Ken Tucker
September 29, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Tim Daly knows that tackling a new version of The Fugitive — the 1963-67 TV series that made David Janssen a jug-eared star, not to mention the 1993 Harrison Ford feature film that grossed $184 million — isn’t an easy way back into series television.

”I wasn’t eager to come back to TV unless it was a home-run choice,” says the 44-year-old actor. ”I didn’t want to be in a sort of medium-sized hit — I did that before [with the 1990-97 sitcom Wings], and that was fine, but it got tedious. I wanted to do something that would either go huge or just crash and burn.” The show stars Daly as Dr. Richard Kimble, who’s falsely accused of murdering his wife, goes on the lam, and is relentlessly hunted by police detective Gerard, played here by Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump).

For all the risk inherent in having viewers old and young compare him invidiously to Janssen and Ford, Daly seems to be making a shrewd choice — he believes he’s reintroducing today’s audience to good old-time TV realism: ”This isn’t the sort of heightened reality of, say, a movie like Mission: Impossible 2. There’s a sense that my character is a real guy, going through this unbelievable travail.” Daly’s late father, James Daly, appeared in two episodes of the original series — episodes, strangely, that his son has never seen. ”I just haven’t gotten around to it, but I will,” says Daly.

The new Fugitive is overseen by the feature film’s production team of Arnold and Anne Kopelson, and boasts the participation of original series creator Roy Huggins (The Rockford Files) as well. And running the show is executive producer John McNamara, who created the highly original, quickly canceled 1996 cult sensation Profit as well as 1998-99’s Michael Madsen psycho-joke show, Vengeance Unlimited.

McNamara is steeped in the Janssen original, a phenomenon in its time thanks not only to its antiheroic lead character and procession of cool guest stars (from Robert Duvall to Angie Dickinson), but also for the suspense the show sustained in Kimble’s pursuit of the true killer, ”the one-armed man.” ”It was the all-purpose series, if you think about it,” says McNamara. ”It was a crime show, a doctor show, a romance, a cliff-hanger serial from week to week.” The series’ 1967 climax created an almost Survivor-like phenomenon among viewers who wanted to see Kimble get his man.

Says McNamara, ”We’re going to use the one-armed man [stage actor and former Crime Story star Stephen Lang] sparingly, the way the original show did. I’d like to keep it a secret when he’s gonna pop up in the show. If I say he’ll be in, say, 7 out of the first 11 shows, it takes away some of the suspense.”

McNamara wanted so much to honor the original Fugitive that he toyed with the idea of updating the famous voice-over orginally supplied by William Conrad (later a star of TV’s Cannon). ”I wrote the pilot with narration,” says McNamara. ”But it just didn’t seem to work when we started putting the show together. Then I realized something: Narration was a holdover from radio, which told you everything. Since that time, producers like Steven Bochco taught us how to watch TV as if you were reading a novel: You hear the narration in your head; you show the action. And in recent years, [producers] David E. Kelley and Joss Whedon took it to the next level [of storytelling]. So I’m trying to build from there, rather than borrowing older devices.”

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