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Tuned In: Tone, content set Lucas profiles apart

Thursday, January 24, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Two upcoming interviews with "Star Wars" filmmaker George Lucas show what a difference a format and interviewer make.

A&E's "Biography" profiles Lucas at 8 p.m. Sunday in an interview with host Harry Smith.

Women's cable network Oxygen features its own take on Lucas when he sits down for a chat in "Conversations from the Edge with Carrie Fisher" (10 p.m. Wednesday), answering questions from the erstwhile Princess Leia.

It's odd that two profiles on Lucas will air in the same week, especially when we're still four months away from his next film's release. But it's also instructive to see how different these programs are.

Anyone familiar with Lucas' history -- his upbringing, how he got into film almost by accident -- won't learn much from "Biography," save for revelations about how devastated he was by the end of his marriage when his wife fell for another man.

A&E's two-hour program is certainly a more complete, more professional production, featuring interviews with relatives and friends (Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, etc.). But the one-hour Oxygen show is more loose, fun and revelatory.

Lucas, who always comes across as emotionless and inscrutable, is at ease with old friend Fisher, even as she teases him about the "flowery" dialogue he writes.

Fisher's biggest flaw as an interviewer, other than sometimes putting her fingers over her mouth when she talks, is that she starts down an interesting path, and then the line of questioning gets diverted.

Her interview with Lucas was taped three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and she asks him about the notion of revenge and why he changed the title of "Return of the Jedi" (it was originally "Revenge of the Jedi"), but the subject shifts and she never gets an answer.

Other times, Fisher is better about following up. Lucas reveals after he concludes the "Star Wars" saga that he intends to work in television.

"There's a lot of TV shows I'd like to do. You can actually do specialized, niche programming and get away with it," Lucas said. "I'm interested in history, so I'm going to do some historical series."

Phones will ring at every TV network after that revelation.

Coming and going

Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff, Lifetime executive vice president of entertainment, has been tapped to become entertainment president at testosterone-heavy UPN. ... The WB has canceled sophomore sitcom "Nikki."

New year, new looks

Channel 11 debuted its new set while I was away, and it looks a lot like the old set.

The cityscape background is new, and a wood-grain look has replaced plastic paneling. The anchor desk has gotten a makeover, albeit, not an overhaul. It looks like the same desk, only refaced (like when you keep your old kitchen cabinets, but put on new fronts).

Strangely, the new set looks smaller than the old one. I don't know if it has a lower ceiling or if the anchor desk is closer to the backdrop, but sometimes the anchors look cramped in their new surroundings.

WPXI's weather center is now the "Severe Weather Center." It appears slightly enlarged, but it is cavernous and dark, like a night club for forecasters.

Blue is an even more dominant color on the Channel 11 set now than it was before. There's blue behind the heads of Channel 4 anchors on the WTAE set, too. Coincidence? Or does research show viewers prefer blue?

On Monday, KDKA-TV will unveil a slightly tweaked set. Expect a new background (goodbye, Three Rivers Stadium) that will probably be a single backdrop for both day and night newscasts. The monitors behind the anchors may also look different.

Locals on 'Early Show'

A student and a professor from Robert Morris University will appear Saturday on CBS's "The Saturday Early Show" (8 a.m., KDKA) to discuss "America Talks," a 45-minute documentary about people's reactions to the attacks of Sept. 11.

Junior Carla Swank and professor James Seguin will discuss the documentary, which was made as part of Seguin's television production class.

'Psychic' mistake

In a press release, Animal Planet listed two premiere dates for its special "The Pet Psychic," which I wrote about in Monday's paper. Unable to contact a publicist about the discrepancy over the weekend, I went with the Jan. 22 date which was corroborated by Animal Planet's listings in TV Week and online (Animal Planet's Web site was useless).

Alas, turns out the network changed its plans. The show is now scheduled to premiere at 8 p.m. Jan. 29. Guess the Pet Psychic didn't see that screw-up coming.

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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