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On the Tube: Sci-fi series begins a three-episode arc tonight

Friday, July 21, 2000

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, CALIF. -- Many moviegoers laughed at the fictional washed up TV actors in the sci-fi parody "Galaxy Quest" last winter, but for the stars of "Farscape," watching that film was like peering into the future. Or at least a possible future where they're typecast and their careers crumble....

" 'Galaxy Quest' was the most horrifying movie I have seen in a long time," said "Farscape" star Ben Browder, getting a big laugh from the assembled TV critics. "No, actually, I think science fiction has been the poor stepchild of television for a long time.... I'd love to see people take our show as legitimate drama, which it is."

Tonight at 9 on Sci-Fi Channel, "Farscape" begins a three-episode arc, "Look at the Princess," in which Browder's human John Crichton finds himself forced into an arranged marriage with an alien princess. Then the show's living ship, Moya, comes under attack from the evil Scorpius.

A story arc at the end of the show's first season in January proved to be the best episodes of the show yet. But so far in the second season, stand-alone episodes with less compelling stories have prevailed. Often networks reject serialization, but series creator Rockne S. O'Bannon said that's not the case with "Farscape," which has already been renewed for a third year.

"The arcs we played at the latter half of the [first] season played so very well and we were able to dig so much deeper," he said. "So the network is very much in favor of our doing multi-arc episodes this year."

Executive producer David Kemper said they try to strike a balance between stand-alone stories and multi-episode arcs.

"We don't need to turn into a soap opera in space," Kemper said. "You get multi-parts and you get two or three stand-alones, but they really don't stand alone because the characters are growing continuously throughout."

Even the puppets? Several of the characters are the creations of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Just don't call them Muppets. The cast and producers get upset when they hear the M-word. They prefer "animatronic characters." The actors don't see acting opposite them as all that strange.

"The advantage to the puppets is, if you put your hands on them and you start forcing interaction, the puppeteers react," Browder said. "So you get a unique performance out of a puppet that you cannot achieve out of [computer graphics], that sometimes you can't achieve with other actors."

In the future there even may be "Farscape" adventures on the big screen.

"We're actively pursuing it," Kemper said of plans for a movie. "If it can happen, it will."

First they'd have to come up with a schedule that would allow time to make a movie. Right now there's only two full months between "Farscape" seasons, and Kemper said a film would take three months to make. Unlike "The X-Files" movie, the "Farscape" film would not be tied directly to the series, and "there may be a feature sooner than the end of the television show."

STRANGE BUT TRUE: NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier still hasn't seen the season finale of "The West Wing." Ancier said his job forces him to devote his attention to series in creative turmoil.

"Most of the time you're doing triage," Ancier said.

So while most of us were watching NBC's great shows -- "Friends," "West Wing," "Will & Grace" -- Ancier was stuck with tapes of "Veronica's Closet" and "Suddenly Susan." So much for the glamorous life of a network executive.

"SURVIVOR" UPDATE: What we learned this week: Richard is still Satan. Gervase is still lazy. And Susan and Kelly lied to host Jeff Probst about whether an alliance exists.

Oh, and Greg got voted off the island after threatening to snap a kitten's neck in an analogy about voting against his cutie-pie, maybe-lover, Colleen. He then refused to do an interview yesterday morning on CBS's "Early Show," so cast-off Ramona took his place.

FOX FILES: If you think Fox's fall schedule looks a little too dark and creepy with an overabundance of brooding sci-fi shows, you're not alone.

"Are we exactly where we want to be? Not yet," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. "Taken as a whole, I would prefer to see a more balanced Fox schedule that relies less on science fiction and more on shows that appeal to young adults."

Grushow said the network had more series to replace in May than anyone expected at the beginning of the development season, and Fox didn't have a wide selection of types of shows to choose from.

"It's not like we looked at five great blue sky, colorful, optimistic pilots and said, 'It's too cheery, let's go dark,'" Grushow said. "We deal with the pieces that are dealt, and I make no apology for any of those pieces on an individual level, but overall we need to be more diversified and varied, and we will be."

Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman, who has only been on the job for three weeks, said she wants to put on "youthful, original programming that's ahead of the curve and ahead of its time. We want to make trends, not follow them."

In other Fox news, Robert Patrick ("Terminator 2") has been cast as the new partner for Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully on "The X-Files" beginning with the Nov. 5 season premiere. David Duchovny will appear in 11 episodes.

"Family Guy," which previously appeared to be dead, has gotten a second chance. Berman ordered 13 new episodes last week.

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

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