- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

NEW YORK Vicki Lewis, starring in the NBC sitcom "Three Sisters," knows a thing or two about sisters. She even has a real-life, younger sister of her own.

"Growing up, I tortured her," Miss Lewis freely confesses, recalling their days growing up in Cincinnati. "Because I could."

Now all grown, she stands just 5-feet-1 and 1/2-inches, a calculation she stands by: "I don't make up the half."

Whatever she says. She's seated at the moment.

"There was only a brief period in my life when I was actually taller than someone, and I took full advantage of it," she continues. "But now my sister and I are very close."

Fighting and closeness: What "Three Sisters" (airing tonight at 9:30 p.m. on WRC Channel 4) is all about.

In this new comedy, Katherine LaNasa plays Bess, the perfect, oldest sister. David Alan Basche plays her husband, Steven, who has to share his wife with Annie (A.J. Langer), the free-spirited youngest sister, and with Nora (Miss Lewis' character), the middle sister and a documentary filmmaker trying to recover from her rocky romantic life.

Rocky? Since her nasty divorce, Nora has had exactly one date. With Steven. Who then went and married her sister. No wonder Nora (whose catch phrase is "I'm not bitter, I'm sardonic") gets the show's best quips.

For instance, during last week's visit to her gynecologist, she was asked how long it had been since she was with a man.

Her wry comeback, delivered in a sarcastic purr: "I don't know. Aren't there rings you can count?"

Later, at home, Nora's sisters berate her for not coming clean with more of her intimate thoughts.

"You know what, Bess," she snaps, "there are some things I share with Annie and some things I share with you. You get money, career and what a flake Annie is. She gets sex and what a (shrew) you are. It all evens out."

Funny? Harsh? A lesson in how sisters should get along?

"You need to have the fights," Miss Lewis says. "You need to express your insecurity or your jealousy or your anger. And that's what these three sisters are able to do.

"A lot of sisters aren't. They keep everything bottled up. 'Everything's great.' Yeah? How can everything be great? Some days, you are just not great"

Not great. That's how "Three Sisters" was dismissed by many critics at its launch last week. Even so, its ratings clobbered the competition.

This could be a welcome change for Miss Lewis. "NewsRadio" (on which she played the sassy, gum-chewing secretary, Beth) was a critical darling but a Nielsen hardship case.

"I auditioned," Miss Lewis says when asked how "Three Sisters" came into her life. "I think I was the last person cast. I'd been out of town and they'd been looking and looking."

She flashes a sly grin: "That's when you've really got a shot at a role.

"That is, if you understand it."

Which, of course, she did.

"I've never had a character I understood more," Miss Lewis declares. "She's nomadic. She's sardonic. She's angry. She's extremely vulnerable. She's funny and lonely perpetually lonely. And good. A good person."

And, squeezed fetchingly into snug jeans and tank-top, the elfin Nora is a prancing, mugging, wisecracking dynamo. A model of Miss Lewis' own stature-stretching physicality, Nora steals the show with sheer energy output.

A hard role? Miss Lewis scoffs.

"Hard," she replies, "is when you sit around for six years going, 'Dave? Line three.' I loved 'NewsRadio.' I learned a whole bunch from doing that show. But on this show, I've got my sleeves rolled up."

The 40-year-old redhead, who appeared in the feature films "Mousehunt," "Godzilla" and "Pushing Tin," has also rolled her sleeves up in the theater. She sighs, savoring the memory of singing and dancing in the hit musical "Chicago," both on its national tour and last summer on Broadway.

"It wears you down," says Miss Lewis of this demanding show. "It also wakes you up from a deep sleep you didn't know you were in."

A few hours and a cross-country flight from now, Miss Lewis will awaken in Los Angeles and report for work to rehearse the next "Three Sisters" episode.

"We shoot at Universal," she says, rolling her eyes, "where the theme park is up on the hill and you have to hear the tram going around and around."

She dons an innocent look. "'I would've been on time, but the tour bus made me seven minutes late.' That's gonna be my excuse."

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