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CBS is high on 'The Guardian'

Friday, July 27, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- CBS's new fall legal drama "The Guardian," about an attorney who veers between the worlds of moneyed corporate law and children's legal services, is set in Pittsburgh for a specific reason. It was important to series creator/executive producer David Hollander, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon and graduated from Sewickley Academy in 1986.

"I guess selfishly, for creative reasons, it helps put me in a state of mind to think about this show in that city," said Hollander, 33, at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "First and foremost, it's at the inception of every story. It helps me to place these stories in my hometown. It helps me empathize with the characters, know their environment, understand the socioeconomic situations, just everything about it."

For Hollander, a playwright and screenwriter, "The Guardian" is his first foray into television. CBS President Leslie Moonves called him "the next Aaron Sorkin."

Hollander isn't the only TV newcomer. Australian actor Simon Baker stars in his first American series as lead character Nick Fallin, a high-priced lawyer busted for drugs and forced to do community service at children's legal services. Baker, who appeared in the films "L.A. Confidential" and "Red Planet," is seen by CBS brass as a movie star in the making.

Airing Tuesday at 9 p.m., sandwiched between "JAG" and "Judging Amy," "The Guardian" would seem to have a compatible lead-in and lead-out.

"I know they're very high on it, really high on it," said executive producer Mark Johnson, whose previous TV credits include "L.A. Doctors" and "Falcone." "It was really Leslie Moonves who was responsible for getting Simon into the show. I think they're very dedicated to it. They want to stay in business with David and they certainly want to support Simon."

A day's worth of scenes for "The Guardian" pilot were shot in Pittsburgh in early April, and producers want to return to shoot more scenes later this fall. Currently in production on episode No. 2, producers said they're purposefully not shooting some scenes from each episode in hopes of filming them on location in Pittsburgh. But it's all a matter of money.

"We're hoping if we come out of the gate in pretty good shape [ratings-wise] and if we start to look like we're going to do all right, we're going to urge everybody to spend some more money and let us go back and do some exterior shots very much like we did with the pilot," Johnson said.

"The Guardian" also stars Dabney Coleman as Nick's father, head of the ritzy firm where Nick works when he's not doing community service. Audiences are more accustomed to seeing Coleman in comedies, but he said he agreed to take a role in "The Guardian" because of Hollander's script for the pilot episode.

"This is just the best thing I've read in a long time, comedy or drama," Coleman said. "I have nothing against doing comedy. This is just exceptional drama in my opinion."

"The Guardian" premieres on CBS Sept. 18, but Pittsburghers can get an advance peek at a benefit screening 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Byham Theater. Ticket sales will benefit KidsVoice (formerly Legal Aid for Children). More information about ticket prices and reservations will be available soon at www.kidsvoiceorg.com

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