PASADENA, Calif. -- Horatio Hornblower sets sail again in two new A&E movies airing April 8 and 15, and series star Ioan Gruffudd is pleased with how his character has matured. Gruffudd was 23 when he started work on the first batch of films and he's now 27.
"At the beginning I was very nervous because of the pressure I put on myself because it had been so successful," Gruffudd said. "But I think I've matured a lot. I've grown up a lot, my face is sort of becoming sort of manly, I suppose, and the experiences I've had acting and in life helped immensely."
The original four "Hornblower" films, based on C.S. Forester's "Mr. Midshipman Hornblower," aired on A&E in 1999 and won an Emmy that same year.
The latest batch is based on "Lieutenant Hornblower" and begins with Hornblower behind bars in Jamaica, facing a death sentence for mutiny. Robert Lindsay returns as Hornblower's mentor, Capt. Pellew, and David Warner joins the cast as evil Capt. Sawyer.
The first set of films was actually filmed at sea. This time "Hornblower" was almost completely filmed on land.
"I was a bit upset when I found out we weren't actually going to sail, because I thought the success of the first season was based on the fact you could see we were sailing," Gruffudd said. "But this time it does look much better. We had more control over it. You could put the camera wherever you want and don't have to rely on making it safe."
Gruffudd explained the ship deck scenes weren't filmed inside a soundstage.
"All the exteriors were on this stage we built on this cliff in Menorca, Spain, with a 270-degree view of the sea," he said. "We're outside and not on the sea, but you can see the sea and it looks fantastic."
Somewhat surprisingly, Gruffudd said the "Hornblower" films were far more popular and successful in America than they were in England. Director Andrew Grieve thinks he knows why.
"It was more popular here because it was properly marketed and presented to people," he said. "We're not very good at doing that in Britain."
More installments may be on the way. Scripts for two more films are in development and Gruffudd is committed to the role.
"To have the opportunity to play the lead in a series of the same name as [my character], you don't get that opportunity too much," Gruffudd said. "I was lucky I got that offer as one of the first jobs that I had, and I'm so grateful to 'Hornblower' because it has helped me to get other things. I do love playing him. He's a great character and he makes me look good."
NEW LEASE ON "LIFE": Lynn Marie Latham, half of the husband-and-wife producing team that created my all-time favorite series, "Homefront," has become executive producer of CBS's "That's Life," a drama I was fairly ambivalent about last fall. But I've heard from viewers who enjoy the series, and with Latham's involvement I'm willing to give it another chance.
"It was clear we needed a more seasoned show runner to run the show," said CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem. "Lynn has stepped in and done an extraordinary job."
Latham's episodes begin airing tonight at 8 and she promises a greater focus on Lydia (Heather Paige Kent) and her family. Lydia's ex-fiancee is no longer a series regular and her blond friend is being written out, too.
Another change: The show's opening scene of Lydia talking to someone at the bar where she works will disappear. Because the opening looked the same every week, viewers would tune in, think they were watching a repeat and then tune out. Lydia also will lose her job at the bar and begin working in Jackie's beauty salon.
Whether any of these changes will increase ratings remains to be seen, but Tellem sounded at least somewhat hopeful about the show's future.
"I've seen big changes between the first episode and Lynn coming on," Tellem said. "I feel that the show has a tremendous amount of promise."
"BABYLON 5" RETURNS? Sci Fi Channel has acquired the new original series "News From the Edge," an NBC cast-off that combines elements of "Men in Black" and "The X-Files" (sort of like UPN's upcoming "Special Unit 2"). It will air this summer.
But a more intriguing announcement from Sci Fi Channel general manager Bonnie Hammer concerned a new project she's developing with "Babylon 5" executive producers J. Michael Straczynski and Douglas Netter. Hammer said nothing is final, but the parties are having discussions.
"We're talking about a lot of things, and the thing we're focusing on most ... is exclusive 'Babylon 5' movie for Sci-Fi, a new one," Hammer said. "That's one of the things. Everything is open for conversation. We love that creative team. Take a look at how 'Babylon 5' is doing on Sci Fi in its gazillionth repeats -- it's doing amazingly well."
Hammer said she's also thinking about picking up rerun rights to "Crusade," Straczynski's "B5" spinoff that was aborted by TNT. (Straczynski also is developing a new series for Showtime.)
Recently TNN acquired the rights to reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," a series that would seem a better fit for Sci Fi. Hammer said she wasn't surprised. Both TNN and "Star Trek" are owned by Viacom.
"Vertical integration is an amazing thing," Hammer said. "Trust me, if I were in their position, I would have gone after it myself. I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed, but some things you can control and some things you can't. This was something we could not control."
HOLLYWOOD HYPOCRISY: Some people here can be so condescending. At a press conference for the Showtime movie "Sister Mary Explains It All," based on the Christopher Durang play "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You," participants took several shots at the Roman Catholic church, and by extension, its parishioners.
