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Tuned In: A new look for 'The Guardian'

Friday, July 19, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, CALIF. -- You know a TV show has made an impact when it inspires tourism.

A handful of fans of CBS's Pittsburgh-set legal drama "The Guardian" will visit Pittsburgh for a weekend next month to see the sites pictured and referenced in the show. They'll come from Chicago; Birmingham, Ala., and New Jersey with plans to tour Downtown, the South Side, the Strip and Shadyside as they eagerly anticipate the start of the show's second season.

Production is already underway on year two with Mt. Lebanon native and series creator David Hollander running the series himself. Executive producer Michael Pressman, who guided TV newcomer Hollander last year, departed, leaving Hollander in charge.

"It's a little more hectic, but it's better for me," Hollander said Tuesday night at a CBS party. "This year you'll see a show that's all my vision."

A new director of photography has joined the crew, new music and a new main title will be added (Hollander disliked the old titles and thought the music was "cheesy"). Writing and directing the dramatically taut May season finale helped crystallize Hollander's ideas about the show's evolution.

"I wanted a look that had more contrasts and depth," he said. "I was tired of the camera shaking. I want movement that has a point of view and I want to see natural light through windows."

Sets were repainted, the legal services office was expanded, a new courthouse set was built and a new restaurant set was added. The show now has jail and hospital sets, too.

"We inherited 'Family Law's' space and now have five soundstages," Hollander said.

Adding to the new look of the show will be footage shot in Pittsburgh by a second unit crew last month. Hollander said the crew captured five hours of establishing shot footage, including views of Downtown from every conceivable angle. He said the crew took KDKA's helicopter up to shoot the rivers and PNC Park at night.

In addition, the cast will return to Pittsburgh in October and February to shoot scenes for the first time since a day of filming on Grant Street for the pilot in April 2001.

David Stapf, CBS senior vice president of current programming, said shooting more in Pittsburgh is critical for the show's future.

"Pittsburgh is a really unique place to set a show," he said. "I want to see more of Pittsburgh to give it a sense of place. I want it to be able to breathe a little bit."

The show begins its second season on Sept. 24 tying up loose ends from May's cliffhanger. When we last saw Nick Fallin (Simon Baker), there was a stripper without a pulse lying on the floor of his Shadyside home. Regular viewers were rewarded with seeing the guarded, emotionally unavailable Nick emoting like never before.

"I knew I wanted to end the year answering all the questions I don't like to answer," Hollander said. "I wanted people to look back at the year and say, 'Oh, I get it all now. I understand the back story I was never told.' It all poured out."

Series star Baker said the relationship between Nick and his father, played by Dabney Coleman, remains enjoyably complicated.

"It's very much a love-hate relationship," Baker said. "It's amazing that people you are close to in a lot of ways could make you dislike yourself, make you feel unworthy, insignificant."

Hollander said the show will slowly be reconstituted, but it will take three episodes to get to that point.

"First I've got to get [Nick] out of jail. Once that happens, there's a bunch of stories I need to tell that are lingering from last year. From the fourth episode on it will be a whole new show in a way."

Hollander intends to alter the corporate law franchise by having the lawyers represent not just corporate fat cats, but also the police department, hospitals and municipalities. Some of the clients will become recurring characters.

"We'll be on the wrong side of cases," Hollander said. "If the police beat somebody up, we represent the police. If somebody dies on the operating table, we represent the hospital or doctor."

Hollander said this change gives him more avenues to explore and may help prepare him for another series.

"Ultimately, I want to do another Pittsburgh show that's not 'The Guardian' but has that tone," he said. "So I can start to experiment with whether it will be a hospital show or another show."

If not another series, Hollander would like to film a movie in Pittsburgh. (He's such a Pittsburgh fan, he considered using footage of the Three Rivers Stadium implosion for his production company logo at the end of each "Guardian" episode, but ultimately decided against it.)

There is some stunt casting planned for the second season of "The Guardian." Farrah Fawcett has been cast as the mother of the stripper last seen lying on Nick's living room floor. Fawcett will appear in at least two episodes.

CBS president Leslie Moonves said no thought was given to moving "The Guardian" off the Tuesday schedule even though it was the lowest rated of CBS's three dramas airing that night.

"We think without 'NYPD Blue' against it, 'The Guardian" is going to explode this year," Moonves said.

CBS research guru David Poltrack said summer reruns are helping "The Guardian" attract new viewers. Most series garner 60 percent of their original rating in reruns, "The Guardian" is drawing 67 percent of its original ratings.

CBS's Stapf said network executives are pleased with the direction of the series.

"David Hollander is incredible. He's very straightforward, he knows the show he wants to do. It's in his head and he's very good at articulating it," Stapf said. "It hasn't been the normal producer-network approval way to do things because we have completely agreed with everything he's done. That's not always the case."

Stapf said he appreciates the unpredictability of "The Guardian" and its characters. He also expects the series to return to its roots after wrapping up loose ends.

"I think they're going to get back to a little bit of what the show's core is: a flawed character very much at odds with what he did and the two worlds he lives within," Stapf said. "Toward the end of the season, they did a couple [story] arcs that will be resolved and I think David's intention is to go back to self-contained episodes."

An early episode will be loosely based on the case of John Gebauer, the Washington County teen who was charged with killing his adoptive mother. Hollander, who doesn't plan his series a season at a time like some show runners, said he's happy to return to stand-alone stories with story arcs at the end of the season. It's a pattern that makes the network happy.

"They're unbelievably hands-off," Hollander said. "They rarely give notes anymore. I'm not saying my show is groundbreaking, but for CBS it's different and they wanted a show that was like that."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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