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ABC comedy spins off Charlie Sheen's bad-boy reputation

Tuesday, July 18, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- He's a bad boy who's a good guy. That will be the spin on ABC's "Spin City" this fall when Charlie Sheen takes over for Michael J. Fox.

Sheen's Charlie Owen character, who has a past that's landed him in gossip columns, is trying to make the best of a second chance when he replaces Mike Flaherty (Fox) as deputy mayor. The art-imitating-life aspect of the character is intentional, Sheen said.

"To ignore the reality of the kind of lifestyle I led at one time -- for a long time -- I think would be a bit of a disservice to the show, to potential comedic situations and to the character," Sheen said. "To meet some of those elements head on and deal with them comedically is a good way to dispel a lot of it and let everybody know I'm moving toward a positive and productive future."

But Sheen acknowledged his character won't share the same baggage as he.

"There are certain things that can be portrayed in good taste," he said. "Other aspects, as tastefully or comedically as you define them, really have no place on network television."

Gary David Goldberg, who launched "Spin City" five years ago, returns as the show's executive producer after two years as a consultant on the sitcom. He said "Spin City" would not have continued without the blessing of Fox, who may return as a guest star.

"We don't feel we're doing a kind of imitation of what we did [previously on 'Spin City']," Goldberg said. "We're taking the best of what we have done and we're adding a layer of a different energy. Mike scurries. Every episode we'd say, let's watch him get in trouble and watch him get out. Charlie doesn't scurry."

Previously shot in New York, "Spin City" will relocate to Los Angeles, because, Goldberg said, it's cheaper to film there. But that means no more segments taped in and around New York City. Instead, Goldberg expects to concentrate more on the ensemble cast, which also will change. Connie Britton (Nikki), Alexander Chaplin (James) and Victoria Cooper (Janelle) won't be back. In addition to Sheen, another regular will be added (a young African-American woman bike messenger-turned-mayor's-office-assistant). And Beth Littleford again will appear occasionally.

Heather Locklear's character was still dating Mike on May's "Spin City" season finale, but that relationship will eventually end.

"In the first episode back, we deal with what's gone on," Goldberg said. "The mayor is having a very difficult time letting go of Mike, and I think that's something we all feel. But into the second or third episode, we're our own show and we'll stand on our own."

This fall, "Spin City" moves to Wednesday at 9:30 p.m., which puts it opposite "The West Wing," starring Sheen's father, Martin.

"The shows are so different," Charlie Sheen said. "It's like if people go to a video archive and decide whether to watch 'Apocalypse Now' or 'Major League.'"

Sheen said he's probably going to watch "West Wing" because, as a member of the cast, he'll already know what "Spin City" is about.

And Sheen said his dad is relishing the competition: "He says he's going to watch us tumble down in the ratings as he stomps us with both feet."



ONLY ON PRESS TOUR: So I was in the men's room yesterday with famed New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She was sipping coffee. I was standing near the urinal. Lots of other critics -- male and female -- were there too.

No, this isn't a new trend in L.A. It was the aftermath of ABC's marketing press conference where network pitchmen announced a new promotional campaign. The network may be on top, but this fall ABC's marketing is in the toilet.

Part of ABC's strategy includes the placement of talking posters above urinals in about 1,000 men's rooms in New York and Los Angeles. The signs promote the move of "Norm" to Fridays. The voice of series star Norm Macdonald emanates from the poster.

All the posters feature a background with ABC's signature prime-time color -- bright yellow. One poster has the headline: "Must Pee-TV." Another includes the wording: "You're a mover and shaker ... So am I. Norm is moving to Fridays."

Aside from potty humor, ABC will stick with its color scheme keyed to various types of programming (yellow for entertainment, blue for news, red for sports), but the new buzzword is "definitely." As in "Definitely ABC" or "Definitely Andy" during a spot featuring Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue."

ABC promotions also will appear on bank ATMs, although the network's marketing honchos didn't know which banks would carry these.

In the Top 10 markets, some viewers will receive voice mail recordings from network stars encouraging them to watch ABC. Just what people need, more phone calls from solicitors. It's the one time we can be thankful Pittsburgh has fallen to market No. 20.

As for why Dowd is here, I'm still puzzled about that, too, since she's not a TV critic.



"SURVIVOR" SECRET?: The latest rumor about the winner of CBS's "Survivor" is sweeping the Web, but don't bet that it's accurate. A posting last Thursday to www.survivorsucks.com ("CBS Web Site Screws Up, Shows Who Wins") claims it's possible to figure out who won by viewing pictures of the "Survivor" cast members. A computer hacker discovered that CBS Web designers, in material supposedly unavailable to the public, had placed a red X over pictures of all 16 contestants except for one. The X has been used on the site to denote people voted off the island. By inputting the name of each cast member in place of Gretchen in this URL -- http://www.cbs.com/network/tvshows/mini/survivor/show/images/gretchen_VH.gif -- you'll eventually find one person who doesn't have a red "X" on their picture. It's speculated that this person is the winner.

I don't believe it. CBS has been super-tight about its security for this show, so why would they tell the Webmaster who won? My bet is a small piece of code that would put the red "X" on every picture was overlooked in one instance. Or it's all a big CBS hoax.



BRAUGHER'S BACK: Andre Braugher, the powerful presence at the center of "Homicide: Life on the Street" as Detective Frank Pembleton, returns to series television this fall in ABC's medical drama "Gideon's Crossing."

And the two characters couldn't be more different. For one, Dr. Benjamin Gideon smiles. He's also more conventionally compassionate.

"He's going into the very place in which Pembleton was exiting," Braugher said. "'Homicide' was trying to find something to look for out of a tragedy. This is taking a tragedy and transforming it into a triumph."

Gideon is the chief of experimental medicine at a Boston teaching hospital. He suffered his own loss when his wife died of cancer a year before the series begins, leaving him a widower with two sons. Braugher said the "crossing" in the show's title refers to patients who are transformed by serious illness.

"It is the time most people find themselves at the lowest, darkest, loneliest, most painful place of their life, battling an unseen enemy that will potentially take their lives," Braugher said. "The physician is there to see that transformation, and in the eventual potential recovery, peoples' lives are changed. Their time at the hospital was a crossing from one life to another life."

Braugher is undergoing his own crossing to make the show. He's commuting to L.A. to film the series while his family -- actress wife Ami Brabson and his two sons -- remain home in New York. Braugher said his initial reaction was to reject the role because of the commute. Then he read the script.

"I flipped the last page and I knew I was going to do it, but of course I went to the boss [and asked her to read it] because she has a big part in any decision we're going to make," Braugher said. "She read it and was terribly moved, and now we both understand this is material that can't be refused."

Braugher's upcoming cross-country flights may give him time to jot down notes on a project he wants to make with Showtime. It's a movie called "10,000 Black Men Named George," about the organization of the Pullman Porters Union in the 1920s.


Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour through July 25.



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