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Don't I know that guy?

A face you've seen hopes to become one you'll remember.

By Eric Deggans
Published March 8, 2007


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Jason Gedrick has one of those faces you know you've seen before.

Was he an old friend from high school? A guy who works in your office? An acquaintance from the gym?

In fact, Gedrick is among that rare class of TV actors: a guy who works all the time and has starred in some of the most anticipated and well-reviewed series around, but hasn't yet scored a hit.

If you remember ABC's legal drama Murder One; CBS's gritty crime drama EZ Streets; CBS's version of the Donnie Brasco film, Falcone; NBC's crime- and cops-drenched version of Rashomon, Boomtown; or NBC's ill-fated drama centered on lottery winners, Windfall, then you may remember Gedrick. He starred in every one of them.

While Falcone was a watered-down Brasco knockoff, Boomtown won a Peabody award and an award from the Television Critics Association. NBC canceled it the following year. Murder One, where he starred as a bad-boy actor accused of homicide, got promising ratings when it debuted in 1995 in NYPD Blue's time slot.

But Blue came back to new episodes and Murder One was shuffled off to Thursdays, where it died a noisy death against NBC's Must-See-TV juggernaut.

"On paper, I've had an exceptional career," said Gedrick, calling from his Los Angeles home. "I don't want to be that cynical guy who says, 'You can't figure it out. This is all a bunch of c---.' It's really not. But there is some luck involved and lot of intangibles . . . And I'm really not bitter about it."

On Monday, Gedrick notches another "That Guy" moment - named for the moment when you see him on screen and say, "It's That Guy!" - appearing in a made-for-cable film alongside another underrated TV talent, Donnie Wahlberg.

Wahlberg, who worked with Gedrick in Boomtown, teams up with him again in the A&E network's Kings of South Beach, a movie about two tough guys from New York who move to Miami and create a string of celebrity-studded nightclubs that turn out to be fronts for some nasty people.

Based on the exploits of real-life guys Chris Troiano Gedrick and Andy Burnett (Wahlberg), Kings of South Beach features a crackling script from Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas, Casino) and a twist that changes both characters' lives forever.

The one that got away

Ask Wahlberg whether he shares Gedrick's problem, and he'll reference the best TV show he has done: NY-70. Based on the experiences of real-life French Connection cop Sonny Grosso, the series was supposed to be a TV version of the kinetic crime film classic, with Wahlberg in same sort of starring role Gene Hackman made famous.

You've likely never seen NY-70, because NBC never picked up the promising pilot. With a resume stocked with film and TV projects such as The Sixth Sense, Ransom, Band of Brothers, Big Apple, Runaway and the last two Saw movies, Wahlberg isn't grieving over a great series that never was.

"Most times, the most sophisticated and unique shows are the hardest ones to make . . . (but) I'm not going to start doing what you call second-rate TV shows - I made enough money doing that in my music career," said the former New Kids on the Block member.

Who would have guessed, when Wahlberg was shaking his groove thang to New Kids hits such as You Got It (The Right Stuff) back in 1988, that nearly 20 years later he would have starred in four network TV series (and his brother, one- time rapper Marky Mark, would be nominated for an Oscar)?

"Right now, I have it best . . . I work with great people consistently, which 95 percent of actors don't do," he said.

"I can still walk into the supermarket unnoticed, but I can step on set with Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis and participate in some of the highest-grossing films in history."

This is something Jon Hein has seen before. As creator of the classic Jump the Shark Web site (jumptheshark.com) - chronicling exactly when TV shows cross the line from accomplished to awful - Hein also built an online shrine to the actor he calls the "patron saint of show-killers," Ted McGinley (Love Boat, Married . . . With Children, Hope and Faith).

For Hein, actors such as Gedrick and Wahlberg seem to show a touch of McGinley in their impact on viewers.

"There are some actors who people want to see in a supporting role, not a lead role . . . and that's not the actors' fault," said Hein, who sold his Web site to TV Guide and now hosts a radio show for shock jock Howard Stern's satellite radio channel. "Ted made a pretty good career out of being 'that guy.' "

Just biding their time

While some actors may eventually accept their lot and take secondary roles on formulaic, guaranteed hits - think CSY: NY's Melina Kanakaredes or Without a Trace's Eric Close - others still swing for the fences, hoping for that elusive mix of quality, stardom and commercial success.

Hein's list of such actors includes Carla Gugino (Spin City, Karen Sisco, Threshold), Taye Diggs (Day Break, Kevin Hill, Ally McBeal), Mykelti Williamson (Boomtown, Kidnapped, The Fugitive 2000 TV series), Rena Sofer (24, Heroes, Coupling, Blind Justice).

"It's not because they're bad actors; the shows just don't work," he said.

"You're saying, 'Wow, he's pretty good,' but you're still changing the channel."

Opportunity knocks

Gedrick may soon get another chance to upgrade from "that guy" status: Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry just hired him to play opposite Felicity Huffman for several episodes, scheduled to air in about a month.

It should be old hat for a guy as experienced as Gedrick, whose guest star credits include Arli$$, Crossing Jordan, Ally McBeal and The Ghost Whisperer.

But his voice betrays an eager energy when talking about the role, which he will only say involves lots of scenes with Huffman and a promise from Cherry that the producer is open to his input.

In contrast, Gedrick grows pensive when discussing a role he left behind - starring in a series for ABC that had all the earmarks of a hit but just didn't feel right.

"It literally came down to the last 20 minutes of the last night of negotiation . . . (and ) I decided to keep myself open for a better opportunity," he said.

"I don't for a second doubt that it will be a successful show . . . (But) if you're going to be on a show, you have expect you're going to be on it six years. And I want to be so gung ho about it, I can't wait to get to work every day."

Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or deggans@sptimes.com See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

PREVIEW

Kings of South Beach airs at 9 p.m. on A&E.

Grade: B.

Rating: TV-14.

*   *   *

Carla Gugino

How we know her: Starring roles in quirky TV projects such as the Elmore Leonard-lite drama Karen Sisco and portentious Sci-Fi serial Threshold (she was also Ben Stiller's love interest in the unexpected film hit Night at the Museum).

Why she's That Girl: Beautiful, adept at comedy, action and drama, Gugino has never landed in a series where all the parts worked as well as she does.

Andre Braugher

How we know him: Rocked the TV universe as driven, uncompromising detective Frank Pembleton on NBC's classic series Homicide: Life on the Street. Later efforts, especially FX's recent heist drama Thief, never reached those heights.

Why he's That Guy: Walked away from one of TV's best characters at the top of his game, as if other meaty roles were just around the corner. After playing the ship's captain in last year's lame-o Poseidon Adventure remake, he discovered how wrong that idea was.

Bonnie Hunt

How we know her: Starring roles in sassy, self-titled shows (Life With Bonnie, The Bonnie Hunt Show) that never found a mass audience, despite her ace writing. Oh, and she plays the mom in those sappy Cheaper by the Dozen movies.

Why she's That Girl: Her snappy, sardonic wit has always made her a better talk show guest than series star; typical TV roles only seem to diminish her.

Taye Diggs

How we know him: Suave lawyer-turned-single-daddy in UPN's Kevin Hill, blunt action dude in ABC's Day Break, and the only brother who could turn Ally's head on Ally McBeal.

Why he's That Guy: Kevin Hill was an urbane comedy on a network filled with Star Trek and pro wrestling fans. But when was the last time a black man who wasn't a comic the star of a hit TV series?

Eric Deggans

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 13:00:29]


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