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September 14, 1999 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-14

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14 --The Michigan Daily -- Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Older actors return to TV during new fall season

Los Angeles Times
"I think certainly there is a prevailing atti-
tude in a lot of television that if you are over
24, your face shouldn't be on the airwaves,"
confesses Chris Thompson, creator and exec-
utive producer of two new comedies: CBS'
"Ladies Man" and Fox's "Action."
But Thompson is refusing to listen to the
"prevailing" attitude.
"I've got the two oldest stars in
Hollywood," he says referring to the fact he
cast veteran sitcom star Betty White in
"Ladies Man" and the legendary comic
Buddy Hackett in "Action."
"Both Betty and Buddy are in their 70s,
but they are as sharp and quick (as ever),"
says Thompson. "The timing is dead on
there. They can no longer give the greatest
pratfall in the world, but that's row what you
are looking for."
In fact, says Thompson, he loves going to a
run-through of "Ladies Man," in which
White plays the caustic mother of series star,
Alfred Molina.
"She's a laugh magnet," he says. "She
knows everything. It is actually sort of intim-
idating working with Betty. You know if that

line doesn't work, it is your fault."
White and Hackett, who plays the uncle of
a high-powered Hollywood producer in
"Action," aren't the only familiar series faces
popping up on TV this fall. In his first series
gig since "MASH" went off the airwaves 16
years ago,. Alan Alda is returning to doctor's
scrubs as an attending physician on a five-
part stint on "ER."
Dixie Carter, who played Julia Sugarbaker
on "Designing Women," is a regular on CBS'
new legal drama, "Family Law," and a recur-
ring character on "Ladies Man."
Multi-Emmy-winner Tyne Daly plays Amy
Brenneman's mother on the new CBS drama,
"Judging Amy."
Rue McClanahan, who was the sex
obsessed divorcee on "The Golden Girls," is
playing the mother of widower Gregory
Harrison in WB's new family drama, "Safe
And Swoosie Kurtz ("Sisters") and David
Ogden Stiers ("MASH") play a snobby rich
couple on the new CBS comedy "Love &
Considering the new season boasts one too
many new youth series, it's a breath of fresh

air to see these pros given the opportunity to
strut their stuff.
And the producers are thrilled to be able to
give these actors a chance to shine.
"I am having the time of my life with a cast
of veterans," says Thompson. "People who
are so knowledgeable about their craft. It is
such a joy to go through a run-through and
see people who are not fumbling, or search-
ing for the line. Directing this is the easiest
job in Hollywood."
"I haven't work with a lot of young actors,
but there is nothing to replace, not just the
stage and screen experience, but the life
experience these people can bring to a part,"
says Barbara Hall ("I'll Fly Away"), an exec-
utive producer of "Judging Amy."
Hall hadn't previously worked with Daly,
who won Emmys for "Cagney & Lacey" and
But when the actress read the part of
Brenneman's mother, Hall says, she com-
pletely embodied the role.
"I suddenly even got a better sense of who
this person is," she says. "She is an incredi-
ble actress, but she also has this energy and
spirit. Tyne can bring wisdom to the.part you

can't get anywhere else."
Hall also says casting a popular TV star such
as Daly helps bring viewers to a new series.
"I think that people respond to her," she
says. "I think people of all ages respond to
great acting and a lot of times great acting
comes with experience and time."
Paul Haggis ("Due South"), creator and
executive producer of "Family Law" was ini-
tially worried about casting Dixie Carter as
an outrageous, cutthroat attorney. He was
concerned that Julia Sugarbaker was too
entrenched in viewers' minds.
"That's why I wanted her to read the char-
acter," he explains.
"But I forgot completely about Miss
Sugarbaker (when she auditioned).
I saw the character as I had written it. She
made a truly outrageous character, complete-
ly believable. She is a woman who exudes
power and control. You don't want to cross
Besides, says Haggis, Carter is "gorgeous. You
put her in a scene and she's strikingly beautiful."
Though "ER" is Alda's first series in 16
years, he doesn't believe he is "returning" to
series TV.

