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September 15, 1999 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-15

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14 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Creative,
namic
stones

Former 'Melrose' vixen
stars in drama 'Profiler'

reappear
e Wahington Post.
With the surprising popularity of the
summertime quiz show "Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire," it might be tempting
to envision next-millennium television
as a variety of game shows broken up by
the news magazine programs proliferat-
ing throughout the prime-time network
schedule.
Bt as the final television season of
the 1900s gets into full swing this week,
a different, if short-term, vision appears.
The Storytellers are back
They are the creative and dynamic
forces behind programs, the ones who
generally work under the titles of creator
and eecutive producer.
Several of network television's best
have programs on this season's prime-
time schedule, giving the fall season a
sense ofnarrative drive-and occasion-
al ofrginality.
Soert of these producers and creators
have programs on the air from seasons
past and, yes, some cloning has been
going-on.
But judging from a preview of avail-
able pilot episodes, the season's dramas
and comedies offer some new ideas and
new settings, giving curious viewers a
variety of plots and twists from which to
choose.
One-fall program that has attracted
favorable comment from advertising
buyers and critics is the Washington-
baseddrama "The West Wing"
The series has as well-credentialed a
creator-executive producer team as you
could want.
John Wells, the executive producer of
"ER,"one oftelevision's most successful
current dramas, is teamed with creator-
executive producer Aaron Sorkin, who
gave television one of last season's most
praised new shows, "Sports Night."
Sorkin's distinct writing pattern -
his work on "Sports Night" totally
abandoned the set-up, punch-line
cadence of half-hour comedy - is
brought to bear here in dialogue that
may sget under some viewers' skin. One
such scene is part of the pilot episode in
which Martin Sheen, as the president,
skewers a group of religious conserva-

Los Angeles Times
Jamie Luner was filming a movie in Alabama when
she heard about the chance to become the title character
in the NBC drama "Profiler." Unable to fly back to Los
Angeles to meet the show's producers, the one-time
"Melrose Place" vixen went to a local video outlet and
shot an audition tape, asking one of the store's employees
to feed her lines.
"I actually got it to Federal Express in the nick of
time," Luner says.
Having sufficiently impressed the producers and NBC,
Luner is replacing Ally Walker in the program's central
role - that of an FBI profiler working for the bureau's
Violent Crimes Task Force. Walker, who had asked to
leave the show, appears in the first two episodes to set up
the switch.
Luner plays Rachel Burke, a former prosecutor who
moves to the FBI. Her first assignment is to try to locate
Waters, who disappeared in last season's cliffhanger
finale.
Though few series successfully have changed leads in
this manner, executive producer Stephen Kronish is hop-
ing fans of the show accustomed to Walker's character of
Samantha Waters will continue tuning in because they
enjoy the program's format and storytelling, not just its
star.
"There's no question any time you make a change like
this it carries with it some risks," he says. "(But) Ally has
been very cooperative in making this transition. We can
do it in a way that feels organic to the show."
Because Burke isn't burdened by the same emotional
baggage as her predecessor - whose husband was slain
by a serial killer she was hunting - Kronish thinks the
producers can lighten the show's overall tone. He also
intends to offer more detail regarding the characters,
which include Robert Davi, Roma Maffia, Julian
McMahon and George Fraley as the task force mem-
bers.
"Look, it's never going to be 'thirtysomething,' " he
says. "We do hope to be able to explore more aspects of,

