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Tuned In: Next 'Survivor': the South Pacific

Friday, January 11, 2002

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, CALIF. -- "Survivor: Africa" drew to a conclusion last night, and CBS already has the next edition primed for prime time.

"Survivor: Marquesas" will premiere Feb. 28, following the conclusion of the Winter Olympics on NBC and one night after the "44th Annual Grammy Awards" on CBS.

This fourth installment in the hit reality series returns to an island setting. This time the cast will be castaways on Nuku Hiva, a distant neighbor of Tahiti in the South Pacific.

The next "Survivor" was about to be set in Jordan, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 prompted CBS to move the show out of the Middle East.

"The deal with Jordan hadn't been set, but it was being explored and was a leading contender," said CBS president Leslie Moonves. "After Sept. 11, obviously doing 'Survivor' in Jordan wouldn't be a great thing."

Just don't hold your breath for the much-discussed celebrity edition of "Survivor." Following a press conference yesterday, Moonves said it probably won't happen.

"We fooled around with it for a little while, but it's hard to get anybody of real note to commit to going away for a couple of weeks," Moonves said. "I don't want to ruin the franchise by putting it on with the wrong people."

The futures of other CBS series aren't as secure as "Survivor." Moonves said "That's Life," which moves to 9 p.m. Saturday next week, remains questionable for renewal for a third season.

"We think 'Touched by an Angel' would be a good combination for it," he said. "We have some hopes for the show. Right now, it's a show that's on the bubble. We'll see what happens in the next six months."

In the fall, the new Richard Dreyfus drama "The Education of Max Bickford" saw its ratings spiral following a decent debut. Moonves said this past Sunday the show had its best ratings since the premiere. He and CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem expressed confidence in the show's refocused creative direction.

"We haven't by any means written off 'Max Bickford,' " Moonves said. "It's much better than it had been. You could find it back on the air next year."

Critically praised reality show "The Amazing Race" already got a renewal despite disappointing ratings its first time out.

"I think it was on a very tough night and against 'The West Wing' it made the competition that much tougher," Tellem said. "I think [the ratings] had less to do with [reactions to] Sept. 11 than that it was scheduled where it didn't have the ability to jump start that night."

Moonves said "Amazing Race 2" is likely to premiere sometime later this season.

A spinoff from hit drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" is in the works. An episode of "CSI" airing later in the season will air as a "backdoor pilot" to a spinoff series.

Midseason on CBS

One of the benefits of a schedule that's pretty much working is that CBS doesn't have much new. A documentary reality series about American military fighter pilots will likely premiere in March, but otherwise there's just one scripted show scheduled for midseason:

"First Monday" (previews 9 p.m. Tuesday; regular time slot premiere 9 p.m. Friday): This show so desperately wants to glom onto "The West Wing's" idealistic political vibe but fails with embarrassing, unintentionally funny scenes of the Supreme Court justices putting their hands together and declaring, "Let's make history" before taking to the bench. Worse yet, accomplished veteran actors James Garner, as the Supreme Court's chief justice, and Charles Durning (another justice) get limited screen time compared to the young actors playing Supreme Court clerks.

Ming-Na returns to 'ER'

Though she appeared to check out of "ER" for good earlier this season, actress Ming-Na, who plays Dr. Jing-Mei (Deb) Chen, will return to the series next week in a plot twist that had been planned from the start of the season.

"I love how she comes back," said Ming-Na, who grew up in Pittsburgh. "It's very strong. It's a side of her you don't get to see. She's always tried to be so loyal to her career and her job and made so many sacrifices, and obviously, that wasn't enough for Dr. Weaver. She doesn't come crawling back, she comes fighting back."

Another former Pittsburgher has become a series regular on "ER." Sharif Atkins, introduced earlier this season as the upstanding and aptly-named Michael Gallant, was born in Pittsburgh but moved to Chicago six months later.

As the series' newest African-American cast member, Atkins said he hears from family and friends that he's "the new Dr. Benton," replacing the departed Eriq LaSalle.

"Hopefully, through the writing of the character and through the storytelling, I'll be a character as opposed to another African-American," Atkins said. As a young, third-year medical student, Gallant could also come off as a carbon copy of first-season new guy Carter.

Laura Innes, who stars as Dr. Kerry Weaver, directed Atkins' first episode this past fall and said the issue of supplanting Benton was in their minds even then.

"We thought a lot about how the character was different than Carter, than Benton, because it's natural that people would make those comparisons," Innes said. "What we found working together was Sharif brought to the party this kind of feeling of a throwback in his sense of dignity and this sort of military background he had."

For anyone bothered by the budding romance between Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) and Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), executive producer John Wells hinted that may not be a long-lived plot.

Wells and company wouldn't comment on how Anthony Edwards' Dr. Mark Greene will depart the series, but it will happen before the last episode of the season. As for Greene's wife, Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston), she may stick around.

"Her job is not in any way in danger because of Anthony's decision," Wells said. "At the same time, it will be complicated in our storytelling and we hope that everyone will go with us."

'Ally' oops

Spoiler alert!

At a press conference for the midseason NBC sitcom "Leap of Faith," star Jill Clayburgh let the cat out of the bag regarding another series she appears in, Fox's "Ally McBeal." Clayburgh plays Ally's mother and revealed in an upcoming episode, "I'm going to be a granny."

Is "Ally" pregnant? Executive producer David E. Kelley won't comment, but a tabloid and an entertainment television show both reported in recent weeks that a 10-year-old girl will show up on Ally's doorstep claiming to be the biological daughter created from eggs she'd put in storage a decade earlier.

"Maybe I wasn't supposed to say that," Clayburgh said after her gaffe. "That's probably such a big secret."

Not anymore.

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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