- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Oprah’s gamble

Banking on an Oscar-winning actress like Halle Berry to carry a made-for-TV movie isn’t a sound business strategy.

Unless the producer’s name is Oprah Winfrey.

Miss Winfrey said she chased down Miss Berry because the actress was the only person she wanted to star in ABC’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” airing Sunday at 9 p.m., Associated Press reports.

Although the two women are friends, Miss Winfrey said she was “a little nervous” because she didn’t know whether Miss Berry would consider doing TV. Miss Berry’s career changed forever after she won the best-actress Oscar for her 2001 performance in “Monster’s Ball.”

“I don’t know what happens to you once you win an Academy Award,” Miss Winfrey told AP Radio in a recent interview. “I didn’t know whether she was going to be, like, ‘Now I have an Oscar. I’m sorry. I cannot talk to you.’”

Miss Winfrey, who frequently champions books on her talk show, produced the TV movie adaptation of the 1937 novel by Zora Neale Hurston, which is set in the small town of Eaton, Fla. Miss Berry portrays the novel’s unconventional heroine, Janie Crawford — who struggles to overcome a life of adversity that includes being on trial for the murder of one of her three husbands. (Silver Spring native Michael Ealy, rumored to be romantically involved with Miss Berry, co-stars as Tea Cake, one of Crawford’s spouses.)

Both Miss Berry and Miss Winfrey (who read the book 30 years ago) say they feel a kinship to Crawford, especially her struggle to rise above difficulty.

Miss Berry says she wanted to play Crawford because the character is inspirational for her.

“I look for [roles] that just inspire me, things that are different,” the actress says.

Sneak peek

Showtime, one of cable’s most popular premium channels, trots out a pair of high-profile programs this weekend for free.

The network is serving up a preview of the quasi-reality show “Fat Actress” and a live concert from R&B idol Usher.

The preview of “Actress,” starring “Cheers” alum Kirstie Alley, will run tomorrow through Monday before it settles into its regular Monday slot at 10 p.m. The show pokes fun at Miss Alley’s very public weight gain and promises a string of big-name cameos from such celebrities as John Travolta, her “Look Who’s Talking” co-star.

“One Night One Star: Usher Live” — featuring the chart-topping superstar in a live 90-minute concert broadcast from San Juan, Puerto Rico — debuts Saturday evening at 9.

Showtime’s other original shows, including “The L Word” and “Huff,” also may be seen, gratis, throughout the weekend.

Back in the saddle

“Deadwood” returns to HBO’s schedule this weekend for a second season of ambiguous morality and gunplay.

The network’s original drama, seen Sundays at 9 p.m., is as feisty and cuss-filled as ever.

It may lack the pop-culture gravitas of “The Sopranos,” but it’s as dark and impeccably crafted as that mob-inspired gem.

Oily barkeep Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), as fearsome a villain as we have on the tube, is back with a vengeance — and ready to renew his conflict with the town’s fledgling lawman, Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant, who nearly holds his own with the talented Mr. McShane).

The pitch-black saga takes some getting used to. Just processing the bad language is a task too tall for some viewers who grew up watching PG-rated Westerns.

Still, show creator David Milch (“NYPD Blue”) has concocted a dense morality play that deserves a long, hard look.

New ‘Law’ rolls out

The “Law & Order” franchise cranks out its latest model tonight, a bittersweet debut considering the recent passing of longtime show star Jerry Orbach.

“Law & Order: Trial by Jury” airs at 10 p.m. It moves into its regular Friday-evening slot at the same time tomorrow.

The show stars Bebe Neuwirth (“Cheers”) as New York Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kibre. Fellow cast mates include Amy Carlson (“Third Watch”), Kirk Acevedo (“Oz”) and “Law & Order” veteran Fred Thompson.

Mr. Orbach’s passing will be dealt with in a future episode.

Expect the same New York setting and dual mode plotting in the new series — which will prove once and for all just how far a franchise can be stretched.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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