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MUST BLEED TV

LOOKIN' FOR A LITTLE ACTION? THEN HEAD FOR THE LAST STRONGHOLD OF TV VIOLENCE, THE PUNCH-DRUNK WORLD OF CABLE AND SYNDICATION OTHERWISE KNOWN AS...

On Renegade, they don’t just shoot a scene – they pump it full of lead. ”Makeup, we need blood!” barks the director, roaming the living room of a suburban ranch house that has been transformed into a TV series set. Similar orders from other crew members bullet around the room: ”I really want to see that he got shot!” ”We need a badge and a gun!” One of the actors pokes near his heart: ”If I was shot here,” he says, ”blood would be squirting up this way.”

In the mood for an earnest, slice-of-life drama or an impossibly clever sitcom populated by unblemished twentysomethings? Scram. This is double-two-fisted action TV, fella, and the cast and crew of Renegade are cartridge deep into it.

For those too sensitive to tune in, the USA Network drama chronicles the travails of Reno Raines, an ex-cop who is, of course, wrongly accused of murder. As played by former Falcon Crest bad boy Lorenzo Lamas, Reno is a brooding, morally upstanding fugitive-loner of few words and many tight, sleeveless T-shirts. Reno and his Native American cohort, Bobby Sixkiller (played by hulking veteran heavy Branscombe Richmond), are always eager to help victimized citizens – when not trying to clear Reno’s name and pulverize a few thugs in the process.

About 125 miles south of L.A., Lamas strides onto the Renegade set in standard Reno garb – T-shirt, jeans, and boots. With his flowing brown mane, manly stubble, tattoos, and love of motorcycles, the moody 38-year-old seems indistinguishable from his on-screen counterpart. ”We obviously can’t do the huge effects that motion pictures can afford,” says Lamas, veins streaking down his muscular arms. ”But fighting is good. Running is good. It’s interesting, ya know?”

Lamas is hardly the only one who thinks so: The airwaves are being sprayed with a buckshot load of action series. In addition to Renegade, there are shows about wisecracking mythological figures (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess), rip-offs of wisecracking mythological figures (The Adventures of Sinbad, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures), time-traveling swordsmen (Highlander: The Series), crime-fighting cars (Viper), cops with heightened senses (UPN’s The Sentinel), a Fugitive-meets-Twins merger (Two), hunky astronauts in training (The Cape, with a depressed-looking Corbin Bernsen), hunky special-effects men who double as crime fighters (F/X: The Series, with a depressed-looking Kevin Dobson), and a mad-virus-scientist of the week (UPN’s The Burning Zone). ”Let’s face it, we’re not doing Shakespeare,” says Viper star Jeff Kaake. ”It’s like being a kid again. You get to shoot bad guys and save the girls.”

Call it B-TV – the B movies of television, a simple world in which the heroes are virtuous bruisers and the public is threatened on a weekly basis by cold-blooded international terrorists, militia groups, or gun-toting nutjobs. In the end, justice is inevitably served, usually with the help of Uzis and explosions. ”You need big adversaries for big guns,” says Danny Bilson, executive producer of Viper and The Sentinel. ”You can’t use the Viper car to take out counterfeiters.”