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Tuned In: WB works to make 'Angel' more accessible

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD -- It ain't over until the fat lady sings. But what about a green guy with horns?

Andy Hallet, who plays the singing demon Lorne on The WB's "Angel," serenaded critics by singing "Lady Marmalade" before a press conference about the vampire drama.

Series creator Joss Whedon said the show has a lighter spirit this year now that Angel (David Boreanaz) and crew have taken over the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart and Spike (James Marsters) has joined the cast from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"I'm having fun going back to the original Spike, which is a weird thing because he's got a soul now and that made me think I'd be going in a whole new direction. I'm enjoying not being whipped anymore," Marsters said, referring to his role as Buffy's boy toy in recent seasons. "I can go back to the character's origins and go up to the lead of the series and say, 'You're going to die, you fool' and just be the grit in the wheel."

This season's mandate was to make the show more accessible for casual viewers. To that end, there have been more stand-alone stories. It wasn't until the final episode in November sweeps that any inkling of the season's "big bad" was introduced with the return of lawyer Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane), who was part of the show in its early seasons.

"It's very difficult to balance," Whedon said. "The reason our die-hards love the show is the emotional arcs of the characters. To try to tell stand-alone stories has been tricky."

Whedon said the story of lovers Lindsey and Eve (Sarah Thompson) will be played out through the rest of the season.

"What side Lindsay comes down on is never clear; that's what makes Lindsay interesting," Whedon said. "We will start to get more specific about why they're there and the inevitable effect the big evil corporation will have on them and get between them and get inside them."

A new "Angel" episode airs tonight, and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), in a coma since May, will return for the series' 100th episode on Feb. 4. None of the "Buffy" cast is expected to appear on "Angel" this season, Whedon said.

As for the show's future, The WB's entertainment president, Jordan Levin, said the network is pleased with this year's ratings for "Angel" but that it's still too early to speculate on whether it will return for a sixth season in the fall.

One potential hitch: Producer John Wells ("ER," "The West Wing") is developing a remake of "Dark Shadows" for The WB. Is there room for two vampire shows on one network? Whedon said he was unaware of the Wells series.

"When I invented the concept of the vampire ..." Whedon said, joking. "I was not aware of that. I quit! Clearly, I'm not the only guy to use vampires as a metaphor to tell stories."

But on The WB?

"OK," Whedon deadpanned. "At least it's not an important producer."

Levin said he thinks both vampire series could co-exist on The WB.


Push for 'One Tree Hill'

Ratings haven't been so good for The WB this season, although the network remains hopeful that the Tuesday night drama "One Tree Hill" could still break out. It's drawing a significant percentage of girls in their early teens and the network is about to give the show a big promotional push to draw more viewers.

"We're really encouraged by the female teen viewership," Levin said. "A lot of people forget 'Buffy' and 'Gilmore Girls' and '7th Heaven' were all in the cellar of network TV, but there was a loyal core audience and it was the audience you want to embrace a show early on. We're a network about attracting people who adopt new things early, they set trends in fashion, listen to new music first and then it crosses over. Shows that have a strong core teen following, if they're good and have a broad-based appeal, they eventually cross over and broaden out."

But the fall flops, particularly "Tarzan," hurt.

"You learn as you go," Levin said. "This is not an audience that really embraces anything that feels replicative, something that's come before. 'Birds of Prey' and 'Tarzan' got a lot of attention; they keep people interested and curious about how the mythology will get reinterpreted. So when you have failure with it, that gets magnified as well. We had a degree of success reinterpreting mythologies with our audience over the course of the first six or eight seasons of the network and we've slipped a little. I think we need to earn that credibility back if that's a direction we go in."

Jamie Kellner, The WB's chairman and chief executive officer, who will retire this spring, said that if either series had worked, the network would be at its all-time high.

"It's always going to be a crapshoot," Kellner said. "You're going to live and die by breaking an important show every year. If you don't, you go back [a step]. If you break one, you'll hold [your audience] and grow slightly. If you break two each year, you'll grow beautifully."

Some good news: The WB's "The Surreal Life" got off to a strong start Sunday, attracting 5.3 million viewers nationally. This year's edition features "Baywatch" star and Playboy playmate Traci Bingham and porn star Ron Jeremy, among others.

Midseason on The WB

"The Help" (9:30 p.m. March 5): The creator of "Married ... With Children" introduces another raucous, bawdy comedy. This one's about servants who toil for a wealthy family. Tori Spelling plays a dog walker.

"High School Reunion" (9 p.m. March 14): The second edition of this "reality" series checks in on 1993 grads from a high school in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, Tex.

"Summerland" (summer 2004): Lori Loughlin ("Full House") stars in this drama as a woman who inherits her sister's children after her sister and brother-in-law die in an accident.


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

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