the other characters' lives. If it's unrenittingly grit,
you're asking the atdience to nork too hard.'
As for Litner, her new on-scrcei persont pros ide',
vehicle allowing her to 'diversify .t little bit in the public
eye," she says, after plying back-to-back femie fatales
in two Aaron Spelling soaps: Peytton in the short-lived
WB network series "Saxannihs" followed by her stint as
"Melrose's" scheming Levi.
After being part of those large ensemble casts, Loner
finds herself adjusting to the rigors of standing center
stage. "It's amazing the hours you pull when you're the
lead of a show," she says.
The WB had sought to develop its own new program
around Luner, but that deal fell through; still, the actre.*
had no qualms about joining "Profiler" under less than
ideal circumstances - in essence, trying to board a mov-
ing train.
"You just go where the work takes you," she says, con-
ceding that the rapid pace of events has left her little time
to research her role or gain a clear fix on where it's head-
ing.
Asked about the series' path this year, she says, "I
don't know much, actually. They're sort of figuring it out
as they go along."
A Los Angeles native, Luner grew up around shoe
business, deciding she wanted to act early on. Her moth-
er and former manager, Susan, currently works as a tal-
ent coordinator on the syndicated "Donny & Marie"
show. Luner appeared in the sitcoms "Growing Pains"
and "Just the Ten of Us" while still attending Beverly
Hills High.
According to Kronish, Luner has proven a good fit
thus far, able to project the strength and intelligence nec-
essary to pull off her character.
As for those who might question whether many FBI
agents chasing serial killers look quite as fetching in
negligee - the attire Luner frequently sported o
"Melrose" and "Savannah" - the actress just laughs.
"Oh come on," she says. "It's television."
"Profiler" begins its fourth season Saturday on NBC.

Courtesy of Toucstone
Sorkin, who wrote for the praised "Sports Night," is working on "The West Wing."

tives with what' at first seems to be a
light-hearted anecdote.
But Sorkin promises the show will not
be politically one-sided. "Enjoyment of
the show won't depend on how a viewer
feels about politics," he said recently.
"There will be characters who can argue
all sides of an issue."
Meanwhile, Wells gives the White
House, with its many staffers and min-
ions working on a set borrowed from
"The American President," a sense of
urgency and importance on a scale with
the work of the "ER." In this- case, the
blood on the floor is figurative.
And no, there won't be an intern.
Here are some other creators and
executive producers offering fall shows:
David E. Kelley, creator of "The
Practice," "Chicago Hope," "Picket
Fences" and "Ally McBeal," this season
offers "Snoops" on ABC.
Edward Zwick and Marshall
Herskovitz, creators of the critically
acclaimed series "thirtysomething" and
"My So-Called Life," are executive pro-
ducers and co-creators of ABC's "Once
and Again."
Glenn Gordon Caron, who created
"Moonlighting" after writing and pro-
ducing the first 10 episodes of

"Remington Steele," is the executive
producer, director and writer of CBS'
"Now and Again."
Chris Carter, creator of"The X-Files,"
this season offers "Harsh Realm" on
Fox.
Paul Haggis, the man behind quirky
"Due South" and the densely plotted
"EZ Streets," this season heads the more
conventional "Family Law" on CBS.
Christopher Keyser and Amy
Lippman, from "Party of Five," are the
creators and executive producers of
"Time of Your Life" on Fox.
Judd Apatow, executive producer of
NBC's new "Freaks and Geeks," helped
write and later co-executive produced
"The Larry Sanders Show."
Two producers extend their franchis-
es. Dick Wolf of "Law & Order" has
"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,"
which will feature some cross-casting
between Wolf's NBC series.
And "ER's" Wells ofters "Third
Watch," an NBC series centered on
emergency personnel.
Later in the season on CBS, Stephen
Bochco, producer of "NYPD Blue,"
"L.A. Law" and "Hill Street Blues," will
offer "City of Angels," set at an inner-
city emergency hospital.

'Slight Case' has substance

A !li ° ~
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The Breakfast Club
The Kiss-Hotel DeVille Hokusais Wave
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Wednesday-Frida
September 15-17 Bob Marley
Re the Riveter M ichigan
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Ground Floor
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Visa, MasterCard &
Photos 00 AmEx Accepted Dr Ev
Van Gogh's Starry Night
BelushN

