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'Martial Law' offers viewers lighter fare

Sunday, August 15, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

When CBS's "Martial Law" returns this fall it's going to be an entirely new chop-sockey show.

Creator and executive producer Carlton Cuse is out, returning to his other series, "Nash Bridges."

Who's running the show now? The same executive producers who gave "Diagnosis Murder" a much-needed tune-up, Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. These are the guys who ramped up the stunt casting on the Dick Van Dyke mystery show, reuniting old TV casts, convincing Kathie Lee Gifford to shoot Regis Philbin and lampooning the network TV industry.

"Diagnosis Murder" may never have been confused for a hip show, but it was a lot more interesting once Goldberg and Rabkin took over. Now they hope to inject fun in the second season of "Martial Law" where they've taken over as show runners.

  TV Preview: 'Martial Law'

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday on CBS (reruns).

Starring: Sammo Hung, Arsenio Hall.


"After 100 episodes of 'Diagnosis Murder' we were afraid we were going to get tired, and we wanted new challenges," Goldberg said. "We were fans of 'Martial Law,' but felt the show hadn't reached its potential. The acting was there, but they were doing 'T.J. Hooker' stories with Sammo in the Shatner part."

"Last year we sat around frustrated with 'Martial Law' and talked about how we wished we were doing it," Rabkin said. "We felt the stories could be as much fun as the martial arts were."

The pair wrote a pilot for CBS called "Hong Kong" that didn't fly, but the network honchos liked the script and they were brought aboard "Martial Law." Their plan is to remake the show as "a throwback in the best sense of the word," Goldberg said, citing "Wild Wild West," "Maverick" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." as inspirations.

"In a way we're starting from scratch," Goldberg said. "We're going back to the notion that Sammo is a fish out of water. He got way too comfortable and fit in way too well with America and the LAPD. And we won't pretend he's a perfect speaker of the English language. We'll have fun with the fact he's out of place."

While the show will see changes this fall, CBS is beginning a push for the series this week (a la last year's "JAG"-a-thon), airing reruns Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m.

"We want to build on what was successful and jettison what wasn't," Goldberg said. That includes two of the show's regulars. Tom Wright, who played Capt. Benjamin Winship, and Louis Mandylor, Sammo's original sidekick LAPD detective Louis Malone, are out.

The show will become more of a buddy cop show pairing Sammo Law (Sammo Hung) and Terrell Parker (Arsenio Hall), with Hall's character reshaped to be like Eddie Murphy in the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies.

"Last year Arsenio played a publicist who became a detective, which immediately emasculated the character from the start," Rabkin said. "He spent the whole season saying, 'Sammo you're so great,' and then getting the gun kicked out of his hand. He wasn't Sammo's equal."

And Hall won't be doing martial arts.

"It's silly to have someone doing it next to Sammo when they're not as good as Sammo," Rabkin said.

"And not everybody and his dog in L.A. will be a martial artist," Goldberg said. "And Sammo won't win every fight he's in. He's not Superman."

Grace Chen (Kelly Hu) will get a makeover as well, burning her business suits in favor of body-hugging leather, an Emma Peel for the millennium, Goldberg said. "We want women to want to dress like her and men to want to sleep with her."

Another female character, played by newcomer Gretchen Egolf, will be added to the cast.

A new set will be built as "Martial Law" moves into studio space vacated by "Babylon 5." Don't expect any ghosts from that show to influence Goldberg and Rabkin, who weren't "B5" fans.

"This show won't be one writer with delusions of godhood holed up in a closet writing all the scripts," Goldberg said. "We're going to have a writing staff."

Those writers will be expected to bring a lighter tone to the new season, too. Escapist entertainment is in; episodes about illegal immigrant women whose babies are stolen and sold into slavery are out.

Goldberg encourages those who want dark, depressing, dismal stories to tune into NBC's "The Pretender." The new and allegedly improved "Martial Law" is intended to be a clear alternative.

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