PASADENA, Calif. -- Order in the court or an order for more courtroom episodes? The latter looks likely after A&E's first original drama series, "100 Centre St." (9 tonight), debuted a week ago with impressive ratings for the cable network.
Created by feature film director Sidney Lumet, the show explores the lives of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys who work in a New York night court. Lumet said he first became intrigued by the idea of a night court when conducting research for the 1981 feature film "Prince of the City."
"I'd never been to night court, and I went down to see what it was like and I couldn't believe what I was looking at," Lumet said. "On a Friday or Saturday night -- the hot nights -- [a judge will] have 30 seconds to make a decision which changes a life."
Lumet said the proceedings are very casual, a tone he wants to be reflected in the series.
"It's very calm and very routine and everybody's almost bored, and here are lives being decided against this kind of atmosphere," Lumet said. "It's the most natural thing for a television show because right away there's one person on this side and one person on that side and a decision has to be made. It's a real source of conflict without melodrama."
Lumet said a line of dialogue by Alan Arkin's Judge Rifkind encapsulates the night court experience: "When I first began, I thought it was a disaster; now I think it's a miracle the system works at all."
Rifkind plays a liberal judge to LaTanya Richardson's conservative judge, yet the two are friends.
"Politically and philosophically we have nothing in common whatsoever, yet there's an enormous trust of each other's integrity," Arkin said. "And there's a deep feeling between the two people as individuals. It's very unusual and very real."
Richardson described the characters as trying to achieve the same goals, they just take different routes to get there. It's not just the rare friendship between these two characters that sets "100 Centre St." apart. Unlike other TV dramas that are shot on film, "Centre St." is shot on high-definition digital video. And rather than just one camera rolling at a time, multiple cameras roll at the same time on "Centre St.," eliminating the time it takes to set up new camera angles for reaction shots.
Lumet thinks all TV and film will soon be shot this way because it saves time and money. Actors seem to prefer it too.
"It really makes a difference in your performance, because when you use three cameras, you don't have to do as many takes," said actress Paula Devicq, who previously played Kirsten on "Party of Five." "You don't lose the honesty or instinct you have. A lot of times when you're doing film, you have to do a scene eight times and have to re-find that freshness, which you do ultimately, but it takes a lot more energy and drains you a lot more."
Devicq said Friday night shoots on "Party of Five" routinely lasted until midnight or 2 a.m. Not so on "Centre St."
"When Sideny's directing you're home by five," she said. "You can have a life."
IN FROM THE "COLD": Bravo has imported the hit British series "Cold Feet," with episodes airing Mondays at 10 p.m. You'll recall NBC tried an American version of the series in fall 1999 that flopped spectacularly. Helen Baxendale (Ross' British ex-wife Emily on "Friends") is among the stars of the Brit original.
John Thomson, one of the stars of the British "Cold Feet," said NBC's version of the show failed because it was Americanized.
"The beauty of our 'Cold Feet' is the comedy is universal through the naturalism and the situations," Thomson said. "It doesn't have to be Americanized, you know. It's the situations."
MORE "ENTHUSIASM": Larry David's HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has been renewed for an additional 10 episodes that will begin airing in August. It will likely be paired with a new comedy, "The Mind of the Married Man," created, written by and starring Mike Binder. The show concerns life, love and sex in a modern marriage from the husband's point of view.
HBO's 10-part miniseries about an Army unit in World War II, "Band of Brothers," has been scheduled to air in September. "Saving Private Ryan" director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks re-teamed and served as executive producers for "Band of Brothers."
VIEWERS LIKE "TEMPTATION": Ratings for ABC's "The Mole" weakened in its second outing last week, but Fox's "Temptation Island" improved with the broadcast of its second episode. This even as Fox was shamed by the FCC into pulling promos for "Island" that had been airing during "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle."
FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani expressed concern that "Island" should not be advertised on shows with younger audiences due to its racy content.
Ratings for NBC's "Ed" also improved last week, giving the comedy-drama its best performance in its new Wednesday time slot yet.
THEY ARE FAMILY: When Fox took over the Family Channel a few years ago, renaming it Fox Family, the place was a mess. Cheap, poorly-produced original programs clogged the schedule and viewers fled.
Now the bleeding has stopped and Fox Family is poised to grow with the original series "State of Grace," a winning period piece set in 1965. It details the friendship of a Jewish girl from Chicago who moves to the South and strikes up a friendship with Grace, daughter of a boozy Southern belle. A half-hour series without a laugh track, shares a tone similar to the late "Brooklyn Bridge," a short-lived CBS series of high quality. No premiere date for "State of Grace" has been set.
Fox Family Channel has also acquired the rights to 26 weeks of Major League Baseball games to air on Thursday nights beginning April 5.
Fox Family president Maureen Smith said the network will continue with its current strategy to attract "kids by day, adults by night" by offering programming that's "family-friendly, but with a contemporary sensibility."
I'm not sure how reruns of "3rd Rock from the Sun" pass muster as "family-friendly," but they'll show up on Fox Family anyway beginning in fall 2004. In the more immediate future, Fox Family will air reruns of "Step by Step" beginning in March. In the fall, "The Wonder Years" and "Growing Pains" join the schedule. "Family Matters" repeats will begin airing in fall 2003.
Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.