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After ‘Homicide,’ Before ‘Copper,’Fontana, Levinson Walked a ‘Beat’

Anybody remember cop drama The
on UPN, circa 2000?

It starred Mark Ruffalo, but still
The Wire had never heard of it until
seeing a clip shown Aug. 16 at
The Paley Center for Media in New
York, where Tom Fontana and Barry
, executive producers
of new BBC America drama Copper,
were the on-stage guests, interviewed
by Entertainment Weekly’s
Ken Tucker.

The clip showed a pair of New York
City police officers knocking on an
apartment door in a tenement hallway
during a disturbance call — then
ducking out of the way as a shotgun
blast came by way of reply.

Levinson and Fontana explained
that they had wanted to do a very different
drama from NBC’s long-running
Homicide, also their show.

They wanted to focus on days in
the life of beat cops, not detectives.
They wanted to videotape the onthe-
job scenes with hand-held cameras,
to give them a different look and
feel from other, personal-life scenes,
which were shot on film.

And because it was a realistic look
at what beat cops do, they wouldn’t be
solving crime mysteries every week.

Unfortunately, executives at UPN
didn’t really agree with those unconventional
approaches, Fontana said.
The show ran for about one month.

“We didn’t just get The Beat canceled,
we got the entire network
canceled,” Fontana joked on the Paley
Center stage. “That was quite an
achievement. But it won’t happen
this time.” (UPN essentially merged
into The CW in 2006.)

It goes to show that even star impresarios
like Fontana and Levinson,
whose TV credits also include HBO’s
Oz, aren’t successful every time out.

Happily for BBC America, Copper,
set in New York in 1864, debuted
strongly with 1.8 million total viewers
on Aug. 19, the best-ever series debut
in the network’s history.

No word at press time as to
whether that was enough for a renewal.
But a second season seems a
safer bet than a punched ticket.

MTV’s ‘Inbetweeners’
Has a ‘Hot Mom’ Fan
In Christine Bennett

MTV is the latest network to try taking a
British comedy and making a U.S. version,
in this case high-school sitcom The Inbetweeners.
It centers on four boys of whom
one, Will McKenzie (played by Joey Pollari,
in the role that made Simon Bird a U.K. star), is a nerdy transfer
student with a very hot mom, played by Christine Scott

Though she’s not a featured player, she’s an attention getter,
starting with her introduction, emerging from a red Mercedes

Bennett told The Wire she “really did not expect to like it
as much as I did,” especially after hearing from fans of the
original. But she read the scripts and “somehow Brad [Copeland,
the showrunner] had worked it to American humor,
and it was hilarious.”

Water-cooler moments will include a scene where blowhard
Jay Cartwright (played by
Zack Pearlman) gets part of his
anatomy stuck in a Jacuzzi, Bennett
said. Asked who might break
out as stars, she taps Pollari and
Alex Frnka, who plays Carly
D’Amato. “She’s just got this
strong dramatic appeal to her,”
Bennett said of Frnka, “I think
she will really do well.”

And Pollari, despite being the youngest person on the set
“by far,” was the person everyone turned to with pop-culture
questions. “He’s just brilliant,” his 33-year-old non-mom said.

The Wire loves the original, but also laughed quite a few
times screening the MTV pilot and two other episodes.

To the hardcore BBC show fans already complaining
about the remake, Bennett hopes “once they see our version
they’ll say, ‘Yeah, they kind of took our idea, but they made
it their own,’ and I hope they appreciate that.”

The Inbetweeners
debuted on Monday, Aug. 20, at 10:30 p.m.
(to a 1.7 rating in the 12-17 demo), after Ridiculousness on MTV.

‘The Virginian’ at 50
Gets New TV Home
On INSP Saturdays

Cox Communications
isn’t the only entity turning
50 this year (see special supplement). So is The Virginian, the Western series that
launched on NBC in September 1962 and stayed
on the air until September 1971, the genre’s thirdlongest
series run (after Bonanza and Gunsmoke).

Under a deal with NBCUniversal being announced
later this week, cable channel INSP
has acquired the rights and will add it to the
“Saddle Up Saturday” block that now includes
Bonanza, The Big Valley and, coming Sept. 15,
another new acquisition, High Chapparal.

The Virginian joins that Saturday posse on
Sept. 22, and will air during the week, too.

The first 90-minute Western series, The
starred James Drury (pictured) as a
mysterious defender of law and order and costarred
DougMcClureas the wild young cowhand
Trampas, according to TV historian Tim
Brooks’s Complete Directory to Prime Time Network
and Cable TV Shows.

Series star Drury is still riding the range. “I
am thrilled that The Virginian is coming back
to television,” he told INSP to tell The Wire.
“And there’s no better place to call home than
INSP. They have brought back so many of the
shows that America still loves, and The Virginian
is sure to fit right in with their Western lineup.
INSP and The Virginian prove that good television
never goes out of style.”

INSP executives, including programming
SVP Doug Butts, expect to be on hand Saturday,
Sept. 22, when Drury and other cast members
will attend a celebration of The Virginian
at The Autry National Center in Griffith Park
in downtown Los Angeles, sticking around for
the $50-a-head chuck wagon dinner Sunday night. Giddyup!

The date of the Virginian event was corrected in this story on Aug. 27 after the print edition appeared.

Kent Gibbons
Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.