Now and again there are TV series worth making a fuss over. "Now and Again" is one of those shows, and it's in trouble.
CBS announced the renewals of eight programs last week, but "Now and Again" wasn't on the list.
It's not a flashy series, but a heartfelt show that can morph from comedy to drama to romance depending on the episode. It's smart TV that goes out of its way to surprise viewers.
"Now and Again" tells the story of a man who was killed when he fell into the path of an oncoming New York subway train. The U.S. government, led by Dr. Theodore Morris (Dennis Haysbert), revived Michael Wiseman, gave him a new, younger body and renamed him Michael Newman (Eric Close).
Michael still loves his wife, Lisa (Margaret Collin), and daughter (Heather Matarazzo), who have no idea he's alive. He's forbidden from seeing them under penalty of death, but love finds a way.
"Now and Again," which airs at 9 p.m. Friday on CBS, will broadcast its final episodes of the season over the next four weeks. Will that be the end?
Series creator/executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron ("Moonlighting"), sounded optimistic in a phone call.
"We're doing a big cliffhanger," Caron said. "We're behaving like we're coming back, so I'm hoping we'll come back."
Caron said the Eggman, a villain in the first three episodes of the series, will play a part in the May 5 season finale.
"My impression is the network loves the show, so I was surprised to discover we're 'on the bubble,' but I guess that's where we are," Caron said. "We continue to do well demographically, but we're down a bit in household [ratings]."
Caron said "Now and Again" was given a difficult time slot to begin with and hasn't had a consistent or appropriate lead-in, which may have contributed to ratings erosion in recent months.
Caron wanted to create more serialized stories, but was discouraged by the show's production company.
"Great villains are really hard to create, so it would be wonderful to use them over a series of episodes rather than burn them up in a single episode," Caron said.
He's right. Serialization, which studios hate because they say it diminishes the value of a show in syndication, would make "Now and Again" appointment TV. Without it, this fantasy isn't a must-see.
Though he'd like more serialization, Caron said he's not one to plan elaborate story arcs that span an entire season.
"If you lay out long-term plans, you start contriving things to happen to get you to that place you've predetermined everyone can get to," Caron said. "You don't indulge in long-term planning and have David and Maddie go to bed together at the end of the second season," Caron said, referring to his last series, "Moonlighting." "I'm the Wrong Way Corrigan of long-range planning."
Caron said he doesn't think about that plot twist -- largely regarded as a mistake that doomed "Moonlighting" -- when contemplating the reunion of Michael and Lisa on "Now and Again."
"You're talking to the one guy who still believes that could have been made to work," Caron said about the David-Maddie union. "One of the things that makes ['Now and Again'] powerful is that you see these two people fated to be together, but she has no idea that he's her husband. I love the idea of keeping that mystery alive."
Show your support for "Now and Again" and any other TV favorites in Readers' Remote: Keep or Cancel? our online poll at www.post-gazette.com/tv. Or write to CBS president Leslie Moonves. All network addresses are listed on the Web site under TV Connections.
SUNDAY NIGHT TV: What a tough night it was for viewers this past Sunday. There were too many things worth watching airing at the same time. Here are quickie reviews of the choices:
"Fail Safe" (CBS): The live black-and-white remake of the '60s film went off with few hitches, but I'm still not sure why it had to be live. The gimmick was fun, but the whole thing was so well rehearsed and staged, it didn't feel live.
"The Sopranos" (HBO): The second season finale paled in comparison to the penultimate episode by veering into surreal "Twin Peaks" territory at the expense of surprising plot twists. Still, I can't wait until the third season -- but the wait may be longer than usual. The next season of "The Sopranos" probably won't begin until March 2001 instead of January.
"The X-Files" (Fox): Gillian Anderson wrote and directed the Scully-centric episode, filled with distracting aural cues that represented time passing. Though I'd believe today's Scully might have an affair with a married man, I have a hard time believing the Scully of 10 years ago -- the one we met in the pilot -- would do the same.
"The Practice" (ABC): After some blah episodes -- especially the one where Bobby was held hostage -- the legal drama has returned to fine form.
NO "WONDER": ABC has yanked the medical drama "Wonderland" after only two episodes. A news special will air in its place tonight; "20/20 Downtown" returns next week.
"ON Q" OR ON TRIAL? WQED's "On Q" continues to be a hit or miss affair. The days when it has multiple segments are more lively than some deadly dull in-studio interviews. The three-on-one interview continues to be pretty bland, except this past Monday, when it went to the other extreme.
Chris Moore interrogated Dawn Keezer, Pittsburgh Film Office director, in a seeming ambush. There were merits to his questions about why no Hollywood productions have come to town since last year's "Wonder Boys," but it came off as a personal assault as he continually referenced what his "friends" in local film workers' unions told him. Friends can be sources, but they shouldn't be the only sources. It's also possible to ask tough questions without being combative.
Hosts Carol Lee Espy and Stacy Smith had few opportunities to ask questions of their own and seemed as surprised -- and uncomfortable -- as Keezer at Moore's strident approach.
If Moore wanted a debate, why not invite a union representative on the show?
This saber rattling created news -- the Post-Gazette followed with an article -- but it also displayed a lack of unity in the "On Q" ranks.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.