- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

Fail to the ‘Chief’

America may be ready for a female president, but not for the fictional version.

ABC’s “Commander in Chief,” a modest hit when it broke out of the gates last fall, continues to stumble in the ratings.

The series, starring Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland, averaged 8.2 million viewers Thursday, according to Reuters news agency, based on preliminary ratings data from Nielsen Media Research.

In its new 10 p.m. slot, “Commander” was defeated handily by CBS’ “Without a Trace” (18.6 million viewers), but it did manage to snare a couple million more viewers than a repeat of NBC’s “ER” (with 6 million viewers).

No word on cancellation yet from ABC, but news reports persisted last week that the series needed to recover from its ratings swoon in order to earn a second season.

Dern’s family research

Bruce Dern knew where to look when crafting his scrappy character on HBO’s “Big Love.”

The veteran actor, an Oscar nominee for 1978’s “Coming Home,” turned to his grandfather — who was Utah’s 21st governor — as a blueprint for his role as a polygamist in modern-day Utah, Associated Press reports.

George Henry Dern served two terms from 1925 to 1933 as the second non-Mormon and Democrat to lead the state.

“I drove to my sister’s house in Phoenix, where she has all the family scrapbooks, and I pored over all of them, just looking at the Salt Lake City years,” the actor said.

Mr. Dern also said he’s aware of the controversy over how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perceives the show. After reading all the scripts for this season, he said Utah “was never unduly maligned in any shape or form. Utah is a sensational state from the bottom to the top.”

“In this series, I learned quite a bit about the industriousness… that these Mormon folks have and the inner pride they have,” Mr. Dern said.

Along with “Coming Home,” Mr. Dern, 69, has appeared in such films as “Drive, He Said,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte.” He is the father of actress Laura Dern.

The next Elvira

After more than two decades, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is getting a little long in the fang to scare us silly each Halloween.

So Cassandra Peterson, who created the character 25 years ago, is looking for a possible heir to her throne via reality TV, Reuters reports.

The actress and her manager, Eric Gardner of Panacea Entertainment, have teamed with reality TV producers Stuart Krasnow and FremantleMedia North America (“American Idol”) to pitch a project featuring contestants as they compete for a one-year contract to portray the character in various personal appearances.

The contenders would be put through elimination challenges designed to parody some of the most popular reality shows but with a macabre twist: Miss Peterson (clad in her Elvira finery) will serve as a sort of mentor while judges determine who gets eliminated.

Miss Peterson likens the idea of finding a new Elvira to that of looking for a new Batman or Bozo the Clown, characters played by several actors over the years.

“Obviously, I don’t want to be walking around dressed up like Elvira when I’m 105 years old,” Miss Peterson told Reuters.

Mr. Krasnow said the project will have both comedic and macabre elements.

“We’re looking at a show where the cast is going to be sleeping in coffins in a pretty scary place, and part of the production will be shot in Transylvania,” he said.

Mr. Gardner said the project is part of a broader plan to immortalize the character. That plan also includes an animated series and a family-friendly feature film centered on the “back story” of Halloween that features the Elvira character.

“Our benignly megalomaniacal goal is to co-opt Halloween, immortalizing the Elvira character in the process,” Mr. Gardner said. “The opportunity to meld a major brand and a major holiday comes along once in a lifetime, if that.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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