Once and AGAIN
ABC 10-11 PM Debuts Sept. 21
Those frighteningly articulate bad boys of the societal zeitgeist, producer-writer-directors Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick — the guys who gave us thirtysomething and My So-Called Life — now take on late-’90s fractured families in Once and Again. Already being hailed in many circles as the season’s one true classy, innovative show, it stars Sisters’ Sela Ward and Billy Campbell, best known as the chiseled-profile hero of the cult movie The Rocketeer. They play middle-aged singles with children who first spy each other in a classic contemporary suburban way (idling their respective SUVs in a school car-pool line), have a tentative first date, and immediately fall for each other.
”I love the fact that my character is not so on top of her game,” says Ward. ”She’s separated, she’s scattered, she’s terrified of dating. She can evolve a lot.” Campbell’s reason for doing the show is simple: ”I knew Ed and Marshall from seeing [their shows] and having met people who’ve worked for them, and the moment I read the first script [I knew] that these were people I’d slit my mom’s throat to work with.”
And although you may feel like stabbing yourself when you see how many new fall series — Once included — have their characters talking directly to the camera, Zwick ardently defends the contrivance. ”Look at the theater,” he says. ”Eugene O’Neill was doing it in the ’20s.”
Besides, Once’s use of the technique is more than just a jokey, self-referential gimmick. In the pilot, Ward and Campbell have moments, shot in black and white, when they explain the emotions that were roiling their characters in the previous scene. Says Herskovitz, ”People are not reliable witnesses for themselves.” Adds Zwick, ”We’re interested in that tension.”
More tension may come from the show’s scheduling: Once and Again will occupy its first eight weeks in NYPD Blue’s time slot, but where it goes after Blue makes its season debut is up in the air. Ward professes confidence: ”They’re smart people at ABC — they know this show needs nurturing and protecting; they’ll take care of us.” And Zwick notes, ”It’s important to remember that that’s exactly what they did for The Practice, and they stayed committed to that show.”
In any case, it’s good to have a show in which grown-ups speak like complicated adults, discipline their children as a matter of course, and still act goofy in love. Campbell also liked the idea of being in a show where ”I don’t have to say things like, ‘Freeze, scumbag!”’ You never know, Billy: Your character might just catch one of his kids making a midnight raid on the fridge.
— KEN TUCKER
Fox, 8-8:30 p.m. Debuts Sept. 28
CONCEPT Half-hour McBeals — reedited old stories, bolstered by unused footage of everyone’s favorite miniskirted lawyer (Calista Flockhart, above).
THE SCOOP ”There’s new music, a new main title, a snappier pace … People will see that [although] it’s not 100 percent new material, it doesn’t feel recycled,” says coexec producer Jonathan Pontell.
BOTTOM LINE If you’re a fan, you’ll probably be intrigued by this stylistic whim of creator David E. Kelley’s; if not, it’ll just seem like an easy way to make some extra bucks.