- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

Airy ‘Huff’

Rare is the show that bursts out of the gates with more stamps of approval than Showtime’s “Huff.”

The network, oh so due for a “Sopranos”-size hit, gave the new drama a second-season green light months before the first episode ever aired.

Last week, Entertainment Weekly subscribers opened their newest issue to find a DVD insert featuring the first “Huff” episode, which debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday.

Why all the fuss? We’re still scratching our heads after the sneak peek.

Hank Azaria, the versatile “Simpsons” voice-over artist and agreeable scene stealer (“Along Came Polly”) gets a leading role to call his own as Dr. Craig Huffstadt, a fortysomething psychiatrist dealing with, well, not too much.

His practice appears to be thriving. His loving wife (Paget Brewster) would make most men envious. His teen son not only isn’t rebelling but wants to volunteer at a pediatric hospital. He’s even got one of those horny buddies (Oliver Platt, wasted yet again) who let you live vicariously through their misadventures.

Of course, he does have a shrewish mom (an over-the-top Blythe Danner), and a young client graphically kills himself right in Huff’s office.

But Mr. Azaria remains a cipher through episode one, and the humor never crackles. We’re left wondering what the fuss is all about and whether subsequent episodes will clear it all up.

Richter’s rules

Andy Richter might seem like the most approachable television star you can imagine, but the actor cautions those who might belly up to the bar with him.

“I think people think I’m more of an outgoing kind of Norm-from-‘Cheers’ guy than I actually am,” Mr. Richter told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m polite and I’m friendly, but I don’t like being the center of attention. And I certainly don’t want to drink with just anybody.”

Yet he’s front and center in Fox’s “Quintuplets,” a sitcom that debuted over the summer and survived the cancellation ax, which claimed fellow Fox newcomers “Method & Red” and “The Jury.”

Mr. Richter started as a writer on NBC’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” 11 years ago and quickly became the show’s sidekick.

He starred in the short-lived “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” for Fox and now leads its new ensemble comedy.

It took time to convince Hollywood producers that he could do more than feed laugh lines to Mr. O’Brien.

“I went to Los Angeles, and having been a comedic actor and feeling like everyone realized that, the first sort of reaction I got from most of the network and studio people who were paying me was ‘Wow, you can act.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, yeah, that was sort of the point of all this.’ But people see you doing one thing, and that’s what they think you can do.”

‘Rings’ on WB

The first part of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy arrives on broadcast television this weekend, courtesy of WB 50.

The first part of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” will air at 8 p.m. Sunday night on the WB. The epic film’s second half wraps at 8 p.m. Monday.

The acclaimed trilogy from director Peter Jackson set the benchmark for the modern fantasy feature and earned a best-picture Oscar earlier this year for its final installment, “Return of the King.”

Bochco’s battles

TV legend Steven Bochco is teaming up with the suddenly hip FX network for a wartime drama set in Iraq.

“Over There” is an ensemble drama that will explore the lives of a select group of Army soldiers in combat as well as the families they left behind, Reuters News Agency reports.

Mr. Bochco, the force behind “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue,” will serve as executive producer with Chris Gerolmo (“Mississippi Burning”), who will direct the pilot he wrote. “Over There” marks Mr. Bochco’s first project for basic cable.

It’s a wonder it took this long to happen.

Now, the button-pushing Mr. Bochco can show all the bare buttocks he wants, as cable channels such as FX offer their creative folks much more leniency regarding nudity and language.

Shooting is expected to begin in January with a budget said to be on a par with what FX allots to the new Denis Leary firefighter series “Rescue Me.” Locations have not been chosen, but battle scenes might be shot in Mexico, while scenes from home are expected to film in Los Angeles. Casting begins next week.

The series was originally set up at Paramount Network Television, where Mr. Bochco has a production deal, but the deal fell apart because of concerns about economics, sources said. It is now set up at 20th Century Fox Television, which Mr. Bochco sued in 2001 after charging that the studio had failed to sell “NYPD Blue” reruns at fair market value because it made the deal with News Corp. sibling FX.

John Landgraf, FX president of entertainment, promised “Over There” would not be pro- or antiwar, but he admitted that the show wouldn’t please everyone.

“There’s likely to be some controversy because the war is such a partisan football from both sides,” he said.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports

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