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Tuned In: 'Agency' scraps pilot on terrorism

Thursday, September 27, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

In June, when I first watched the pilot episode of the CBS drama "The Agency," it struck me as an OK series, but no match for NBC's "ER" in the Thursday night battle for ratings.

"The Agency"

WHEN: 10 tonight on CBS.

STARRING: Gil Bellows, Gloria Ruben


Set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., "The Agency" pilot seemed mildly diverting in its portrayal of agents out to foil a plot by terrorist Osama bin Laden to bomb Harrods department store in London.

Parts of the show were confusing; others were tedious, as scenes of people working on computers usually are.

I watched the pilot again this past weekend, and through the prism of Sept. 11, "The Agency" resonates in a completely different way. Oh, the problems that were there before still exist, but talk of bin Laden, of efforts to fight terrorism, mean so much more now. It's no longer just the plot of a fictional TV show. It's reality.

But you won't get to see that original episode of "The Agency" tonight. The show premieres at 10 on KDKA, but CBS pulled the premiere and will substitute a later episode that wasn't available for review.

The change elicits mixed feelings. Obviously, networks should take pains to be sensitive to the tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, but "The Agency" pilot actually instills a sense of confidence in the government's ability to foil a terrorist's plot. At the end of the hour, Harrods remains standing.

Granted, the opening scene of a man held hostage with an American flag in his mouth -- the removal of which triggers a bomb explosion -- would have to be excised in the current climate. But the balance of the episode isn't upsetting, at least not to me. Perhaps it would be to others. It's hard to tell in these mixed-up times.

In place of the pilot, CBS will air an alternate episode about an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro during a visit to the United States. Agents must work to foil the plot, hatched by Castro's own men who were trained by the CIA 30 years ago.

Though it's an ensemble show, Gil Bellows (Billy on "Ally McBeal") is pretty much the lead, playing undercover agent Matt Callan, whose brother was mysteriously killed in the line of duty (how he died will be a continuing story on the show). Matt's brother was engaged to marry counterterrorism expert Lisa Fabrizzi (Gloria Reuben) at the time of his death.

Ronny Cox stars as CIA director Alex Pierce III, with Rocky Carroll ("Chicago Hope") as his deputy. Graphic designer Terri Lowell (Paige Turco) is a new recruit who creates fake documents under the supervision of Joshua Nankin (David Clennon, "thitysomething").

Whether or not tonight's installment of "The Agency" will make much sense remains to be seen. The pilot did a good job of introducing these characters and their duties, particularly Jackson Haisley (Will Patton), a widowed intelligence officer who longs for an overseas posting. CBS will re-edit tonight's episode to help introduce the characters, but some elements of the series, its characters and any sense of continuity may remain as mysterious as the storied agency itself.

"Inside Schwartz"

NBC has a history of sticking loser shows between established hits on Thursday night, and though "Inside Schwartz" won't go down in the annals of TV sitcoms as a classic, it's redeemed at least a little by star Breckin Meyer ("Road Trip").

"Inside Schwartz"

WHEN: 8:30 tonight on NBC.

STARRING: Breckin Meyer, Bryan Callen


Best known for playing a stoner classmate to Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless," Meyer charms his way through this typically smutty big city-set comedy. He plays Adam Schwartz, a guy who longs equally for a reunion with his ex-girlfriend, Eve (Maggie Lawson), and a job as a sportscaster.

Here's the gimmick: Schwartz wants to be a sportscaster so badly, his inner thoughts are revealed in scenes with real people from the world of professional athletics, including Mills Lane, Bill Buckner and Dick Butkus. Fox Sports anchors Kevin Frazier and Van Earl Wright show up occasionally to comment on the events in Schwartz's life.

It's sometimes funny ("Too many players on the field!" exclaims a referee when Schwartz discovers his date has four children) but too often seems like the love child of "Herman's Head" and "Arli$$." And that's not a cute baby.

When he's not practicing to be a sportscaster in scenes that would be less pathetic if Schwartz were, say, 12 instead of twentysomething, he works for his father's sandwich shop chain. His dad, played by "Three's Company" randy neighbor Richard Kline, is prone to using ridiculous euphemisms.

"She doesn't make your dough rise?" dad says when Schwartz introduces his platonic friend Julie (Miriam Shor).

As Schwartz's politically incorrect buddy David, Bryan Callen ("Mad TV") scores a few points for shock humor, but the cruder "Inside Schwartz" gets, the more pedestrian it becomes. Meyer deserves better.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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