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CANCELED! Bad-luck TV actors should come with a warning: Cast them at your own risk.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- It's not entirely fair to call them "show killers." They're just actors hired to do a job. But bad luck follows these unfortunate, sometimes talented thespians who wind up in TV series that don't go the distance. Heck, most of them barely limp out of the starting gate.

Tonight at 8, CBS premieres "Charlie Lawrence," a doomed sitcom about a gay actor-turned-U.S. congressman played by Nathan Lane.

What makes it doomed? Well, it's been sitting on the shelf for a year, and CBS didn't have enough faith in it to put it on the fall schedule or on at midseason. Instead, the network is burning it off now.

Lane alone doesn't qualify as a show killer -- although he did head the cast of NBC's disastrous "Encore! Encore!" (1998) -- because it takes three strikes before you're considered for this sad, sad list.

Ted McGinley also stars in "Charlie Lawrence," and he has a habit of joining shows that are on the decline ("Happy Days," "The Love Boat," "Married ... With Children"). The Web site www.jumptheshark.com even hails McGinley as its patron saint.

"The funny thing is, years ago I was the one who made jokes about the fact that I sank 'The Love Boat,' " said McGinley, a good sport, after a January news conference for "Charlie Lawrence." "But the truth is, it took me 7 1/2 seasons to get rid of 'Married ... With Children,' and you can't even get a show on for six episodes anymore. It took me 4 1/2 years to get rid of 'Happy Days,' so there's no truth to it."

In his case, maybe not. But even with the high mortality rate of TV shows, there are plenty of other actors who have an uncanny ability to get cast in flops:

Scott Bairstow
Bairstow, who is currently facing rape charges, has had a career that includes a string of series failures, including "Breaking News" (2002, Bravo), "Wolf Lake" (2001, CBS), "Harsh Realm" (1999, Fox) and "Significant Others" (1998, Fox).

Paget Brewster
Poor Paget! She was so good on the excellent, underwatched "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (2002-03, Fox). That one, at least, deserved to be a hit. Not so her other two series, particularly "The Trouble with Normal" (2000, ABC), a sitcom on the resume of several other show killers. She also starred in "Love & Money" (1999, CBS).

Jon Cryer
His first two programs, "The Famous Teddy Z" (1989, CBS) and "Partners" (1995, Fox), were smart and deserving of success. "Getting Personal" (1998, Fox) was OK, but then there's "The Trouble with Normal." Cryer will try again this fall with CBS's "Two and a Half Men."

Mike Damus
"Teen Angel" (1997, ABC) was a cute enough TGIF show, but to be "Brutally Normal" (2000, The WB), er, honest, "Men, Women and Dogs" (2001, The WB) was a dog. And does anyone remember "My Guys" (1996, CBS)?

Dennis Farina
Critics loved "Crime Story" (1986, NBC), but "Buddy Faro" (1998, CBS) and "In-Laws" (2002, NBC) received few raves.

Joely Fisher
After she was a friend of "Ellen," viewers didn't travel with her to "Normal, Ohio" (2000, Fox) or the excellent "Grosse Pointe" (2000-01, The WB). "Danny" (2001, CBS) was a disaster, and "Baby Bob" (2002-03, CBS) is about to speak his last. Maybe her new Lifetime series, "Wild Card," premiering in August, will have better luck.

Joanna Gleason
A terrific Broadway actress, Gleason hasn't faired as well in TV, surviving "Hello, Larry" (1979-80, NBC) only to wander into "Love & War" (1992-95, CBS), the aptly titled "Temporarily Yours" (1997, CBS), "Oh Baby!" (1998-99, Lifetime) and "Bette" (2000-01, CBS).

David Krumholtz
Yet another "Trouble With Normal" star, Krumholtz had two misfires before "Trouble," starring in "Monty" (1994, Fox), "Chicago Sons" (1997, NBC) and "The Closer" (1998, CBS). This fall, he'll appear on the Rob Lowe NBC drama "The Lyon's Den." Be afraid, Rob, be very afraid.

Sharon Lawrence
Despite a long run on "NYPD Blue," Lawrence's other programs couldn't get arrested: "Fired Up" (1997-98, NBC), "Ladies Man" (1999-2000, CBS) and "Wolf Lake."

