- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

McGinley has ‘Faith’

Actor Ted McGinley has emerged as the patron saint of a Web site devoted to television shows gone sour.

“Chances are that if Ted is anywhere near your cast, consider the show on the downward spiral,” the cheeky site proclaims.

The actor, starring in ABC’s new Friday night sitcom “Hope & Faith,” says he can laugh about his “sainthood” because the claims of his death touch are greatly exaggerated.

“The shows I’m getting blamed for go on for two years, three years … seven years,” he says, the latter a reference to his biggest hit, “Married … with Children.”

The aforementioned Web site, Jumptheshark.com, got its name from the episode of “Happy Days” in which Fonzie jumped over a pool of sharks on his motorbike, a ratings stunt that to some signaled the show’s creative death.

“I believe there’s some value in people talking about you,” says Mr. McGinley, who admits to visiting the Web site now and again. “If it were to stop me from getting a job, I’d be a mess.”

That’s hardly the case for Mr. McGinley, who has leveraged his all-American mug and bland likability into a thriving if uneven career. The actor’s resume includes its share of stinkers — his last sitcom, “Charlie Lawrence,” barely made it to the air last season. On “Hope & Faith,” Mr. McGinley takes a back seat, publicity-wise, to stars Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford. But his character manages to get his licks in.

His Charley isn’t the typically reticent father seen in one too many sitcoms.

“He’s not afraid to be combative in a smart way,” he says of the role. “Even though he’s slamming [Miss Ripa] a bit [verbally], he’s still having fun with it.”

Mr. McGinley describes his career as successfully flying under the radar without ever stalling.

“I’ve made a living out of not being the main person,” he says. “I consider myself a utility player.”

Doesn’t he wish he were the star for once?

“I’m not that needy,” he says.

‘Wing’s‘ terror turn

NBC’s celebrated drama “The West Wing” has more than an aging premise to battle as it starts its fifth season. Creative force and tireless scribe Aaron Sorkin, along with fellow executive producer and director Thomas Schlamme, no longer toil for the liberal faux president.

Even the aforementioned president has changed as the new season begins at 9 tonight. Republican Speaker of the House Walken (a sourpuss John Goodman) has assumed the presidency when the show opens. President Jed Bartlet’s daughter Zoey has been kidnapped by terrorists, and Bartlet decides he may be too distracted, for the moment, to lead the nation.

Credit John Wells, one of the show’s producers, who is taking a larger role these days, for recognizing the need for some balance.

Mr. Goodman’s speaker is portrayed as a gruff warrior who wants to blow up something should the president’s daughter turn up dead. A few of the Bartlet staff members acknowledge Mr. Goodman looks “presidential” at one point, but it’s clear the show is sniffing at his militarism.

The episode’s ripped-from-the-headlines approach will grab viewers by the throat, and anyone criticizing ABC’s “Threat Matrix” for exploiting our fears of terrorism should redirect some fire to “Wing.”

The notion of adding more Republicans to this fictional White House is laudable, but “The West Wing” will sink or swim based on its dramatic mettle. The show’s liberal leanings long ago chased away many conservative-minded viewers.

Brooding ‘Brotherhood’

Finally, a Hollywood show in which the lead characters don’t have sculpted abs or look like they walked off the set of a Calvin Klein ad — this from David E. Kelley, a producer and writer who has employed both the stick-like Lara Flynn Boyle (“The Practice”) and the twig-like Calista Flockhart (“Ally McBeal”).

“The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.,” premiering tonight at 10 on CBS, follows the small hamlet’s three Shaw brothers as they slog through a life of lowered expectations.

Randy Quaid is Hank Shaw, the curmudgeonly head of the local police department who swings first and asks questions later. Brother John (John Carroll Lynch) is the town’s mayor, a source of pride and stability for his neighbors. Rounding out the trio is a hapless Chris Penn as an out-of-work schlub who questions his wife’s fidelity.

John, the beloved mayor, is considered the brother who really made something of himself, but he’s being blackmailed for an old affair that threatens both his own family and the faith of his brothers.

It’s hard to root for any of the three in the early stages, though as flawed as each may be, they cling to familial ties in a way meant to engender our sympathy.

“The Brotherhood” paints a sad, almost condescending, portrait of small-town America, then reminds us of the good still surviving within it. That’s a tricky juggling act, and Mr. Kelley nearly succeeds in the show’s opening episode.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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