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TV Preview: Tim Daly takes a run at playing new 'Fugitive'

Thursday, October 05, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Actor Tim Daly has some weird ideas about fun. Take this stunt for his CBS series, "The Fugitive," debuting at 8 p.m. tomorrow. As Daly tells it: "They suspended me from a crane and swung me into the window of a car, and two guys smashed the window with sledgehammers to make it appear as though my body broke the window -- or my head, actually.

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"Which was a really cool thing, but it was mostly just really fun. You're flying around like Peter Pan, and the only real danger is that some guy is going to hit you with a sledgehammer and get glass in your eye."

That's all?

Hours before talking with reporters by telephone, Daly had been plucked from the 50-degree Puget Sound at 2 a.m.

All this because he is playing Dr. Richard Kimble, an innocent man on the lam after being convicted of murdering his wife. As he searches for the apparent killer, a mysterious one-armed man, he is pursued by Lt. Philip Gerard (Mykelti Williamson from "Forrest Gump").

Daly, of course, is not the first actor to play Dr. Kimble. He's not even the second.

David Janssen originated the role on ABC from September 1963 to August 1967. The final episode was the highest-rated single TV program ever broadcast, a record that held until 1976 when it was replaced by NBC's airing of "Gone With the Wind." In 1993, Harrison Ford and eventual Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones starred in the movie based on the TV show.

Now, CBS is resurrecting the franchise with a pilot that cost an estimated $6 million and a series that will revolve around location shooting, an unusual and potentially expensive and time-consuming practice. Most shows are anchored in one place, such as Los Angeles, although a few may soak up some authenticity in Chicago ("ER") or New York ("NYPD Blue").

"We started out in Savannah, Ga., went to Charleston, S.C., and we've been here in Seattle, and there are tentative plans for us to go to Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. But I don't really consider it to be difficult; it's really fun. It breaks the tedium of being in the same place all the time," Daly says.

The downside is being away from his wife and two children.

"That really is the biggest challenge of this whole exercise for me, to try to get home whenever I can to see my family. I'm lucky because my executive producers, Bob Goodwin and John McNamara, are aware that, basically, they will kill me if they don't give me opportunities to go home and get little pieces of rest from time to time."

If careening into cars wasn't enough, he's also become a running machine.

"The other day, I had this 300-yard sprint up an opening drawbridge. Sprinting 300 yards is kind of far anyway. I'm in pretty good shape, but it got to the point where, actually, the stuntman was doing it in this wide shot, and he was so exhausted that I had to take over for him."

And when Daly stepped in, his lungs started to burn. "Of course, you turn around and you look down and you realize the drawbridge is at a 40-degree angle, and the last hundred yards are straight uphill."

Daly, however, is energized by the role and its physical and emotional challenges. If it feels familiar to viewers, he's not concerned.

"I don't think there's a story that's not familiar to audiences. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. I mean, we've seen it a million times. When you see it done really well, in a compelling way, you love it. When you see it done poorly, you think it's stale and old."

And the 44-year-old actor, brother of actress Tyne Daly and son of the late actor James Daly, thinks this is compelling. "I come from the theater. In the theater, you go into the same play in many different revivals, and if it's done in a way that's interesting and the material in the story is good enough, then it can withstand that.

"And I think it's true about this. Not to get too deep about it, but in a way, this part is sort of like the 'Hamlet' of television. It's a really complex and interesting psychological part, as well as being really challenging physically and full of a lot of cool suspense."

Part of the suspense is because it's harder to hide in 2000 than it was in 1963, in the days before the Internet, 24-hour news and video cameras in public places.

"On the other hand, the truth of the matter is, there are more fugitives than ever right now, and it is still extraordinarily hard to catch these people, primarily because of the manpower involved. How about the guy they want for bombing the Olympics [in Atlanta in 1996]? The guy has disappeared. They cannot find him. It's still possible."

Although most TV viewers may remember the late James Daly as the gray-haired doctor playing opposite Chad Everett on "Medical Center," he appeared as a guest star on "The Fugitive" -- twice, in two different roles.

Asked if that might have reduced the mystique about Janssen, Daly laughs. "One of the things about growing up with actors as parents is that I don't really place mystique on any actor. I mean, I had a lot of famous actors roaming drunkenly around my house as a kid. I was never overly impressed by them, in a fan-like way. I have been tremendously impressed by people's work from time to time." He never met Janssen, who died in 1980, two years after his father passed away.

When quizzed about the show's Friday night timeslot, Daly jokes, "I have my health. I love my family." Pause, meaning you can't have everything.

"I have huge ambitions for this show. ... I feel like it's an opportunity to do something really extraordinary. I think it deserves the widest possible audience. I don't know if we'll get that on Friday." Still, he thinks CBS wants the show to succeed, even as it programs around ABC's 500-pound gorilla, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Is it possible that this time around, the one-armed man really didn't do it?

"I have not had that discussion, but knowing [producer] McNamara, who's one of the most wildly creative people I've ever met, I'm sure it's been talked about. I'm sure there's going to be something up his sleeve. I don't know. If he did plan for that, I'm sure he wouldn't tell anyone because if it got out, it would sort of ruin the surprise."

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