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Pickup of Pittsburgh-set series excites 'The Guardian' creator

Thursday, May 17, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Pittsburgh has been the setting for plenty of TV shows -- "Mr. Belvedere," "My So-Called Life," "Remember WENN," "Hope & Gloria," "Queer as Folk" -- but never before has a series filmed here on a regular basis.

That will change now that CBS has picked up the Pittsburgh-set drama series "The Guardian," which filmed part of its pilot episode here last month.

"The Guardian" stars thirtysomething Australian actor Simon Baker ("Red Planet," "L.A. Confidential") as a lawyer forced to perform community service or risk being disbarred after he's caught using drugs. He works in a child advocacy office for a boss (Alan Rosenberg) who plays by the rules, while still keeping one foot in the law firm run by his father (Dabney Coleman).

Series creator/executive producer David Hollander, a Mt. Lebanon native, said getting a series onto a network schedule is a rare opportunity.

"It's like suddenly, finally having a voice and having control of a story and the content. That, for me, is a dream," Hollander said in a phone interview yesterday from New York. "The Pittsburgh aspect is interesting. I set a lot of my work in Pittsburgh -- my feature work, my plays -- but this will be the first time I'll really be able to be there and explore it on occasion, and it gives me enormous amounts of creative juice in writing the show. It's a show I'm setting in a world I know and love."

Pittsburgh will have a continuing role in "The Guardian," with the expectation that cast and crew will descend on the city for a few days every quarter, the same way "ER" goes to Chicago.

"It's a staple of our look and a staple of our show," Hollander said. "It's something I have to prevail upon the studio and network. It's not inexpensive to come there when we're filming the majority of the series in Los Angeles."

Hollander has already started sketching out how to incorporate location shooting in his hometown with the rigorous production schedule of a prime-time drama.

"It's tricky with a show with such a strong lead [character]," he said. "If you do the math, it's very hard to move your lead during production because you need him constantly back in L.A. I'll write the scripts in batches of four and then try to swing a few days in Pittsburgh" to shoot scenes for inclusion in those four episodes."

Television veterans Mark Johnson ("L.A. Doctors," "Falcone") and Michael Pressman ("Picket Fences") serve as executive producers on "The Guardian" with Hollander. His brother, Scott Hollander, is executive director of Legal Aid for Children in Pittsburgh and will serve as the show's technical consultant.

Though a child advocacy office will be one of the show's settings, David Hollander said it won't be a "troubled kid of the week" series.

"The idea for the show isn't to highlight kids in trouble," he said. "It's a character piece about Simon Baker and Dabney Coleman and Alan Rosenberg's characters using the worlds of corporate law and child advocacy to get into them. We'll certainly be playing in those worlds, but we don't want to make this show about law or child advocacy; it's about these people in these situations."

As much of an accomplishment as it is to get a show on the air, keeping it there can be even trickier. Though it has a strong lead-in ("JAG") and lead-out ("Judging Amy"), "The Guardian" will be up against "Frasier" on NBC, the new Jason Alexander sitcom and "Spin City" on ABC and probably a new political thriller on Fox, which announces its schedule today.

"I feel like [the time slot] gives us a chance," Hollander said. "We will have to draw unique viewers to our show and I'm really excited about that. The quality of the show has to be set very high so people will choose to come see us. We really have a chance to succeed, and it will only be my fault if we don't because we have a great opportunity."

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