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Tuned In: 'Boomtown' brings a bit of 'Rashomon' to prime time

Thursday, July 25, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- After most of last year's riskier programs failed to yield ratings dividends, this fall the networks are playing it safe. Creatively, almost all the new fall shows are bankrupt of fresh ideas or any innovation.

That makes NBC's "Boomtown" an oasis in a desert of same-old, same-old.

It's an ensemble drama set in Los Angeles featuring cops, detectives, paramedics, a reporter and the district attorney, starring Donnie Wahlberg, Jason Gedrick, Neal McDonough, Mykelti Williamson and Nina Garbiras. Each episode will tell a single story from multiple perspectives.

"Boomtown" doesn't overdo the different points-of-view device originated in Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film "Rashomon." There's just enough overlap as the show shifts from one perspective to another to make it interesting, not too much to seem repetitive.

Executive producer Graham Yost, who wrote the movie "Speed" and episodes of HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Band of Brothers," created "Boomtown" after doing research on "Band of Brothers."

"I was researching a battle that took place in Holland, and each veteran I spoke to had a different account of the battle, and it was my job to try to put that all together," Yost said. He thought about telling the story from varying points of view. Ultimately he opted not to for "Band of Brothers," but the idea stuck with him.

Wahlberg and McDonough both worked with Yost on "Band of Brothers" and jumped at the opportunity for a second chance.

"It's just honest storytelling, just in a different format than all the shows that we've seen throughout the years," Wahlberg said. "I don't think we're trying to turn television upside down. Graham is just trying to tell a story in a way that he found fascinating."

Finalizing 'Friends'

When "Friends" returns for what's expected to be its final season, the season finale complication of Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) mistaking that Joey (Matt LeBlanc) is about to propose marriage instead of Ross (David Schwimmer) will have repercussions over several episodes.

In real life, that situation would probably get untangled right away, but on TV such misunderstandings have a way of festering.

"Hopefully, we'll handle it in a way that feels truthful and realistic and is also really funny," said David Crane, executive producer of the show with Marta Kauffman and Kevin Bright. "That's the obstacle we have. Our job is to figure out a way to do that that doesn't feel contrived and fake."

"What surprised us this season was how truly divided our audience was in terms of who they wanted Rachel to be with," said Kauffman.

Crane said viewers care about all the characters and felt for Joey and his unrequited love for Rachel. At the same time, "we walk a fine line. Ross and Rachel just had a baby. It's tricky, and that's what we've been wrestling with as we've been figuring out the beginning of the season."

Rachel's baby will be present on the series but won't be the focus.

"We don't look at the baby as the seventh friend," Kauffman said. "It will affect lives but not a majority of episodes."

Despite rumors, no thought has been given to a "Friends" spin-off.

"It's like planning a memorial service before the person is dead," Kauffman said.

NBC is holding out hope for another season beyond the one that starts in September. But Kauffman said the producers are approaching this season as the last. They don't know how they'll end the show but said the characters will end up happy.

Their one promise: It won't be like the last "Seinfeld."

"We guarantee they won't end up in jail," Bright said.

'Perfect' size

"Ally McBeal" is canceled, making way for at least one show that will present women who don't look like models.

ABC's new sitcom "Less Than Perfect" stars Sara Rue ("Popular") as Claude, an upbeat, happy office temp.

"We've been watching years and years of television [about] the problems of micro-thin women with incredible wardrobes," said series creator Terri Minsky ("Geena," "Lizzie McGuire").

Rue said normal-sized women are made to feel inferior because they don't see themselves represented on screen. "Less than Perfect" will address the issue in a humorous way, and Rue is proud that in the pilot the issue is brought up by Claude and no one else.

"That is why it's being addressed, because, unfortunately, it is an issue because of the media and how they portray women," Rue said. "The difference between other shows and this show is it came from the character herself. ... It was all her insecurity and how she feels about herself. Nobody else was commenting on that."

"Less than Perfect" co-star Andy Dick plays an office worker similar to his "NewsRadio" character.

Dick spent his youth in Monroeville. His father worked for Westinghouse, and his family lived in the Pittsburgh suburb from when Dick was age 9 until 15. He remembers that time fondly but didn't realize one of his favorite people to lampoon also grew up near Pittsburgh.

In his recently canceled MTV series "The Andy Dick Show," Dick played a teen pop star named Daphne Aguilera, who claims to be Christina Aguilera's mother's friend's aunt's neighbor. (Actually, every time she explains the relations, they change.)

"I did an amalgamation of Britney [Spears] and Christina, but she looked more like Britney in her first video, 'Naughty Baby Did a No-No.' I kept gravitating toward Christina. I like Christina. She's more talented, and I thought she was a stronger personality and she could take it. Britney seemed like she might get upset."

Dick hopes to film a two-hour movie for MTV that includes the character, and he said Aguilera has agreed to make a cameo, but he's not holding his breath.

"I've got to catch her on one of those days when she likes Daphne because it really is hot and cold with her," Dick said.

'Alias' survivor

Michael Vartan, whose CIA agent appeared all washed up in May's "Alias" season finale, will be back on the case this fall. Turns out his character didn't drown in the wall of water that enveloped him while he was on a mission with Sydney Bristow (Emmy nominee Jennifer Garner).

"Evidently I have a very powerful breast stroke," Vartan said last week. "That's how I got out of it, I believe. There's a little vent spot and I just swam. I can hold my breath pretty well, too, apparently."

Broken 'News'?

Bravo's "Breaking News," a newsroom-set drama salvaged after it was dumped by TNT, got off to an unimpressive start. Despite heaps of media attention, two episodes last Wednesday garnered a measly 0.4 overnight rating. The bright side? It performed above Bravo's average rating in the time period and retained viewers from its first to second hour.

Still, I can't help but wonder, excellent as the show is, whether TNT made the right call, at least from a bottom-line business perspective.

NGC visits the Strip

Tonight's "National Geographic Today" (7 p.m.) includes a visit to Pittsburgh's Strip District as part of a continuing series of tours of great American neighborhoods. A script for the segment indicates the program will visit Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., Enrico Biscotti Co. and others.

National Geographic Channel is available on AT&T (Channel 273) and Adelphia (Channel 120) cable systems on the digital tier.

So long, Sam

Daily Variety reports that Rob Lowe, who plays White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn on "The West Wing," will leave the series in an episode to air next March. Variety reports Lowe's exit came after the series' production company refused to entertain talks of a pay hike for the star after giving raises to Martin Sheen and other cast members.

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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