"Sister Mary" concerns a crazy nun who's overzealous to the point of murder in enforcing church doctrine. I'm not Catholic, and I have no problem with snarky satire of religions of any sort, but the portrayal of people of faith is unbalanced. It's too often an unrealistic caricature.
With "Sister Mary," it's the attitude of the people who made the film that rubbed me the wrong way.
"I feel that redemption through humor is the only path," joked director Marshall Brickman before turning serious. "Any institution that has backed the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Roman position on the Holocaust deserves to be the butt of at least a couple of jokes."
The Inquisition? Didn't the statue of limitations run out on that one a long time ago?
Star Diane Keaton, who is not Catholic, said she doesn't know any nuns and didn't talk to any in preparing for her role.
"I made a movie many years ago about heaven and I met a lot of people who had a lot to say about heaven," Keaton said. "And I formulated my theories on hell based on that. ... To me it's unimaginable that there's such a place that people would be punished for not believing in Christ."
Once again, Hollywood liberals prove to be as intolerant in their own way as the conservatives they so often chastise.
CURSED SITCOM: Steven Weber's new Thursday-night sitcom has gone through multiple titles ("Cursed," "The Steven Weber Show," "Cursed" again, and finally, "The Weber Show"), received lousy reviews and has been bumped from the schedule for February sweeps. While appearing on a panel for the upcoming Showtime movie "Club Land," Weber defended his sitcom.
"I think the show, despite an onslaught of unfair reviews, is good and funny and more than holding its own in the ratings and will be on the air next season," Weber said. "This whole year has been such an experience for me. Somebody said there are two things you should never see: How they make a sausage, and how they make a television show."
"But if you see one, you've seen the other," added fellow panelist Alan Alda.
"That's right, and sausage is more nutritious," Weber added. "But I think the show was given an unfair shake. There's worse crap on the air now that passes as hit TV. If you leave it on long enough, it will acquire a following and it'll evolve. And if doesn't, the hell with it. ... If it doesn't work, I'll quietly fold myself into some medical drama."
THE LATEST DIVA: Aretha Franklin will headline VH1's "Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin," airing live at 9 p.m. April 10.
Franklin said she'll soon record another album of gospel music, but most days she wakes up and watches her favorite soap operas, "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful."
"I scream at the TV for about half an hour at what I don't like," Franklin said. "The part that I really don't like is this business with Ridge and the other girl who had the baby for him and the doc. And she seems to be going along with it and they just kind of belabor the whole thing. And then the deal between Brooke and Ridge -- I guess the bottom line is, is Ridge going to stop this marriage? And Stephanie. I love Stephanie's character ..."
Aretha is a true soap fan.
TCM DOCUMENTARIES: Turner Classic Movies will premiere three new documentaries this year on Hollywood women accompanied by films they starred in. The first, "Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies," will air at 8 p.m. Feb. 14. Charlize Theron will narrate the documentary about the actress who also was William Randolph Hearst's lover.
In October, TCM will explore the life of Lana Turner through interviews with her daughter, Cheryl Crane, who killed Turner's lover, Johnny Stompanato.
In December, Marlene Dietrich's life will be chronicled by her grandson, J. David Riva, who directs and produces a documentary about her life and involvement in World War II.
TCM also will produce a 90-minute documentary titled "Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story" about short films and PSAs, including those starring Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Keystone Kops and Our Gang. Airing in June, the documentary will be paired with a festival of short films.
FROM ROMANCE TO WE: Romance Classics is out. WE is in. Women's Entertainment, that is. The former Romance Classics channel has begun to switch to a new name. The changeover will be complete by April 1.
"We've changed because women have changed," said Kate McEnroe, president of parent company AMC Networks. "The Millennium Woman, as we'd like to call her, is dealing with a complexity of roles, from being CEO of the household, being mother, community leader, boss, co-worker, sister, friend in a society that's moving on Internet time."
McEnroe, describing the name change as an evolution rather than a revolution, said women are seeking simplicity and don't want the Internet-based interactivity women's channels like Oxygen offer. She said the name "Romance Classics" was too narrow.
"It's really about a busy woman and relating more to her," McEnroe said. "It wasn't that [Romance Classics] was skewing old; it wasn't talking in today's woman's voice. They don't really have a lot of time for romance is what we found out."
Whether or not that's true, the network's new name, WE, is kind of weak.
"LIVE" DIES: MTV programming president Brian Graden confirmed the network's first original drama series "Live Through This" has been canceled.
"We didn't ever find a big audience with it," Graden said. "We have seven episodes we haven't aired yet. We'll probably air them at some point, but it's unlikely the show will come back."
This isn't much of a surprise since "Live," which premiered last summer, was never given much of a chance by MTV. Promotion was scant from the start, and when the network moved the show to a new time slot, MTV didn't bother to put out a press release about the change.
Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.