Sunday, March 12, 1989
Written by DAVID WALSTAD
Quote: "FRED DRYER WANTS RESPECT
HIGH RATINGS AREN'T ENOUGH, SAYS THE "HUNTER" STAR. HE'S LOOKING FOR
CRITICAL KUDOS AND ACCEPTANCE AS AN ACTOR, NOT AS AN EX-FOOTBALL
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -
"As far as I'm concerned, Hunter won't be a success until it's a critical success," says the star of
the NBC series. That's the forceful Fred Dryer (Sgt. Rick Hunter) speaking, all 6-foot-6 of him,
so who's to argue? For four years, Dryer has seen his show bypassed in the Emmy nominations,
with recognition going to such fare as L.A. Law, The Equalizer and Thirtysomething. Hunter, a
Stephen J. Cannell production that celebrated its 100th episode last month, consistently ranks
higher in the Nielsen charts than most of its Emmy competition, and recently it reached 10th place
in the weekly ratings.
"Everyone relates a Cannell show to The A-Team," Dryer says. It's a stigma he would gladly be
Hunter has changed for the better since its low-rated first season. In 1984, the sergeant with the
Los Angeles Police Department was little more than a lean, mean killing machine. Critics were
not kind, and compared him unfavorably to Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry.
But Hunter has evolved into a more sophisticated police drama. Executive producer Roy Huggins
(The Rockford Files) brought about the change in seasons two, three and four. This year George
Geiger (Simon & Simon) is in charge.
Perhaps most important to the popularity of the show (Channel 3, Saturdays at 10 p.m.) is that
Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer (Sgt. Dee Dee McCall) make a likable, attractive pair of leads. The
two carry on a platonic relationship in a high-pressure environment. They respect each other.
Their squad-car relationship is as much of the drama as was the case with Cagney & Lacey and
Starsky and Hutch.
Dryer is adamant that Hunter won't tease the audience into thinking Rick and Dee Dee are going
to get romantic. "We're not like Cheers or Moonlighting. Who wants to see two people argue
continuously? "We're not a soap. We're not going to drag the audience along year after year.
Hunter's not going to dance around the issue. If I'm physically attracted to someone, I'll act on it."
Hunter's one serious love interest lasted all of one episode last season. She (Leigh Christian) was
gunned down after a dinner date with Hunter. Dryer says, "I voted to keep her around for five or
six episodes." Why was she knocked off? "They didn't write it right." Supporting cast members
who have survived are Charles Hallahan as the team's boss and Garrett Morris as a street
Hunter's work schedule requires that Dryer and Kramer work almost every day - unlike the
ensemble dramas - and Dryer feels strongly about his commitment to the show. "I want to make
Hunter better. I want to be there." But his devotion does have its consequences.
The actor's ex-wife, model Tracy Vaccaro, once called his long hours with the show a major
problem in their marriage. "Nothing really exists but the show," she said.
Caitlin, their daughter from that marriage, is now 5. Father and daughter were together for a
lOOth-episode celebration complete with Cannell, NBC executives and Los Angeles Mayor Tom
Bradley. "I let Caitlin in on what I do," Dryer says.
On workdays, the blond youngster gets daily phone calls from her dad on the set. She lives with
her mother and occasionally spends weekends at Dryer's West L.A. condo.
Dryer, 42, emphasizes that he wants to be accepted as an actor, not as an ex-football player. He
spent a dozen years in the NFL as a defensive end for the New York Giants and the Los Angeles
Rams and was voted All-Pro twice. "In order for people (in Hollywood) to see you clearly, you
have to kill off that athletic guy inside you," he says.
Dryer's pre-celebrity background includes growing up in Southern California. His father died
when Dryer was a teenager. Before joining the Giants, Dryer played at San Diego State
After a decade of professional football, he wanted to act. While still with the Rams, he took
For a while he had the vagabond lifestyle. He lived in a motorbus, and made repeated trips across
the United States and Canada. His last trip to the Coliseum as a Ram was in 1981. After being
dropped from the team's roster, he aborted a career change as a CBS Sports commentator. Today
he says that if he had wanted only to make money, he would have stuck with broadcasting.
"In 1982,I only made $8,000 from acting. It wasn't enough to say, 'Hey, based on this I should
go on acting.'"
But Dryer eventually landed bits on episodes of Laverne & Shirley, Lou Grant, Hart to Hart, the
mini-series Starmaker and several movies of the week. He and William Devane (Knots Landing)
were finalists for the role of ex-jock/bartender Sam on Cheers. They lost out to the equally
unknown Ted Danson in 1982.
Dryer's working relationship with Hunter honcho Cannell began the next year with the short-lived
The Rousters series. He played a heavy. While playing Hunter, he's also directed four episodes,
including one with Vaccaro.
On the feature-film front, he went on location to Israel in 1986 to produce and star (as a Marine
sergeant) in Death Before Dishonor. Dryer blames the actioner's failure on poor marketing.
When not in front of or behind the camera, he enjoys riding his Harley Davidson, playing golf and
running. When asked if he considers himself in the same league as other athletes turned-actors
such as Ed Marinaro (Hill Street Blues) or Merlin Olsen (Aaron's Way), Dryer replies confidently,
"I hope I don't put myself in a class with anyone."