- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Barbeau’s ‘Carnivale’

Aging bombshells aren’t supposed to get good roles past their 40th birthdays.

Adrienne Barbeau, her hourglass figure a compelling calling card, is doing just fine, thank you.

The 58-year-old actress is one of the stars of HBO’s new series “Carnivale,” making its debut at 9:35 p.m. Sunday.

Nominated for a Tony Award for playing Rizzo in the original Broadway production of “Grease,” the actress went on to co-star in television’s “Maude” and a run of genre films — “Creepshow,” “Swamp Thing,” “The Fog,” and “Escape From New York” (the latter two directed by then-husband John Carpenter).

Now, she’s in the cast of the latest HBO series, a good-versus-evil clash built around a Depression-era touring carnival.

She describes “Carnivale” as an “X-Files” show directed by David Lynch.

Her role as the motherly snake charmer is given short shrift in the opening installment but picks up steam as the show wears on.

“I don’t think anybody had any idea where she was going to go,” she says. “She becomes a much more prominent member of the show and ends up having a love affair with one of the characters.”

Viewers must be patient before that story arc takes place. Patience, in fact, is required for much of the proceedings. The new show works at a far different pace than most television fare.

Miss Barbeau, for one, makes no apologies.

“We’ve gotten so used to the MTV approach, where everything is happening instantly,” she says. “Everything is moving so fast.”

She doesn’t blame the audience for its short attention span.

She felt the same way watching the first episode of “The Sopranos.”

“This is really interesting, but it’s slow: Where’s this gonna go?” she says she asked herself at the time. She came around, and so did the rest of the country.

With “Carnivale,” she says, “We do have the luxury of exploring this incredible world … we do take our time.”

Actors respond to the challenge of a more deliberate pace, she says. And they also don’t mind the clout an HBO series now creates. Consider Sarah Jessica Parker, a talented actress whose career has never been hotter thanks to “Sex and the City.”

“People are dying to be on an HBO show,” says Miss Barbeau. “For women my age, you’re not seeing these kinds of roles in film.”

The actress’s career might never be as busy as it was two decades ago, but the work is still coming.

Miss Barbeau recently had a recurring role on “Drew Carey” as Oswald’s mom and has appeared on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” as well as some independent features.

She also has hosted an L.A.-based television talk show and been a weekly book reviewer for KABC talk radio.

“I’ve had such an eclectic career,” she says. First, she got labeled a comedienne for her Broadway work and “Maude” gig. A few horror films later, she became another scream queen alongside Jamie Lee Curtis.

Today, she is one of “Carnivale’s” elder statesmen on the set.

Miss Barbeau, the mother of a 19-year-old son and twin 6-year-olds, splits time between her family’s Los Angeles home and the “Carnivale” set.

It’s unlikely the arty show will catch on with the kind of pop culture excitement of “The Sopranos,” but she says the show is conceived to go multiple seasons, if the ratings demand it.

Spike at the races

Testosterone-fueled Spike TV is taking racing fans into the world of reality television.

Starting in January, the men’s network will begin airing “The Reality of Speed,” an original show chronicling the lives of race car drivers away from the track. The show will feature drivers and team members of the Holigan Racing teams as they battle in the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) Supercross Series and the NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) Busch Series.

“Spike TV is going to take sports fans where they have never been before, into the fascinating daily lives of these fearless professional athletes,” said Kevin Kay, executive vice president of production and development at Spike TV, in a statement.

“The Reality of Speed” promises an unflinching look at these athletes, showing both their dedication to the races and the commitment their sport demands of their personal lives.

The network’s other reality series, “The Joe Schmo Show,” is a spoof on the genre and airs at 9 p.m. every Tuesday.

‘Wanted’ at 17

“America’s Most Wanted,” which begins its 17th season Saturday on Fox, could be the quietest hit in television history.

The show is never a top 10 mainstay. Its audience is relatively small, tucked away on a night when few watch television. When the series began, it was on a network few people could even pick up. But it has endured changes in television and, more important, television executives. Host John Walsh still ponders how this “true crime” show has survived and why it continues to do so.

“It’s pretty weird, isn’t it?” Mr. Walsh wonders aloud about the show’s longevity.

He makes no pretense about the show’s fight to get mainstream media attention. Mr. Walsh realizes “Most Wanted” has no dramatic gimmicks or blond and beautiful actors to attract TV critics to its side.

“There was an ‘America’s Most Wanted’ (panel) for television critics in Los Angeles recently, and I was wondering who’d want to talk to me,” Mr. Walsh tells Scripps Howard News Service.

“But there was a ton of reporters. Then I realized a lot of them were new because some (reporters) had retired. These new reporters were kids when I started doing this show.”

What keeps it going?

For one, “Most Wanted” attracts the proper demographics of men and women, ages 18 to 49, one of the groups coveted most by advertisers.

It’s also a relatively inexpensive show to maintain, no superstar salaries or big-budget effects. If any show is ever under the radar for viewers and the media, it’s “Most Wanted.”

The show claims its track record includes helping nab 755 criminals, taking 15 of them off the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and reunited 36 missing children with their families.

“People want to see the bad guys caught,” Mr. Walsh says. “Viewers can be fascinated by crime, and they love to hear the capture reports.”

“Most Wanted” targets dangerous fugitives and asks for public input on the criminals profiled. The pursuit continues with updates until each of the featured criminals is caught.

Since September 11, 2001, the show has emphasized the war on terrorism. Profiles include suspected al Qaeda operatives living in the United States and stories of possible new attacks.

In the record books, “Most Wanted” now shares history with two unlikely shows. By making it 17 seasons, the show has now been on the air as long as “Lassie” and “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

For television executives, “Most Wanted” is a dream come true”: a relatively low budget show that can keep an audience season after season, Mr. Walsh says.

“NBC President Jeff Zucker told me he couldn’t kill us,” Mr. Walsh says with a laugh. “He says he tried and tried over the years.

“That makes me feel really good about what I am doing.”

‘Ellen’s‘ good news

Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show got off to a promising start Monday, TV Guide Online reports.

Based on preliminary ratings, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” improved 17 percent on year-ago time-slot averages in 53 metered markets.

The syndicated show airs weekdays at 11 on WRC-TV (Channel 4).

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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