- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Second ‘Stand’

If we can pick the next pop star via reality TV, why can’t we do the same for the next big stand-up?

That was the premise behind last summer’s “Last Comic Standing,” the NBC reality show whose winner hasn’t exactly become a household name. Any Dat Phan fans out there?

No matter, since the network, beginning tonight, will try once more to tickle the country’s funny bone.

Some of this year’s contestants aren’t quite as green as before. Comic Sue Costello, who had her own short-lived sitcom on Fox, is among them. So is Will Durst, another familiar face on the comedy circuit. The show expanded its rules this year to allow comics who have been on “The Tonight Show” in order to deepen the talent pool.

Returning host Jay Mohr (of Fox’s short-lived “Action” and the hit film “Jerry Maguire”) is on hand for the two-hour premiere starting at 8 p.m.

The ‘Jury’ is in

Television may be overrun with law enforcement shows, but none focus on how much say the juries have in the final verdict.

Baltimore native Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, who last teamed up to produce “Homicide: Life on the Street,” hope to change that.

Their new Fox drama “The Jury” makes the 12 men and women, not the slick prosecutors or defense attorneys, the stars of the show.

The new program, debuting at 8 tonight with back-to-back episodes, follows one crime per drama from the jury members’ point of view.

Some of the intra-jury banter might make viewers wrinkle their nose, unless they have an affinity for cheesiness. Switching back from the actual crime to the jury deliberations, however, provides a strong platform for future dramas — so long as the scripts remain in the realm of believability.

Series regulars include Shalom Harlow and Anna Friel as the defense attorneys, and Billy Burke and Jeff Hephner as prosecutors, but the revolving jury cast is front and center.

The jittery camera work is standard issue in today’s television landscape. Yet the way the show captures the crimes in question provides tantalizing glimpses of just how difficult the jury’s job truly is.

The potential for racial discourse is strong with this format. This “Jury” is a true cross section of America, with blue-collar Joes wrestling over minutiae with working-class Hispanics and stuffy intellectuals. The race card is played near the first episode’s end, but not stridently enough to sound like a soapbox sermon.

Mr. Levinson does double duty here, playing the too-dry judge overseeing the cases. When he tells the jury members that tardiness makes him cranky, in an attempt to lighten their mood, the humor lands with a thud.

By the end of the first episode, we’re a bit exhausted with the case in question, so it might take stronger interaction between the jury members to make the program appointment TV. For now, though, it’s a pleasant show to surf onto and a public service, of sorts, for those unfamiliar with the inner workings of our legal system.

Legally’ Syndicated

If “Legally Blonde” could propel Reese Witherspoon to stardom and spawn a sequel, we shouldn’t be shocked that a new “Blonde” TV show is in the offing.

An hourlong series based on the MGM franchise starring Miss Witherspoon is in development at MGM TV and Tribune Entertainment, Reuters News Agency reports. The partners plan to take the unusual approach of selling the series in first-run syndication with a second window on a basic cable network.

The show is being described as a lighthearted legal dramedy revolving around the extraordinary measures that lead character Elle Woods takes to solve her cases.

The show could be a tonic for those weaned on “Ally McBeal’s” paralyzing neuroses. Miss Witherspoon played Elle in the 2001 feature, based on the best-selling novel by Amanda Brown, and also in last year’s sequel, “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.” The TV series is targeted for a fall 2005 debut; there’s no word yet from MGM on casting or a writer for the series.

Hourlong series have had a rough time in syndication in recent years, but MGM TV chief Hank Cohen said that both the studio and Tribune felt the “Blonde” franchise could stand apart, especially with additional cable exposure.

Naysayers will insist the franchise’s key asset, Miss Witherspoon, is the reason the films struck a chord. Finding a suitable replacement may prove a Herculean task.

MGM previously teamed up with ABC in 2002 to develop a TV “Blonde” spinoff as a half-hour comedy, but the project never got off the ground.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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