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Fox promises 'Skin' will be deep drama

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Rob Owen, Post-Gazette Television Critic

HOLLYWOOD -- There's got to be a punchline in this somewhere: This fall Fox debuts a new drama called "Skin" about the son of the Los Angeles district attorney (Kevin Anderson) who falls in the love with the daughter of a pornography impresario (Ron Silver).

Did anyone expect this show to air on CBS? Clearly, it's a Fox series through and through. But executive producer Jim Leonard said viewers expecting anything more than the increasingly permissive broadcast networks will allow might be disappointed by the amount of flesh on display in "Skin." (Still, Leonard, who has children age 13 and 15, said he won't let the younger one watch "Skin.")

"If people want to stay with the show just because of the porn aspect, they're going to be ultimately disappointed. The show is going to be a character-driven, multilayered urban drama."

Newcomers D.J. Corona, 22, and Olivia Wilde, 19, play the Romeo and Juliet-like lovers, who lose their virginity to each other in the series premiere.

"The pressure is creating the perfect romance, romance everybody cares so much about, that they really invest their feelings in what happens to it," Wilde said. "If we were just kind of an average teenage romance, you wouldn't care whether we stayed together or whether our parents wanted us to be together or not."

Romance aside, some viewers will take offense at the backdrop, but Leonard said he specifically resisted suggestions that he first offer the show to more permissive pay cable networks.

"I didn't want this to be a salacious show, I wanted it to be a character-driven show," he said. "Our goal is to take the 'soap' out of 'soap opera' to make an operatic, hard driving, character-driven show."

Executive producer Jonathan Littman, who's producing "Skin" with "CSI" honcho Jerry Bruckheimer, said the series will succeed if it can make the world of pornography come alive. Silver said he's most interested in seeing how his character compartmentalizes his life: He complies with the law and is raising a family, but he's still a pornographer.

"There are people who are CEOs of some very mainstream legitimate businesses and what they do corporately to maximize shareholder value is a whole different set of ethical rules than they would apply in their home life or to their friends," Silver said. "They clearly differentiate, 'That's my job and it has nothing to do with what I want to teach my children to be productive members of society.' "

Some might assume Anderson's district attorney, who attempts to prosecute Silver's porn king, is the hero of "Skin," but that's not what producers intend, making him power-hungry rather than noble.

"This show is all about where the lines are and how you cross them and where your shadow falls across that line," Leonard said.

It's somewhat surprising to see Fox go the serialized drama route, because it bucks current TV trends. Competing networks are more focused on procedural shows with close-ended stories (i.e. "CSI," "Without a Trace," "Law & Order"). Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman said it's a conscious effort on her network's part to woo female viewers who defected from Fox after "Ally McBeal," only to return in the past year for "Joe Millionaire" and "American Idol."

"Reality programming is teaching us that people are very interested in serialized programming and especially young people, and we're interested in young people at Fox," Berman said.

In addition to "Skin," Fox will roll out "The O.C." in early August. It's another serialized drama that has the theme of young love as a bad boy moves in with a wealthy Orange County family and falls for the girl next door. Berman dismisses any notion that the two series are overly similar.

" 'Skin' is going to be dealing with political intrigue and race relations and the political ambitions of the Los Angeles district attorney who chooses to marry a Latina and live in a Latin area of L.A. in order to further his political ambition," she said. " 'The O.C.' is very much in keeping with the '90210' kind of audience. It's a much less ambitious canvas, a very good big soap. 'Skin' has much more grand expectations."

'John Doe' resolution

Although Fox canceled "John Doe," Berman got details from the writers on what they planned to do with the character. How did he have seemingly endless knowledge?

"When you are about to die and you see the white light in the tunnel right before you cross over to the next world, you are [endowed] with all the information you will need to get to the next level," Berman said. "The only problem for John Doe is he didn't die. He came closer to death than anyone and then he came back and yet he'd forgotten the very essence of who he is. And there were people who knew this."

Fox executives acknowledged canceling shows without giving a conclusion can frustrate viewers, but they said it's all a matter of business.

"The bottom line is we're constantly in cost-benefits mode," said Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow. "When a show isn't highly rated enough to warrant what is frequently a $40 million investment in a second season of 22 episodes, including marketing expenditures, you make the tough decision and that's what we've had to make."

In fairness, viewers' anger is often better directed at producers who opt for a cliffhanger even when they know there's a good chance their show won't be renewed.

Not so 'Keen' ratings

Fox's "Keen Eddie" has won over a small core of loyal viewers, but not enough to earn it a second season.

" 'Keen Eddie' is not faring very well in the ratings," acknowledged Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman. "It was a show that we really believed in and got behind. We haven't made a final determination of its fate, but it certainly would have to show some growth."

Translation: "Keen Eddie" is DOA.

Name change

WQED's "Pittsburgh Bandstand" (6 tonight) has been renamed "Pittsburgh Dance Party" and will feature more '70s music but will eschew clips in favor of scenes of present-day Pittsburghers dancing.

Series creator T.J. Lubinsky said the name change came as a "mutual decision" after discussions with "American Bandstand" producer Dick Clark to avoid any confusion with that legendary series. Lubinsky has long had a working relationship with Clark's company.

Channel surfing

"The Shield" will return for its third season on FX in January. ... British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Glenn Close, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Rowling, Ian McKellan, Michael Moore, Evan Marriott and Simon Cowell will be among the celebrities lending their voices to "The Simpsons" as it enters its 15th season this fall. ... Fox will broadcast six unaired episodes of "Cedric the Entertainer Presents" this fall, but after that no additional episodes will be produced.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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