Safe Harbor

Jim 1990s

Aired: 1999 (The WB)Safe Harbor

DAD: John Loring (Gregory Harrison)/Widower

DAD’S JOB: Sheriff in Magic Beach, Florida

KIDS: Hayden (Christopher Khayman Lee) (16), Turner (Jeremy Lelliott) (14), Jeff (Jamie Williams) (12), Jamie Martin (Chyler Leigh)(15)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – Boating “Accident” (no points for quoting Richard Dreyfuss here…) – actually killed by a bomb meant for Dad.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Grandma Loring (Rue McClanahan)/grandmother

Brenda “7th Heaven” Hampton created this show about a Florida sheriff and his three boys and a (formerly) runaway “daughter.”

After the pilot episode was filmed, the WB flushed some of the first bunch of kids (4 boys) and replaced them with the 3+1 ensemble. Oh, and there’s Jeff’s “cosmic twin” buddy Chris (Orlando Brown) who was born on the same day as Jeff – but he pretty much is a pal and not a family member. Kinda like Boner on “Family Ties.”

News I’m getting from some folks in Aaron Spelling’s production company is that Orlando Brown’s part of Chris was recast as an African American character to defuse charges of an all-white fall season.

Mr. Harrison and Ms. McClanahan did retain their jobs after the Purge, but the series went waay behind schedule.

The weird backdrop to this show is that Gregory Harrison starred in an EXTREMELY similar program in 1990 called “The Family Man” – also with three sons and a daughter. Al Molinaro played the Rue McClanahan role.

After watching the pilot episode, I became convinced this show was doomed to a November retirement unless the writing improved substantially. In the pilot, Dad supposedly had an aversion to water after his wife’s death, and couldn’t talk about it with his kids. Inside of a one-hour episode, he forgets about his fear of boats, captures his wife’s murderer, and completely opens himself up to talking about Mom with the boys. The internal structure of the show held possibilities, but the writing left the actors with nothing to work with, and that’s Trouble.

The second episode seemed to confirm the death-spiral nature of this show’s future. The characters were adrift, the storylines were detached (grandma is dating a 32-year-old bullfighter – so what?), and the plots were made of elements no 7th Heaven-fan would watch (in the second episode, an Alex Mack-lookalike joins the cast to escape her sexually-molesting father). This show had less of a future than Meego ever did.

Still, being on opposite Monday Night Football, Ally McBeal, Law & Order, and Everybody Loves Raymond probably didn’t help much, either.

Here’s the WB’s blurb on the show: From Brenda Hampton, the creator and executive producer of The WB’s highest-rated series, “7th Heaven,” comes a heartfelt new drama about an unconventional family that will similarly touch the hearts and minds of viewers.

Gregory Harrison (“Trapper John, M.D.”) returns to series television as widower John Loring, the local sheriff of a quaint seaside town, Magic Beach, Florida, who has his hands full raising a brood of soon-to-be men. Part drill sergeant, part den mother, part loan officer, John is lent a hand in their upbringing by his eccentric mother (Emmy Award winner Rue McClanahan, “The Golden Girls”), who houses the entire family under the roof of the Magic Beach Motel, a beachfront property that now has a permanent “No Vacancy” sign in the window. The widow of a Catskills magician, Grandma has a never-ending supply of tricks up her sleeve, but ultimately she wishes she could make her family’s pain disappear as they deal with the recent loss of John’s wife.

The testosterone-laden household is led by sixteen-year-old Hayden (newcomer Christopher Khayman Lee) who is the quintessential all-American boy, with the added allure of actually living in a motel. Right on his heels on the path to manhood is 14-year-old Turner (Jeremy Lelliott, “Jack”), a genius and steadfast non-conformist with a flair for the radical.

Twelve-year-olds Jeff (Jamie Williams, “Rudyard Kippling’s The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo”) and Chris (Orlando Brown, “Two of a Kind”) are lifelong best friends, but remain convinced they are “cosmic twins” since they were born on the same day in the same town – never mind that it was to different parents and Chris is African-American. Chris’ father, the Assistant D.A. in Magic Beach and a good friend of John’s, doesn’t seem to mind that his son practically lives with the Lorings.

Rounding out the inhabitants under the motel’s brightly colored roof is the most recent addition, Jamie Martin (newcomer Chyler Leigh), a 15-year-old runaway whose high-powered family has done her more harm than good.

Filmed on location in Jacksonville, Fla., the series was created by Hampton, who also serves as executive producer along with Aaron Spelling and E. Duke Vincent (“7th Heaven,” “Charmed,” “Beverly Hills, 90210”). The family drama is produced by Spelling Television.

Update 9-7-99: Alert Viewer Alana noted that Jeremy Lelliott, the young actor playing Turner, was also in the original pilot and was not part of the summer purge. Lucky Jeremy!

A flap of the Hop Sing Memorial Apron to Alana ( for the info about Jeremy Lelliott’s employment status. Thanks, Alana!

Update 11-30-99: True to form, the WB is dumping Safe Harbor, starting by swapping its position with 7th Heaven “Beginnings” – the Rerun Show. Reports from cast members indicate that, despite some organized viewer campaigns, the show is scrapped.

What killed Safe Harbor? It wasn’t the ratings – they were going up each week, and retaining more than half the 7th Heaven lead-in audience. The basic reason the WB abandoned Harbor is because it didn’t fit into their plan of 2-hour nightly show blocks – proven audience retainers in the Buffy / Angel franchise, and the 7th Heaven / 7th Heaven : Beginnings saga.