Steven Bochco has a simple diagnosis for why his hospital drama City of Angels suffered in the ratings last season. ”It just wasn’t good enough,” says the executive producer. ”We’ve gotta make it better.”
The creative face-lift begins with the exit of Vivica A. Fox’s medical director (”We created a character she was fundamentally not right for,” says Bochco) and the entrance of Homicide: Life on the Street vet Kyle Secor as Dr. Raleigh Stewart, a Hodgkin’s disease survivor who comes to work in the ER of L.A.’s Angels of Mercy hospital. (Bring It On’s Gabrielle Union also joins as surgical resident Courtney Ellis.) Secor says he took the role because ”Steven Bochco offered me a job, and it sounded like an interesting experiment.”
Overseeing this experiment will be new executive producer Kevin Hooks (a.k.a. high school basketballer Morris Thorpe on The White Shadow), who was brought in following cocreator Paris Barclay’s sudden departure this summer. Barclay, who is African-American, reportedly clashed with Bochco over, among other things, Barclay’s desire to add more white cast members, and has said he decided to resign after having a creative ”epiphany” at a Sundance directing workshop. (Barclay declined to comment.) Bochco isn’t buying it: ”He just quit on us.”
Not that you can blame him after Angels’ controversy-packed first season. In light of the NAACP’s protests over the 1999 fall season’s lack of diversity, the predominantly black drama was put under a media microscope upon its January debut. ”That’s a heavy burden,” says star Blair Underwood (Dr. Ben Turner). ”The show felt that weight.” While Angels ascended to No. 3 among African-American households, it placed only 88th in overall viewers. ”We were called ‘the black show,’ and that hurt us,” says Phil Buckman (Dr. Geoffrey Weiss), the sole surviving Caucasian regular. (Other returning costars include Hill Street Blues’ Michael Warren as hospital CEO Ron Harris.)
Still, CBS president and CEO Les Moonves opted to resuscitate the series. ”It was a tough call — the ratings were marginal at best,” Moonves admits. ”We’ve put it in a very tough time period because we want to see if it has some life left in it.” Angels’ foes include NBC’s Will & Grace and ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. ”I have to believe Millionaire has reached its peak,” hopes Hooks. ”Otherwise, we have no shot.”
Bochco is convinced that this patient can be saved. ”I have no illusions about what kind of audience we’re going to generate Thursday at 9 o’clock,” he says. ”I’m making this show for 50 critics and for Les. I’m hoping we can make a show that is so significantly improved that critics will talk it up, and Les will … stick with us regardless” of ratings. Angels devotees had better start praying now.