "We've turned up the guitars a little bit," Ross said during an interview in Channel 24's Milwaukee studio. "The music's similar, but we've turned up the amps a bit. The music has to come to you nowadays."
Fortressed behind impregnable sunglasses, and dipping into a jar of chewable vitamin C, Ross looked like a great deal of music had come to him of late. And no wonder. He had joined his old band, '57 Braves (formerly, the Wigs), in a few songs at Summerfest the sight before. A jam session in a local club ensued, with apparently devastating results.
For several years, the Wigs was a popular New Wave band at clubs in and around Milwaukee, where Ross used to make his home. Its 1981 album "File Under Pop Vocal" was a regional hit. In 1983, Ross and the band moved to the Los Angeles. The Wigs enjoyed modest success there, appearing in the movie "My Chauffeur," and writing songs for "Murphy's Law" and the remake of "Invaders From Mars."
Ross landed a part in "The New Monkees" after its producers saw a tape of the Wigs auditioning for a Kodak commercial. With his departure, the Wigs became the '57 Braves.
But when Ross left the band last October, he did not leave music behind him. "The New Monkees" will air two rock videos on each weekly show. The original -Monkees" also had two music segments, and Monkees biographer Eric Lefcowitz argues in "The Monkees Tale" that the show inspired today's rock videos.
In any case, Ross is itching to wrap his hands around a guitar and rap his fingers on some keyboards. "I love playing!" The New Monkees will indeed play. All are experience' musicians. There's talk of a concert tour late this year or early next. And the fledgling band is cutting an album and a single with Warner Bros. Records, scheduled for release in late August. The single, Ross declared, is "gonna be a powerhouse song."
But the original "Monkees" did not live by music alone, and neither will the 1980s version.
The New Monkees will, in
fact, live in a huge mansion, with countless rooms and hallways, which lead
to "one wacky situation after another." Anything can happen. For instance,
Ross said, "We could be going on an adventure somewhere and be sitting down
in a theater, watching ourselves from inside someone's brain." Or there's a
casserole with a mind of its own - "a casserole from hell," as Ross put it.
"We really work as a team, because they put us in this room and made us," he said. That, by the way, is the same successful formula used to create the original Monkees. "The New Monkees" cattle call audition in New York City last August harked of a similar melee two decades before, which drew the likes of Peter Tork, who was selected, and Stephen Stills, who was destined for other things. Larry Saltis and Dino Kovas of "The New Monkees" were selected through the open auditions in New York. "We're a good cause for world peace," Ross continued, "because we're very, very different individuals and we get along."
Because of his grandfatherly 28 years, Ross will be cast as the older brother type, the guiding hand. Of his television companions, only Kovas, at 21, is old enough to drink legally in California. Chandler, 20, and Saltis, 19, are old enough to chase girls, anyway. "I'm kind of the old guy," Ross said. "I tend to be the one that's more in control." "More in control," however, is a relative term that does not necessarily mean in control. On a "New Monkees" promotional tape, Ross was observed barking like a dog. It was a controlled bark, but a bark nonetheless. "I'm off the map. I'm not off the wall, I'm off the map," he reflected, having jogged his brain with a belt of strong coffee. "I've always had the sense that people need their lives shook up. I was brought here to do it."
If Ross is "off the map,"
then Kovas, a drummer from Dearborn, Mich., is off the planet. If Ross was
put on Earth to shake up peoples' lives, then Kovas was put here to trample
on the pieces.
Shortly before Kovas
auditioned for "The New Monkees" (with 5,000 other aspirants), he was
involved in two automobile accidents in six days. On the promotional tape,
Kovas makes this astute observation: "People are crazy. That's a quote from
me. Just, people are crazy."
Then there's Saltis, the cute one. Young, good-looking, the guitar and keyboard player is the kind of guy it's easy to hate - if he didn't also happen to be "genuinely nice, caring, sincere and soft-spoken," as the show's publicists gush.
Chandler is heralded as "the
James Dean of the '80s," which explains the Herculean pompadour, befitting
his Herculean calling. Bassist Chandler is a computer whiz who surfs. A
brains-and-brawn kind of guy, he's "sometimes even too cool for his own
. "I think for it to take off, they're going to have to come out with a different concept," said Karen Jorgensen, former president of Lovers of David Jones United, a fan club based in Santa Monica, Calif. "People remember the originals, and they don't fly with second-hand copies."
Jorgensen, a 32-year-old Sun Prairie resident, said her club is up in arms over the new show. "They think it's going to take away from the original Monkees." But, she added, she isn't too worried. "Calling them `The New Monkees' is going to kill the project before it starts," said the mother of three ardent Monkees fans. "The old guys are still out there, and the original show is still just as-popular as ever."
Meanwhile, Ross is crossing his fingers. "I hope our show comes across as fresh and innovative, like the original show."