"You have to excuse me, but I don't th
it is coming back," he says.
"I know everybody else will talk abou
as such. But for me, it is the ncxt itntercst
thing (to do). So it really didn't stat
whether or not people had seen me on prir
time television lately. It didn't enter into
What I thought about was, 'Would it be
to do? Would I be able to make a co~l
tion?' That seemed really exciting to
These people are just terrific to work w'
They have been extraordinarily kind t
warm in their welcome."
Though the past wasn't written for Al
says executive producer Lydia Woodw
the actor was someone who fit their critet
"We wanted a really distinguished guy
this character. That is clearly what Alan A
is. He has had an incredible career."
Woodward says "ER" was thril
agreed to do the series.
"He doesn't do a lot of television,"
says. Though Woodward acknowledgs
participation will bring his fans to the ser
Alda wasn't hired to bolster ratings. "It a
more that we had this idea for a story arc I
a character we thought was interesting."

Read the Daily.

Producers develop influential show

Los Angeles Times
Some writers are lured to television by fame and
fortune, others want to reach the masses - those
large audiences that only a prime-time network
series can deliver. And then some simply want to
work with Marshall and Ed.
That would be Marshall Herskovitz and Edward
Zwick, creators and executive producers of the
new ABC series, "Once & Again."
Starring Sela Ward ("Sisters") as a woman
going through a separation, who begins dating a
divorced man, played by Bill Campbell ("The
Rocketeer"), the series explores the ripple effect
of that relationship - on their respective children,
former spouses and friends. The Bedford Falls
Company, Zwick and Herskovitz's production
entity, produces the show in association with
Touchstone Television.
The longtime partners have carved out a not
completely enviable niche within TV - critically
acclaimed, literate shows that haven't drawn big
Their first and longest-running show was the
ground-breaking "thirtysomething," which
debuted in 1987. They were also behind the short-
lived, but influential "My So-Called Life" (1994),
and "Relativity" (1996), in addition to both direct-
ing feature films.
In building a stable of writers for the new show,
lerskovitz says that what unites them is talent:
"They come from different walks of life and have
different views of things, but talent is just so

The pair are working once again with Richard
Kramer, who wrote for "thirtysomething" and
"My So-Called Life," as well as adapting.,
Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City."
He has known Zwick and Herskovitz for 20
years and says that what they are dedicated to is
"selecting writers whose individual voices they
find interesting and unique, and encouraging that
writer to be most himself, even if it's at the sacri-
fice of sounding less like them."
- "My So-Called Life" creator Winnie Holzman,
a writer whose collaboration with them goes back
nearly a decade, also is writing for them again.
Holzman gaot her start by penning a "thirtysome-
thing" spec script.
Another "thirtysomething"/"My So-Called
Life" veteran who re-enlisted to work on "Once &
Again" is Liberty Godshall, Zwick's wife.
"I managed to browbeat or entice her into writ-
ing for us," he says. "She knows where the bodies
are buried."
They originally hired Jan Oxenberg for
"Relativity," who then went on to "Chicago Hope."
Her combination of "acerbic" humor and "a very
nonsaccharine view of life," says Herskovitz, are
what made them eager to bring her back to write
for the new show.
For "Once & Again," several writers have made
the leap from writing half-hour comedy to the
hourlong format. Alexa Junge, a writer and pro-
ducer on "Friends," and Dan and Sue Paige, who
created "Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane," which aired

on the WB last season, have joined the seri
extensive writing pool. The Paiges have found
move to dramatic writing fairly painless, in I
due to the connection they've felt with Zwick i
It is not uncommon in television to recruit fr
the theater. It is uncommon for that recruit to bc
accomplished as Donald Margulies, an oft-p
duced playwright who has twice been nomina
for the Pulitzer Prize in drama. Zwic#
Herskovitz's desire to work with him goes back
the "thirtysomething" years. He has writte;
Thanksgiving episode for "Once & Again."
Another playwright they've long wanted to w
with is Michael Weller. Zwick says that Weller
plays such as "Moonchildren," "was among
first to try to explore what this generation's vc
sounded like and how it distinguished itself ft
the generations preceding it."
A relative newcomer is Pamela Gray, a
writer whose work includes the 1999 rele
Walk on the Moon" and the upcoming "Music
the Heart." Gray's initial aspirations were to w
for a television series, but she found it veryiit
It was only after her feature writing career t
off and she happened to meet Zwick at an aws
ceremony, that she wound up writing for "One
Zwick and Herskovitz's ability in persuac
such formidable writers to work with theme
their reputations for fostering the work oW






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