HOLLYWOOD -- Law suits are still flying between Valerie Harper and Lorimar TV over her departure from 'Valerie,' but actress Sandy Duncan is steering clear of the fracas.
The diminutive Duncan has taken over the lead in the series, retitled this year as 'Valerie's Family.'
Duncan is playing surrogate mother to the TV family as a former sister-in-law of the departed Harper, whose character was killed off in an automobile accident.
Hollywood speculated on how the show would fare this year with Duncan in the lead. Would Harper be missed? Would viewers rebel?
Answer: Ratings are higher than ever.
Duncan is proud that the ratings suggest she is doing a good job, but she refuses to be drawn into the controversy between Harper and Lorimar.
'I didn't know there was going to be a controversy to begin with,' Duncan said in a recent interview at a restaurant in Beverly Hills.
'The story I got before I agreed to do the show was that Valerie had left the series. At that time I was involved in a development deal with NBC for another situation comedy,' she said. 'Then Lorimar called Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC, and said I was at the top of their list to replace Valerie.
'I had never seen the show, so I watched eight episodes and liked it. I liked Valerie in her role and I liked the series itself. It was well written, soft, low-key and funny. So I agreed to play the role of Sandy Hogan.
'The problems between Valerie and Lorimar have nothing to do with me. Valerie and I have known each other for years. And while we were never friends, we were friendly. And I'm relieved to know she has told people the dispute is not my problem. I refuse to be on the hot seat.'
Duncan had already decided to move to Hollywood from New York, where she had spent a decade working in the theater, most recently starring in 'My One and Only.'
Married for nine years to New York actor Don Correia and the mother of two sons, the Texas-born actress is at home on both coasts. She appeared on Broadway early in her career and came to Hollywood in 1971 to star in the TV series 'Funny Face,' a bomb. But she returned in 'The Sandy Duncan Show' the following year.
'It was really a sequel,' Duncan said, laughing. 'They fixed up all that was wrong with 'Funny Face' and it was awful.
'I love living in Manhattan. It's a great place to raise babies, but now that my boys are a little older I want them to grow up in the sunshine, play in a back yard, swim and all that good stuff.
'Then after six or seven years I want to go back to New York so they can enjoy their teens in the real world where they will have more flexibility and independence.'
Duncan said she had no trouble adjusting to the cast and crew of 'Valerie's Family,' although she was a bit concerned on her first day on the set.
'I was a bit nervous,' she said. 'I didn't know if there would be torn loyalties. But after three days I felt warm and comfortable. Now they even tease me a little bit.
'It wasn't hard for me to get into character because the woman I play is a school guidance counselor, which is what I was going to play in the sitcom we were talking about at NBC. The Sandy I play is the Sandy I am. She's outspoken and not afraid to throw her weight around.
'I have a six-year contract with Lorimar and I would like to have this series go another six years before I go back to Broadway. And if this doesn't work out, NBC still wants to go ahead with the other show.
'There is some dispute about the title 'Valerie's Family.' So Lorimar is talking about changing it. I suggested making it 'Broad of the Week,' but I don't think they'll go for it.'