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Let's check our schedules

Actor Hector Elizondo filled up his for a role in a new CBS show, which viewers can check out this week as another rash of series debuts.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published March 14, 2004

You think you've got a busy schedule?

Consider the life of character actor extraordinaire Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman, Chicago Hope), who had to choose between reprising a classic role in the Princess Diaries sequel and playing father-figure lawyer Martin Constable in CBS's futuristic legal drama Century City.

He did the only thing a responsible actor could. He took both jobs.

That meant two things: Elizondo got to know the Los Angeles freeways well, shuttling between Century City's El Segundo set and the location shoots on the Diaries movie last winter. And you won't see much of him in Century City's early episodes, written so he didn't have to work on the show every day.

"I was actually thinking of retiring," said Elizondo, who had already turned down a part as the lead character's father in ABC's now-canceled cop drama Karen Sisco. "But it's such a classy production, I decided to come back to the hour drama format . . . which I swore I'd never do again."

Certainly, Century City, which centers on a Los Angeles law firm 26 years in the future, has a quality pedigree. Executive producer Paul Attanasio wrote Oscar-nominated scripts for the films Quiz Show and Donnie Brasco after co-creating NBC's critically lauded Homicide: Life on the Street; executive producer Ed Zuckerman wrote the first Law & Order episode.

But the series faces a daunting task, premiering in the same week as five other shows, a rush of new programming that nearly completes network TV's midseason period.

Elizondo is confident his show will stick: "It's the speculative nature of it . . . far enough (in the future) that there are some possibilities, but not so far away that you have people with springs coming out of their heads."

But I remember similar confidence from the good folks at Karen Sisco, right before Law & Order cleaned their clocks on Wednesday night.

So let's check out a few of the new shows on deck this week and gauge their chances of success.

HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (debuts at 9 tonight on WTTA-Ch. 38) - Sticking 17 alumni from the Austin, Texas, Round Rock High School class of '93 in a Hawaiian resort, this show plays like an episode of MTV's Real World filtered through that schlocky reunion show Classmates. Of course, producers force "The Redneck" to bunk with "The Gay Guy," "The Nerd" to bunk with "The Jock" and all the once-popular girls to share a room (everyone is known only by their handles in high school, another delight). Worst of all, a woman who divorced her high school sweetheart returns to win him back, only to find producers invited three of his ex-girlfriends back, too. Surely there's a circle of hell reserved for people who come up with shows like this.

Odds: Even money. Because nobody watches the WB on Sunday, the bar is set low.

CENTURY CITY (debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WTSP-Ch. 10) - Imagine a world where cosmetic surgery allows today's boy bands to look the same 30 years from now and a man passes off his clone as his biological child. This is Century City, a legal drama that loses its punch by fast-forwarding nearly three decades. When you can just make up a futuristic law to solve a problem, how suspenseful can any situation be?

Odds: Low. With few recognizable stars opposite Frasier and 24, it's a futuristic drama with little future.

THE STONES (debuts at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on WTSP-Ch. 10) - CBS can talk about redeveloping and rescripting, but this show's fate was sealed in May, when star Robert Klein faced a roomful of advertisers in New York (after a surprisingly funny set by King of Queens star Kevin James) and bombed harder than a Scud missile. Weeks later, this comedy about a pair of divorcing baby boomers vanished from CBS's fall schedule for "retooling," which is French for "We're contractually obligated to air this, so we'll bury it in March."

Odds: Low. Klein and Who's the Boss? alum Judith Light as the bickering pair whose divorce freaks out their adult children? Let's hope Light didn't leave her Law & Order: Special Victims Unit day job.

THE D.A. (debuts at 10 p.m. Friday on WFTS-Ch. 28) - Wings alum Steven Weber is a slick Los Angeles district attorney whose office falls under suspicion when a protected witness is killed. Bruno Campos (ER, Jesse) is impressive as an outside attorney brought in to investigate, but other heavyweights such as J.K. Simmons (Oz, Law & Order) are wasted in throwaway roles. In the end, there are few likable characters to snag viewers; even Weber, who managed to stay likable while playing the deranged father in ABC's The Shining remake, comes off badly.

Odds: Middling. But even if the show improves, because it airs on ABC Friday, who will notice?

[Last modified March 14, 2004, 01:05:29]


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