Cover Story

Fall TV Preview: Black is Back

Get ready for another new ''Millennium'' as Lance Henriksen's FBI guy loses a wife and gains a partner

When we last left Millennium — well, let's see, hero Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) had found out that his Millennium Group, which was supposed to save the world, was involved in some sort of internecine, apocalyptic battle with a splinter faction called the Family; the human race was being wiped out by a virulent plague carried in part by birds; his fellow Millennium operative Lara Means (Kristen Cloke) had seemingly gone insane after a season-ending hallucinogenic trip starring the Virgin Mary and set to Patti Smith's ''Horses'' (the entire song!); his wife, Katherine (Megan Gallagher), had blown her brains out rather than fall victim to the plague; and Frank's dark hair had suddenly turned completely white. The whole thing was like a nightmare David Lynch might have had after eating a bag of bad E. coli burgers.

So, new executive producers Chip Johannessen and Michael Duggan, how are you going to dig the Fox series out of that mess?

''Well, Frank's hair will be gray this season,'' says Duggan, chuckling. ''And the world didn't end, despite what that episode implied, so we're going to pick up the pieces and move on by sending Frank to D.C., and giving him a new work partner and a new life.'' The plague scenario will be contained and tidied up, and creator Chris Carter's acknowledgment that ''we took the serial-killer-of-the-week criticism seriously'' is being heeded. Sounds like Fox should go with a new ad campaign: ''Everything You Knew About Millennium Is Wrong.''

For its first two seasons this was the most uneven good show in prime time — sometimes scary, sometimes silly; sometimes daringly experimental, sometimes hollowly pretentious. Last year, under the guidance of former X-Files brainiacs Glen Morgan and James Wong, you never knew whether Black was going to be a dour killer-hunter or a deadpan conspiracy-nut-buster. It was an exhilarating run — Morgan and Wong have since moved on to feature films — but a decidedly confusing one. And such creative dissonance, combined with lackluster ratings (104th last season), nearly cost the show a slot this fall. A source at Twentieth Century, which produces Millennium, admits that the network's decision to renew was down to the wire. (No doubt the cachet of Chris ''X-Files'' Carter helped.)

Now that Black is back, ''we want to root the series more firmly,'' says Duggan, who oversaw last season's low- and underrated ABC FBI show C-16. ''Megan's character is gone. Frank is now a single father who has decided to go back to what he used to do — work with the FBI in D.C. on especially tough cases. He'll get a partner, which will give viewers a fresh set of eyes to see the show through.''

Those eyes are the big brown ones of Klea Scott, who stood out in the crowded squad-room of CBS' ballyhooed bomberoo Brooklyn South. Scott, who played a smart beat cop will now join Millennium as FBI agent Emma Hollis. ''She's not a rookie,'' explains Duggan, ''but she's young enough to be in awe of Frank Black's rep as a legendary crime solver.''

More broadly, the series will take a turn toward realism and even optimism, say the producers. ''While the news is filled with stories about Clinton with his pants around his ankles,'' says Johannessen, ''we're writing stories that show the government doing its job — getting at truth and some amount of justice.'' Getting at truth — now, there's an intriguing novelty for a Chris Carter show.

''There'll be a lot of personal stories to tell too. [Frank's young daughter] Jordan will be acting out over the death of her mother. But mostly, it'll be about Frank and Klea's character dealing with spectacular crimes.'' Does that mean supernatural stuff? ''I think we prefer the terms speculative and plausible'' says Duggan. ''Chris has given us no mandate other than get back to the first season's tense, atmospheric crime solving, without veering into X-File-ish, UFO areas.''

For her part, Scott is in a situation similar to David Duchovny's: Recently married (to director-actor John Langs) and based in L.A., she's now forced to relocate to Vancouver, where Millennium is shot. ''I don't have the clout yet to ask Chris Carter to move the show,'' says Scott. ''At this point, I'm grateful to have a job and the energy for weekend commuting.''

Originally posted Sep 11, 1998 Published in issue #449 Sep 11, 1998 Order article reprints