Justin Louis
"Hidden Hills" (2002-03, NBC) is another epicenter of show killers, including Louis, who has an exceedingly long list of failures, including "The Fighting Fitzgeralds" (2001, NBC), "Battery Park" (2000, ABC), "Trinity" (1998, NBC), "Public Morals" (1997, CBS) and "Local Heroes" (1996, Fox).

Paula Marshall

If Louis is the king of show killers, Marshall is undeniably the queen. In addition to "Hidden Hills," her career has been "Cursed" -- which became "The Weber Show" (2000-01, NBC) -- by "Snoops" (1999, ABC), "Chicago Sons" and "Wild Oats" (1994, Fox). Even her one quality series, "Cupid" (1998, ABC), lasted a single season, and then she arrived on "Sports Night" (1997-98, ABC) just in time for its cancellation.

Tim Matheson
This season, his character had to resign from the vice presidency on "The West Wing" after an extramarital affair, and his previous two series, "Breaking News" and "Wolf Lake," withered on the vine. But those are just his most recent career missteps. Previously, he starred in "Charlie Hoover" (1991-92, Fox), "Just in Time" (1988, ABC), "Tucker's Witch" (1982-83, CBS) and "The Quest" (1976, NBC). Matheson also joined "Bonanza" and "The Virginian" in their waning years, just as they prepared to expire.

Sean Maher
Although he did well playing against type on the canceled "Firefly" (2002, Fox), Maher still has a resume that includes "The $treet" (2000, Fox) and "Ryan Caulfield, Year One" (1999, Fox). At least someone at Fox likes him.

Daniel Stern
Though he achieved early success as the narrator on the long-running ABC hit "The Wonder Years," whenever his mug appears on screen, Stern isn't as lucky, whether he's "Danny" (2001, CBS) or "Regular Joe" (2003, ABC). Then again, his voiceover work didn't last long on "Dilbert" (1999, UPN), either.

Liz Vassey
This one is downright criminal. Vassey is talented and beautiful, but she can't catch a break, starring in quality, low-rated programs such as "Maximum Bob" (1998, ABC), "The Tick" (2001-02, Fox) and "Push, Nevada" (2002, ABC). Just try to forget she also appeared on "Pig Sty" (1995, UPN) and "Brotherly Love" (1995-97, NBC, The WB).

Lisa Ann Walter

She was well cast in the quality newsroom drama "Breaking News" -- another vortex of show killers -- but didn't get the recipe right in "Emeril" (2001-02, NBC) or "Life's Work" (1996-97, ABC).

Dondre T. Whitfield
Another actor stuck among the "Hidden Hills," Whitfield also ran through "Inside Schwartz" (2001-02, NBC), "Secret Agent Man" (2000, UPN), "Living in Captivity" (1998, Fox), "Between Brothers" (1997-99, Fox, UPN) and "The Crew" (1995-96, Fox). Ladies and gentleman, we may have a new king of the show killers!

Honorable mentions
These would-be show killers were kept off the list only because their shows that premiered last year will live to see a second season this fall.

Though "Good Morning, Miami" was renewed by the skin of its teeth, Mark Feuerstein flopped with "Fired Up" and "Conrad Bloom" (1998, NBC) and was on the scene for series downfalls with his recurring roles on "Caroline in the City" and "Once and Again."

Jason Gedrick landed on a quality drama that lasted more than a season with "Boomtown." Before that, he moved swiftly in and out of "The Beast" (2001, ABC), "Falcone" (2000, CBS), "EZ Streets" (1996, CBS), "Murder One" (1995-96, ABC) and "Class of '96" (1993, Fox).

Before her marginally successful ABC sitcom "Life with Bonnie," Bonnie Hunt hunted for hits in "The Bonnie Hunt Show" (1995, CBS), "The Building" (1993, CBS), "Davis Rules" (1992, CBS) and "Grand" (1990, NBC).

Funnywoman Sherri Shepherd is often the best thing about the sitcoms she's cast in. ABC's returning comedy "Less than Perfect" may be only slightly better than its title suggests, but there was even less to recommend about "Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central)" (2002, ABC), "Emeril," "Holding the Baby" (1998, Fox), "Claude's Crib" (1997, USA) or "Cleghorne!" (1995-96, The WB).

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post your own favorite show killers at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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