It is 3:45 p.m. before Harris Yulin can finally break free for lunch. He started today's taping of the new CBS-TV show "WIOU" at 7 a.m. and will go well into the night.But this is clearly a labor of love for Yulin, a veteran Shakespearean actor who hopes the month-old show about life in a TV newsroom can dent the 10 p.m. EST Wednesday time slot long dominated by NBC's "Hunter."
"This show and this role are rife with possibilities," said Yulin, who plays a pompous, leering, groping but also hard-driving local anchorman. "The guy's position as an anchor on TV means he's in contact with much of what goes on in our culture. So there are hundreds of issues that can be touched on - that's the nature of TV news."
Yulin's anchor character has the pomposity, but little else, in common with fictional anchormen of the past, like Ted Knight's Ted Baxter character on the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" or Jack Nicholson's "Broadcast News" character.
"Neal Frazier may or may not become an institution like Ted Baxter was," says Yulin. "But he won't be very similar. Our story ideas have Neal speaking to issues. He has a commentary that may or may not be a part of that week's storyline."
And unlike the insecure Baxter, who perpetually feared he was about to be axed, Yulin's character is on the make.
"Frazier was once a network correspondent, he was raised as a journalist, so we sometimes take him out of the newsroom," Yulin said.
The Frazier character will be almost perpetually in conflict with his nominal boss, the news director.
Describing Frazier's attitude toward his youthful boss, Yulin steals a line from the late CBS News correspondent Bill Stout, who finished out his career as a local TV commentator in Los Angeles.
During a political controversy over whether retarded adults should be sterilized, Stout once wisecracked, "If they sterilize all the retarded people, where is the next generation of news directors going to come from?"
"I want the character to be contradictory," Yulin says. "That way he can put his hand on a woman's thigh (as he did in two memorable scenes from the first episode) but still be a responsible journalist. It'll be a way of recognizing that people's private lives sometimes have nothing to do with their public lives."
One thing for sure, the private Yulin, 52, is nothing at all like the public Neal Frazier. True, his eyebrows rise and fall just as much in person as they do on camera and his eyes are quite capable of leering.
"But there's no way I can comport myself in quite the same way Neal does," Yulin said. "It would be frowned upon." Not by a wife, for Yulin is divorced, but by some internal monitor.
And yet, Yulin understands and sympathizes with his character, who tries to mollify his wife with a mink coat after a camera catches him groping an attractive woman colleague. "I appreciate his need," grins Yulin. "And his taste."
Why does a Shakespearean actor take on a role like Neal Frazier after succeeding in the New York Shakespeare Festival with parts like Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and title roles in both "Richard III" and "King John?"
"When I saw the script, I thought this was some of the best writing for television I've ever come across," says Yulin, a Los Angeles native who trained in New York and Europe. "So this is a lot of fun to do. And one always hopes for more opportunities."
For his sort of character, the realistic Yulin knows, "A really good script is going to go to Jack Nicholson first right now. Maybe if we succeed here, some of those will come to me. Maybe I'll get a chance to direct something important. It was never my aim to be a series regular - this was the first TV pilot I ever made. But my feeling about the writing and the atmosphere here has always been good."
Yulin says he's just as interested in what "WIOU" might do to help create a thoughtful public as in what it might do for him.
"I think the one thing TV news does not do is present a dialectic," he says. "I think maybe we can present opposing points of view powerfully when we touch on issues that might be important. If we do, then we're serving a good purpose. But I also know that TV networks are never comfortable with controversy."