Tuned In: 'Lone Star' brings cable-like edge to network TV

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Fox's "Lone Star" is fall's most ambitious pilot, but it won't be a show for everyone. The series' concept also raises concerns about how producers will maintain its walking-the-edge-of-a-knife story as it moves forward.

James Wolk (Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Front of the Class") stars as Bob, a con man who lives a double life with a girlfriend in Midland, Texas, and a wife in Houston. A soap with an intensity borne out of nervousness over whether the lead character's double life will be revealed, "Lone Star" has the feel of cable series such as "Breaking Bad," "Dexter" or "Mad Men," programs that also feature characters with secrets. Producers said that similarity was by design.

"They were looking to try a cable show on a network," said series creator Kyle Killen, a first-time TV writer who has been paired with showrunners Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, veterans of "Party of Five." "When you go out and pitch a show to a network, you're told not to mention 'Breaking Bad' or 'Mad Men' because they're dirty words because they're shows that have a [small] number of viewers, [numbers] that get a show canceled on network. Your people will tell you to talk about 'Dallas.' "

Mr. Killen pitched "Lone Star" as " 'Dallas' without the cheese," but he said at Fox, mentioning cable series was not seen as a negative.

"They believe the only reason those shows aren't watched by more people is they're not on Fox," he said. "The [basic cable networks] don't have this machine, this opportunity behind them."

Mr. Killen said the key to successful cable shows is that the characters are not black and white.

"Everybody is gray, conflict is not simple," he said. "Where the person you're rooting for is very problematic -- he's [with] two people and he's a con man -- but in humanizing that person you end up rooting for [him]."

The series stars Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights") as Bob's Houston wife, daughter of a rich businessman (Jon Voight), who hires Bob to work along his two sons, one nice (Bryce Johnson, "Popular") and one less agreeable (Pittsburgh native Mark Deklin). Newcomer Eloise Mumford plays Bob's Midland girlfriend. David Keith plays Bob's father, who taught his son how to run a con.

Although Fox has been most recently known for action-filled series such as "24" or "Human Target," Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly pointed out past soapier successes such as "Ally McBeal."

"I think ['Lone Star'] is a Fox show because I think it's a noisy conceit," he said. "It is provocative in terms of its conceit and the character relationships that unfold. ... This is a character-based show that will have a continuing story line."

Of course, the show risks repeating itself -- how many times can producers play the "Will he get caught?" card -- if it doesn't push the story forward, something Ms. Lippman recognizes.

"We look at shows that have a strong premise going in. 'Breaking Bad,' for example, started with a strong premise, and by season two they have turned it in some way," she said. "That's our challenge, to keep it going and keep it fresh and not replay the same dynamic over and over again. If we're lucky enough to be back here next year we'll have to make a significant change."

No 'Idol' deals

Pebble by pebble, Fox executives erected a stone wall yesterday, refusing to answer any questions about the status of "American Idol's" judging panel.

Fox Entertainment Networks Group chairman Peter Rice said no one new has signed a contract to join the show. And he wouldn't talk about the status of rumored-to-be-leaving judge Kara DioGuardi ("I'm not going to get into the speculation about it. I'm not going to do that.") or the supposedly staying Randy "Dawg" Jackson ("I'm not going to confirm, deny, speculate on anyone's contract").

He did discuss Ellen DeGeneres' decision to leave "Idol" after a single season and the reason for announcing her departure before lining up replacements for her and already departed star judge Simon Cowell.

"We felt confident we could come up with a panel that didn't include Ellen as a judge," Mr. Rice said. "I thought it was disingenuous to sit here and talk about Ellen on 'Idol' when we knew that wouldn't be the case. ... I truly wish we were going to walk out a panel of judges for next year. I'm really sorry that's not gonna happen."

Tierney joins 'Whole Truth'

Maura Tierney, who had to drop out of "Parenthood" last summer due to a battle with cancer (Lauren Graham took over the role), is now replacing Joely Richardson in ABC's "The Whole Truth," a competently made, fairly entertaining legal procedural (once you get past co-star Rob Morrow's scenery-chewing in the pilot).

Mr. Morrow said executive producer Tom Donaghy wrote the role with Ms. Tierney in mind (they've been "real friends, not Hollywood friends," Ms. Tierney said, for 20 years, since they went to college together). She was not available, so Ms. Richardson was cast in the part.

"Joely's life is fairly complicated," executive producer Jonathan Littman said. "It was the right thing to do, to let her go and work with that. The timing worked out with that. Maura was available to come and do it."

Ms. Tierney said she's healthy and took the role because she liked the script. In the series she plays a prosecutor.

"I really responded to the character that Tom wrote, I guess because you wrote it for me. My ego's not involved there," she said, laughing. "I thought it was a really appealing character because she is so serious and she's dear."

Scenes from the pilot featuring Ms. Tierney's character now will need to be re-shot.

"It's fascinating, an interesting exercise," said Mr. Morrow, who plays a defense attorney. "We shot what will be the second episode first. It was great for us because it allowed us to get in the swing of things. For me, the interesting thing is to let my mind go of what was and let what Maura brings as her own thing and let it evolve in that way. I've been talking to myself this weekend about, 'Let it be what it wants to become.' "

Delany wanted 'Proof'

This fall Dana Delany moves from "Desperate Housewives" to her own series, "Body of Proof," playing a testy medical examiner who used to be a neurosurgeon until a car accident left her unable to operate.

Ms. Delany said the role recalls her days on "China Beach" playing Vietnam war nurse Colleen McMurphy, who could be a little bit prickly. In the "Body of Proof" pilot, viewers only get a glimpse of the less brash side of Dr. Megan Hunt when she's reflecting on her failure as a mother/wife.

"This character feels very close to me," Ms. Delany said. "You all know how I like to play complicated characters. There's a whole range of things to be played there. ... She's complicated, smart, definitely complex."

In addition, Ms. Delany had a Hunt-like experience.

"I was hit by a bus two weeks before we started filming and broke two fingers and my car was totalled, exactly like the character in the pilot," she said. It happened in Santa Monica, Calif., at 8:30 a.m., when she was making a left-hand turn on a yellow light. "The irony is when I got out of the car, the bus driver said to me, 'I know who you are. Can I have your autograph?' " Ms. Delany ignored that request.

Ms. Delany said she was declared at fault: "When the light is yellow, it's a free-for-all, and it was my fault. If I had turned on a red light, it would not have been my fault. So don't turn unless you have to."

Producer Matthew Gross promised "Body of Proof," which had a generic pilot that presented a Hunt so strident she was off-putting, would be a new take on the medical examiner.

"This is not your father's 'Quincy,' " he said.

"But I do look a lot like Jack Klugman," Ms. Delany added jokingly.

Channel surfing

The Fox dinosaur-infused family adventure "Terra Nova," initially announced for midseason, will now follow the "Glee" model, airing a preview episode in May and its first season in fall 2011. Jason O'Mara ("Life on Mars") will play the family patriarch. ... MTV has ordered a second season of its scripted comedy "The Hard Times of RJ Berger." ... Disney XD renewed "Zeke and Luther" for a third season. ... Matt Lauer will get the first one-on-one interview with former President George W. Bush, set to air in prime time on Nov. 8. ... Encore Mystery has acquired 30 "Perry Mason" TV movies from the 1980s and will air them Mondays at 8 p.m. following a Labor Day marathon.

Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .


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