Newsday
Love those old movies? Especially
the high-contrast film noirs, with their
seedy private detectives, devious
femmes fatale, rain-slick streets and
double-cross twists'?
So does movie critic Terry Thorpe.
And so do the folks who placed him at
the heart of the delicious, "Columbo"-
like comic suspenser "A Slight Case of
Murder," debuting on TNT Sunday
night.
A light touch makes this "Slight
Case" more substantial than most of the
would-be noir homage flicks, which
can get bogged down in their reverence.
Not only does Sunday's script by star
William H. Macy and director Steven
Schachter (adapted from the Donald E.
Westlake novella "A Travesty") refrain
from beating us over the head with too
many overt noir references, but it mis-
chievously concedes the ones it makes.
Why not? Macy's complex Thorpe
character teaches a film class. He can
ask the students to consider why it's
always nighttime and raining.
He can bond with investigating
police detective Adam Arkin by
answering whether it was Raymond
Massey or Basil Rathbone in "The
Pearl of Death."
He can explain his initial reaction to
Arkin's bombshell wife, Julia
Campbell, by saying she looks like the
cover of a 1943 Liberty magazine.
The references are specific enough
that they aren't just referential, they
reflect and propel the story. And they're
updated, too.
"Don't worry," Macy confides to the
creatively peeping camera (which even
gets to play that subjective point-of-
view trick from Robert Montgomery's
noir gem "Lady in the Lake").
"I know this looks like a scene out of
'Notorious.' I'm not Claude Rains. I'm
more like John Cassavetes in
'Rosemary's Baby."'
No, he's more like William H. Macy,
that treasure of indie films like "Fargo"
(he played the scheming car salesman),
"Boogie Nights" (Little Bill) and

courtesy of Gramercy Pictures
William . Macy, seen here in "Fargo,"
wrote the first script for "Slight Case."
"Searching for Bobby Fischer", not to
mention such TV turns as "ER" (Dr.
Morgenstern) and "Bakersfield, PD."
(the deranged cable system employee
who took the captain hostage). Macy's
greatness is that he's casually calculat-
ing and comic, chaotic and calm, lik-
able and loathable.
Maybe it's that Midwestern face,
exploited to its fullest in "Fargo," the
red hair, blue eyes and pale skin of an
ambiguous everyguy, who just happens
in "Slight Case" to have committed a
murder.
Or was it an accident? Does it mat-
ter?
Macy does the movie thing anyway,
and scrambles to conceal his contact
with the victim. This, of course, snow-
balls. Before long, he's playing
"Columbo" by helping Arkin and his
short-fuse partner, James Pickens Jr.,
try to solve the cranky case.
Ah, but then there's James Cromwell,
as that ever-too-present private eye.
Cromwell's lanky figure - so pas-
toral in "Babe," so loose-limbed in
"Star Trek: First Contact" - is loom-
ing here. Boy, does he wear a hat well.
He's an ominous '40s refugee, whose

office still has a transom over the doo .
But blackmail sums have gone up, of
course, to keep pace with inflation.
Macy's whole '90s world has that
new/vintage flavor..Cab driver Vincent
Pastore (the beloved Pussy on "The
Sopranos") is an old Warner Bros. sup-
porting player, except he wants to cri-
tique "L.A. Confidential" vs.
"Titanic." (You know which wins.)
Girlfriend Felicity Huffman ("Sport,
Night," and Macy's wife) is watchi4*
"The Thin Man" on TV when the sub-
ject of That Murder comes up in bed
between them.
Yet - and this is the key - they
behave in recognizably '90s ways.
Except for Cromwell's outright
homage, they're modern folks living an
old story in a contemporary style.
Arkin's cop, for instance, is much more
laid-back than those boring-in officer.
of old.
And he's got a very contemporary
hobby into which Macy gets roped. (No
spoilers!) Besides that, one key twist
involves spotting a central character on
TV Another features dueling faxes.
"This is hard!" confides Macy to his
co-conspirators, who would be us.
"I have a newfound respect for
actors."
And I have one for screenwriters, at
least when they're this deft. "A Slighl
Case of Murder" is a crackerjack sue
penser and comedy. Moments of hilari-
ty mix with several of true menace.
You don't know whether to laugh or
cringe at Macy's most outlandish efforts
on his own behalf. Just when you think
you know how far he'll go, he goes fur-
ther - or retreats a few paces.
"Now I'm the first to admit," he
comments, "my moral position is a bit
tenuous."
But so is ours. Who're we cheerin
for? Macy, the cutthroat critic? Really.
His crimes are piling up.
But he's taken us into his confidence.
Arkin, the unyielding investigator?
He's so stolid, so dull, so dumb.
Or is he? The final twist is a doozy.
Too bad this isn't "Columbo." I'm
ready for next week's episode.

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