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TV Notes: New blood gives 'Angel' fresh wings

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Like many survivors of near-death experiences, the supernatural TV thriller "Angel" is starting a new life.

With the WB network seeking to attract a broader swath of the coveted youth audience, the show's creators have been forced to fix something that many longtime fans felt wasn't broken.

Last spring, WB flirted with canceling the horror-comedy, which stars David Boreanaz as a vampire with a soul who tries to atone for centuries of wickedness by "helping the hopeless" in demon-infested Los Angeles.

But influential critics praised the show's offbeat storytelling and urged WB to preserve it for a fifth season. And a spirited cult of fans rallied other viewers in a letter-writing and petition campaign.

The execution was halted, but the show's budget was slashed and WB told creator-producer Joss Whedon, who spun off the show from his hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," that "Angel" needed more ... teeth, so to speak.

Now shown Wednesdays at 9 p.m. instead of Sundays, the show is prospering. With its second episode, total viewership was up 21 percent to 5.1 million watchers, compared to the same period last year when it drew about 4 million. That includes a jump of 62 percent among the precious 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

"The WB hoped for a show that would be a little more stand-alone-y," Whedon said. "When a show is in its fifth year, they don't expect it to get any sudden heat. They were hoping to pump the audience a little bit ... with episodes people could jump into without being confused."

The main changes: dropping actress Charisma Carpenter by abandoning her vainglorious bombshell character Cordelia in an indefinite offscreen coma, and adding James Marsters as Spike, the bleached-blond other vampire-with-a-soul who was last seen burning alive on the series finale of "Buffy."

Now Angel is in charge of Wolfram & Hart, the massive law firm that secretly represents evildoers -- but was the firm's surrender real, or just a new bid to corrupt him?

"I think there's a lot of territory to explore in how the characters respond to their new environment, how they'll pull together and how they'll pull apart," said Alexis Denisof, who plays occult expert Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Spike brings to the show a blood rivalry with Angel. Both vampires had a rocky romance with the vampire-slayer Buffy, and both are competing to be the one bloodsucker who gets to become human again by fulfilling an ancient apocalyptic prophecy (that's the long-term "one-armed man"-style plotline "Angel" established when it started in 1999.)

At least for now, the two won't be getting into any fistfights: Spike has returned as a ghost, a phantom in the shape of his corporeal self connected to a mystical amulet.

Longtime fans are still debating the value of Spike, the abandonment of Cordelia and which new character should become Angel's love interest.

"Right now all I can really say about whether the changes will be good, is that if whatever Joss Whedon does to Angel keeps the show on the air for several more seasons, I'll be happy," said Karen Drowne, 41, an insurance claims adjuster from Lakeland, Fla., who runs the fan site "And that will be good."

-- Anthony Breznican, Associated Press

Concorde bid helps charity

David L. Hayes made his bid for history -- and won.

The Toledo, Ohio, businessman and his wife, Patty, will take their seats among the passengers on the last trans-Atlantic flight of the Concorde supersonic jet, flying Friday from New York to London. Hayes won the tickets Monday in an online auction hosted by eBay and sponsored by NBC's "Today."

He paid $60,300 for the tickets on the approximately three-hour flight, plus hotel and a flight home. The entire bid goes to four charities: the Fred Rogers Fund, Boys & Girls Club of America, Reading is Fundamental and UNICEF.

"Fred Rogers -- my kids grew up with him," Hayes said. "He was a great man."

"It's the trip of a lifetime," he said. "I don't know what price tag you can put on this trip. These are the only two seats that are noninvitation. The other 98 passengers will be celebrities from both sides of the pond."

Hayes and his wife will receive the tickets during tomorrow's broadcast of "Today."

-- Vanessa Winans, Toledo Blade Staff Writer

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