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Tuned In: Actor has little remorse ending long run as Morse

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Death becomes him. Despite the demise of his alter ego in "The Remorseful Day" (Feb. 13 on WQED/WQEX), actor John Thaw appeared live and well via satellite from London to discuss the end of his 13-year run as Inspector Morse, one of the most popular detectives on PBS's "Mystery!"

Thaw said it wasn't easy to bid farewell to the character, but the timing was right.

"I had a feeling of sadness and not exactly joy, but relief that he was off my back now," Thaw said. "I thought it was time to move on. It was a very definite ending for me."

Author Colin Dexter killed off the character in the final Morse novel, published in 1999, so Morse's death is no surprise.

Thaw said the only drawback to playing a long-running character is that often people remember him for that role only.

"You get a lot of, 'You are Morse,' and after a while, you think, yeah, but I did something else that was rather good last week," Thaw said. "And my name's not Morse, it's John Thaw. After a while, that becomes a bit of a millstone 'round your neck, really."

Though Thaw is ready to check out of "Mystery!" another in the show's stable of detectives may soon gain a much larger profile in America. Robson Green returns in the third "Touching Evil" series (Monday and Jan. 30 and Feb. 6 on WQED/WQEX) as tortured cop Dave Creegan.

Green, who's better known in England, said he'd be game for more "Touching Evil" episodes, but it all hinges on the scripts.

"You have to start with the script. Otherwise the actor is speechless, so that's where you start," Green said. "The story lines are being talked about, and if it's the same caliber of what [creator] Paul [Abbott] created in [the first] 'Touching Evil,' then, yeah, of course, it's a great attraction."

Green, who has been compared to a young Paul Newman, had meetings earlier this month in Hollywood with producers about feature film roles, including the possibility of a role in an adaptation of a Stephen King novel to be directed by Barry Levinson.

Green said that while Hollywood executives appreciate his talent, they don't consider a starring role in a PBS series enough exposure to make him a celebrity.

"They said, 'You don't exist here.' "

PBS AND PLEDGE: At a press conference with PBS executives Monday, a newspaper reporter from Chicago asked how running WQED's "Doo Wop" specials over and over is in keeping with PBS's mission. PBS president Pat Mitchell defined "Doo Wop" as "pledge programming" but defended it, saying she would choose to air it outside of pledge.

"I found 'Doo Wop' very educational," Mitchell said. "We brought all those groups back together again. I think many people would think that's an interesting service. I don't know if it connected to community outreach, but it certainly created a lot of interest around a music that has kind of disappeared."

Mitchell acknowledged there is some concern among PBS member stations about other pledge programming, such as the financial self-help shows that appear with increasing frequency.

"My worry and the stations' worry is if somebody comes in because they like that kind of programming, they're going to be disappointed because we're not going to offer that on our regular prime-time schedule," Mitchell said. An internal group will be convened to examine PBS pledge programming. "I think what stations are feeling now is that it would be better in the long run if the pledge programming was really more like our regular schedule, but I certainly think 'Doo Wop' fits into what we put in prime time. Look at the 'Great Performances' stuff we do across all music genres."

MORE OF "FRIENDS": In an effort to combat CBS's "Survivor: The Australian Outback" during February sweeps, NBC will pad "Friends," extending four episodes by about 10 minutes, meaning each episode will end at approximately 8:40 p.m.

For two weeks in February, the remaining 20 minutes of the hour will be filled with live sketches performed by "Saturday Night Live" cast members. No word on what NBC will do with the 20 minutes of air time during the other two weeks of February.

"MILLIONAIRE" GIM-MICKS: A recent report in Daily Variety found the median age of ABC viewers rose from 41.7 to 46.1 during the fourth quarter of 2000, a black mark on the network to youth-obsessed advertisers. It's also considered an unusually quick jump in age that's blamed on the network's over-reliance on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which no longer appeals to young viewers the way it once did.

In an effort to draw back viewers who have strayed, ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" will broadcast two special editions during the coming February sweeps period.

On Feb. 11 and 14, rock and pop music artists will compete on "Millionaire" with their winnings going to charity. In "Millionaire" episodes airing Feb. 18, 21, 22 and 23, H&R Block will sponsor special installments that will cover the cost of contestants' estimated income tax on the prize money they win.

UP A "CREEK": Greg Berlanti, executive producer of "Dawson's Creek," said the show's young characters, currently seniors in high school, will move on to college next year. And no, they won't attend Capeside U.

"A real part of the show's success is a real sense of wish fulfillment that's different from 'Beverly Hills, 90210,' which was about what people wore and what was hip," Berlanti said. "In this case, they really live through these characters and their connection to these characters is a real personal thing. They love through them, fail through them, succeed through them. It's important to me these characters escape this small town and go be who they need to be."

Berlanti wouldn't reveal which characters get into college (don't count on Pacey matriculating) or where they'll go, but he indicated they won't attend the same schools, but they'll be in the same city.

Now that the show will no longer take place alongside Dawson's Creek itself, what will happen to the love triangle involving Joey (Katie Holmes), Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson)? Berlanti said he identifies more with Dawson, but he's uncertain about who Joey should be with.

"I'm real torn on that as I think the show demonstrates," Berlanti said. "There's no question the whole success of the show is predicated on the idea that Dawson and Joey are soulmates who maybe met too young. Whether they end up with each other ultimately or now is always a real source of [uncertainty]. Obviously the triangle is the real successful thing on the show now, so we're trying to work with that."

Though ratings for "Dawson's Creek" have risen since Joey got together with Pacey, Berlanti said he's not convinced viewers prefer that pairing.

"Fan mail is definitely divided equally," Berlanti said. "There's whole different campaigns for who she should be with. I think it's often the adults' interpretation that the ones the kids like the most is Pacey. I'm not so sure that's always the kids' interpretation."


Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.



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