- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Leary blazes trail

Chain-smoking wiseguy comedian and actor Denis Leary is set to star in a drama about New York firefighters.

FX has ordered 13 episodes of “Rescue Me,” which looks at a firefighter dealing with a post-September 11 world, Reuters News Agency reports.

Mr. Leary’s character, Tommy Gavin, is trying to conceal his fears related to that horrific day while coping with a still-fresh divorce.

The comedian describes him as “a really conflicted, funny and screwed-up character, which to me is always the most fun guy to play.”

“There is a lot of humor in the fire department. Even after 9/11, these guys get by with their sense of humor,” Mr. Leary told Reuters. “I thought it was an interesting dynamic to have to deal with that amount of grief and that [post-September 11] circumstance and at the same time go to work every day and fight fires, going in there with the sensibility that it could be your last day at work.”

All characters in the show are based on Mr. Leary’s friends, a crew of firefighters working in a Manhattan firehouse.

Production on “Rescue Me” is scheduled to begin in April in New York. “Rescue Me” is FX’s third drama series, following “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck.”

Millionaire’ redux

Evidently, ABC hasn’t given its final answer to Regis Philbin’s popular game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Two years after the prime-time “Millionaire” burned itself out, the network is planning to resuscitate the game show for a series of specials, Associated Press reports.

The return will be part of a sweeps stunt to air next month.”Super Millionaire” will air five times in six days starting Feb. 22, the network said Monday. The value of the show’s easiest question will jump to $1,000, and the 15th and final question similarly will be worth 10 times what it was in the show’s initial incarnation, Lloyd Braun, ABC entertainment chairman, told AP. Three new lifelines will be added to help contestants, who have been able to ask the audience and phone a friend for help answering a question.

Although Meredith Vieira is host of the game’s syndicated version, Mr. Braun says there was no question Mr. Philbin would return to prime-time.

The time seemed right for the show’s return, with Miss Vieira’s version showing healthy ratings in its second year, Michael Davies, “Super Millionaire” executive producer, told AP.

Introduced in the summer of 1999, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was an immediate sensation, and ABC rode its success to a surprise season victory in the ratings. The show’s success even spawned a Regis Philbin clothing line, quickly relegated to department-store bargain bins as the show faded.

Although it became ABC’s biggest success of the ‘90s, the game was scheduled so often that audiences grew sick of it. When the ratings suddenly tumbled, ABC had little to replace it, leading to a collapse; the network is still trying to recover.

The last prime-time version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” aired June 27, 2002.

The game will air at 9 p.m. when it debuts on the fourth Sunday of February, then at 10 p.m. the following Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Dennis does CNBC

Monday’s debut of CNBC’s new, unimaginatively titled “Dennis Miller” show revealed a work in progress with one key asset: the man at the helm.

By turns funny and awkward, the 9 p.m. debut found Mr. Miller leaning upon his tried and true shtick.

He signed off his daily news roundup with his signature, “That’s the news, and I am outta here,” but he tossed off the line with a flat reading. He also carpet-bombed viewers with pop-culture esoterica, including references to actors Sal Mineo and David Hedison of “The Fly” fame.

His first interview, with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, didn’t seem much different from other late-night interviews, though Mr. Miller’s affection for his guest seemed apparent.

The “Dennis Miller” set seemed a pale variation on Mr. Miller’s old HBO haunts, and the scattered cackles from stagehands when the host hit a comic bull’s-eye gave it a local cable feel, which could prove either charming or pathetic over time.

The show wrapped with a too-familiar round table, featuring David Horowitz, David Frum and Naomi Wolf. The quartet politely kicked around the latest developments in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but it’s hard to imagine that level of decorum will be sustained for long.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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