- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

‘24’ twofer

Fox squeezes two hours of its action-packed series “24” into tonight’s lineup.

The show, which airs the first of two back-to-back episodes at 8 p.m., is enjoying its highest ratings of its four-plus season run, and with good reason.

While the current terrorist crisis — militants grab a stockpile of poison gas and are threatening to let it loose on domestic soil — took a while to simmer, it’s now at a full boil.

Tonight’s two-pack features a panicked President Logan (Gregory Itzin) dealing with an assassination attempt on both the Russian leader and his own wife, Martha (Jean Smart). Meanwhile, Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) runs into an old colleague (the too infrequently seen Peter Weller of “Robocop” fame) who may hold a key clue to the terrorists’ next step. The night finally sees the long promised return of Jack’s daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) as well as a groggy but still alive Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard).

It wouldn’t be “24” without a shock or two, and the two-hour package includes a doozy.

Burnett gets ‘Desperate’

Carol Burnett has a new set of friends: the gals of “Desperate Housewives.”

The famed comedian will play the stepmother of Bree Van De Kamp in an upcoming edition of the high-rated sudser, Associated Press reports.

Miss Burnett told show creator Marc Cherry to make her character “a little bitchier” after reading a description of her icy, distant character.

“It will be fun. I just think it’s so campy,” Miss Burnett told AP. The comic is scheduled to film her appearance as Eleanor Mason this week, with the episode tentatively set to air April 9.

Miss Burnett is a fan of ABC’s hit suburban satire, calling the scene in which Eva Longoria’s character did yardwork in formal wear “an inspired bit of comedy.”

Mr. Cherry had first let Miss Burnett know he wanted her on the show when they met at an event about a year ago, then repeated his intention recently while talking to a TV entertainment news magazine.

“The interviewer asked who he would like to be a guest and he said my name, which was very sweet,” Miss Burnett said.

Viewers will learn that Eleanor became part of Bree’s (Marcia Cross) life after her mother was killed. Miss Burnett’s character arrives on Wisteria Lane when Bree’s son creates a risk that family secrets will be exposed.

It’s not known whether Miss Burnett’s character will return for future episodes.

Perry’s ‘House’ call

Tyler Perry bucked conventional wisdom by turning his faith-inspired stories into box office hits, witness the success of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and the new “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

Now, he’s gambling he can find a similar audience with a new sitcom in first-run syndication, the Reuters news agency reports.

Mr. Perry signed a deal with independent firm Debmar-Mercury to distribute his original comedy series “House of Payne.”

The half-hour series revolves around the comical situations that ensue when a multigenerational family lives under one roof. Mr. Perry is serving as director, executive producer and one of the writers on “Payne,” but will not star in the show. It’s understood that he might make guest appearances at some point, however.

He chose to partner with Debmar-Mercury rather than go through a studio or network in order to retain creative control while building his brand, which also includes such plays as “I Know I’ve Been Changed” and “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” said his agent, Charles King at William Morris.

“Tyler has had creative control and freedom over everything he’s done,” Mr. King told Reuters.

Taking the syndication route with a half-hour scripted series is a big gamble, given the dearth of original scripted series, drama or comedy, in the first-run syndication marketplace these days. The lack of uniform time period clearances for shows sold in first-run syndication makes it more difficult to mount national marketing and promotional campaigns for a show, especially in today’s fragmented television landscape. Among the last comedies to take a stab at first-run syndication were the 1991-93 revival of “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” which ran from 1990-93.

However, Mr. Perry has developed an extremely loyal following, particularly among black audiences, after years of touring the country starring in regional theater productions that he also wrote and produced.

Debmar-Mercury is making the first 10 episodes of “Payne” available to stations in select markets for spring/summer as part of a test run, with additional episodes available for national distribution in fall 2007.

Compiled by Christian Toto from Web and wire reports.

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