Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 04/06/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 01:00AM

>Charlie Schlatter

ELDER IDOL

BACK IN THE EARLY '90S, WHEN CHARLIE Schlatter had the title role on NBC's Ferris Bueller, he was downright hip. "It seemed like any guy wearing a Metallica T-shirt would see me and yell, 'Yo, Ferris!' " he says. "I had to sign autographs on something they held up with their black-nail-polished fingers." These days, though, as a star on Diagnosis Murder, Schlatter is performing for a more mature audience. Since CBS cannily scheduled the series against Seinfeld, Diagnosis's legions of viewers over 50 have made it a Top 20 Nielsen's winner and Schlatter a poster boy for the Gray Panther set. "My fans are very polite," says Schlatter, 31, who lives with his wife, Colleen, and 6-month-old daughter, Julia, in L.A. "They say things like, 'You look thin. Are you getting enough to eat?' "

Actually, Schlatter almost didn't get to play Dr. Jesse Travis on Diagnosis. When the network was looking for a replacement for Scott Baio in 1995, executives wanted a Baywatch-type stud. But series star Dick Van Dyke lobbied for Schlatter. "Charlie has this great funny bone with perfect comic timing," says Van Dyke. Since joining Van Dyke's team of sleuthing doctors, Schlatter has come to appreciate his older fans. "When I go to my grandparents' house, and they have friends visiting who are terminally ill, you can totally lift their spirits," he says.

So what, then, if Schlatter's contemporaries don't recognize him? At the gym recently, he told a young man about his TV job. "The next day," says Schlatter, "I saw him, and he said, 'I told my mother I work out next to the guy from Diagnosis Murder. She just loves you! Oh, and she says you need a haircut.' "

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