- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Graceful return

“Will & Grace” suffered a precipitous decline in quality last year, but tonight’s season opener finds reason for fans to rejoice — wile also praying for fewer big-ticket cameos.

Professional diva Jennifer Lopez returns as herself in the episode, airing at 8:30 p.m. on NBC. The actress-singer-tabloid-queen reprises the same challenging part she took on at the end of last year: She’s just back from her latest music tour, which featured Jack (Sean Hayes) as one of the principal dancers.

Miss Lopez doesn’t embarrass herself, but such self-conscious cameos sandwiched into the story lines rarely work. Kevin Bacon’s appearance a few seasons back proved a plucky exception.

Tonight’s main story, and the reason for tempered optimism, puts a deserved cap on last year’s Leo-Grace romance.

Harry Connick Jr. returns as Leo, again demonstrating his potential as a fine sitcom asset if given stronger material. Last year’s finale had Leo cheating on Grace (Debra Messing) and forcing their separation.

Now Leo is pleading with Grace to take him back, but she isn’t sure he deserves a second chance — nor does an exasperated Will (Eric McCormack).

“Will & Grace” still scatters too many one-liners into its story lines. Still, the laughs come at a steady pace here, and a Leo-less season could let the show’s quartet get back to basics.

Those who bristle at cabala jokes, however, are advised to change the station.

Pope TV

An Italian production team is shooting a new telefeature about the life of Pope John Paul II, Associated Press reports.

The film already has begun principal photography in southern Poland, where the pontiff grew up and began his church career.

The crew began shooting scenes last weekend showing a young and athletic Karol Wojtyla kayaking in Lake Dobczyce, near Krakow, where he served as bishop from the 1950s, says Marcin Marcinkiewicz, a spokesman for the producers.

The film will be broadcast in two 90-minute segments on Italian television. Production is expected to finish next spring, but no air date has been established.

The project draws from a historical account by Italian writer Gian Franco Svidercoschi, with the first part set during World War II and the second in postwar Poland.

Mr. Marcinkiewicz told AP that the pope viewed the screenplay before shooting began.

Both Italian director Giacomo Battiato and the actor portraying the pope, 32-year-old Piotr Adamczyk, say they feel intimidated depicting a man of the pontiff’s stature.

TNT’s life of crime

TNT knows we can’t get enough of those pesky lawbreakers.

So the cable network is close to greenlighting a pilot for a third crime-drama series to fit in with its marquee “Law & Order” reruns, Reuters News Agency reports.

The untitled project focuses on the formation of an elite team to fight urban street crime; the group is assembled with cops from different divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The idea comes from Jorge Zamacona (“Law & Order,” “Homicide: Life on the Street”), who wrote the pilot and will serve as executive producer. Most recently, he performed the same chores on the ABC cop series “10-8: Officers on Duty.”

The new show will join TNT’s previously announced programs “The Line,” a chronicle of a shady prosecutor, and “The Closer,” about another elite LAPD squad.

Survive this

CBS brings us another batch of scrappy survivors tonight as the king of all reality TV returns with a new brood and a new locale.

“Survivor: Vanuatu — Islands of Fire,” hosted once more by Jeff Probst, debuts at 8 p.m. The show isn’t the cultural touchstone it once was. Still, viewer interest has remained remarkably strong for the series, now in its ninth installment.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports

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