University of Melbourne Press Release
August 4, 2003 - Giant hollow towers of ice formed by steaming volcanic vents on Ross Island, Antarctica are providing clues about where to hunt for life on Mars. University of Melbourne geologist, Dr Nick Hoffman has found evidence from recent infra-red images of Mars that similar structures may exist on Mars and, if life is to be found, such towers may be best place to start looking.
Hoffman has drawn attention to strange temperature anomalies in these latest Mars images taken with an infra-red heat-sensing camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. These anomalies, he says, fit the signature you might expect from structures formed in similar ways to the Antarctica ice towers.
"If these thermal anomalies don’t prove to be another of Mars’ 'red herrings', the search for water and life on Mars now has a clear focus. While I believe Mars is actually lifeless, ice towers rather than the current acclaimed river channels are the most likely place to find signs of water activity, and hence life, on an otherwise frozen planet," says Hoffman.
Hoffman and colleague, Professor Phil Kyle, Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico, presented their research into the similarities between Antarctica and Mars at NASA's recent 6th International Mars Conference in Pasadena, California.
Mt Erebus is a 3800 meter active volcano on Antarctica’s Ross Island. Here, steaming volcanic vents transform steam directly into ice, missing the normal in-between step of liquid water. Instead, all of the water is transported as vapor directly from snow and ice in the ground (permafrost) to build tall hollow chimneys of ice, that loom over the landscape up to 10m tall.
It is possible to climb down the inside the chimneys where the filtered sunlight creates an eerie blue dimness. In this cave-like grotto, away from the howling wind, there exists a local microclimate gently warmed by the volcanic heat beneath.
The internal temperatures of the towers hover around freezing, but are often tens of degrees warmer than the outside air. Delicate curtains of snowflakes and icicles hang from the roof. The floor is dry crunchy gravel, dried out by volcanic warmth, but occasionally a warm spell leads to drips melting from the roof.
"Earth Bacteria can thrive in this sheltered spot, despite the traces of volcanic gas," says Hoffman.
"On Mars, similar structures would be doubly valuable for potential Mars microbes. The icy structure of the chimney would filter out harmful Ultra-Violet radiation, and provide warmth and shelter. Meanwhile, the volcanic gases could provide chemical energy for primitive forms of life like those that live in hot springs on earth," he says.
The strange temperature anomalies picked up by the orbiter are in an area of Hellas Basin, a massive impact basin about the size of Australia in the southern Hemisphere of Mars.
"Debate continues about the anomalies which might only be odd rock formations, but they are definitely 8 to 12 degrees warmer than the surrounding materials both day and night, so warmth from the sun cannot be responsible for their anomalous temperature," says Hoffman.
"Some special combination of sunshine, reflectivity, and cementation is required to explain these temperatures in any other way, and this combination, whilst possible, is unlikely," he says.
"We anticipate that such towers, if they exist on Mars, could grow up to 30 meters tall under the lower gravity. The geothermal hotspots over which a tower might exist are unlikely to produce liquid water, unless they are exceptionally active or newly formed where the extensive permafrost of Mars might melt for the first and only time.
"Instead the hotspot would drive the water vapor upwards forming a similar grotto-chimney type of ice tower as found on Mt Erebus."
Until now, NASA scientists have thought deep gullies discovered in 2001 to be the most promising candidates for liquid water flows on modern Mars. Many NASA researchers have suggested ways in which they might be formed by liquid water.
"The problem is nobody has seen water flowing in the gullies," says Hoffman.
Rather than water, Hoffman’s recent research shows the gullies are more likely to be formed by avalanches of frozen carbon dioxide and other debris.
NASA is desperate to find signs of liquid water on Mars so they have a target for the next generation of Mars landers and rovers to go and search for life, but their search could prove fruitless if Hoffman’s research and analysis is correct.
"The ice towers are the best bet for life, so far," he says.
Thermal state of Mars - http://www.earthsci.unimelb.edu.au/mars/Thermal.html
NASA Mars website - http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov
Fall Show Premiere Dates
Hollywood August 5, 2003 (eXoNews) - You can start marking your calendars. The word is out on the premiere dates for your favorite returning genre TV shows and the new ones who want to replace Buffy Summers in your heart of hearts.
It may not be much of a contest to genre fans, but the networks are playing serious hardball this year.
As reported earlier, Fox will hold off Big Good hopeful Tru Calling and most of their dramatic premiere lineup until after baseball season. They will take the plunge with the latest yuppie soap The O.C. tonight, however, and sitcoms Wanda at Large and Luis on Friday September 26th. Boston Public will also return on the 26th.
Tru Calling will premiere on Thursday October 30th as a lead-in for The O.C. (if the yuppies survive the summer.)
Skin will show up on Fox following more suckers pining for Joe Millionaire on Monday October 20th, and 24 will be back with a new crisis October 28th.
Getting an early start, Enterprise will return to UPN Wednesday September 10th, followed by UPN's new Million-Dollar Boy, Jake 2.0. (Clark Kent and Joss Whedon fans see September 24th and October 1st below. Wednesdays will be a grand battle indeed!)
ABC will premiere Threat Matrix on Thursday September 18th and CSI: Miami returns to CBS on Monday September 22nd. The JAG spin-off Navy NCIS will show up Tuesday September 23rd in JAG's old slot, opposite the new Whoopi on NBC and old Gilmore Girls on The WB. Ancient NYPD Blue comes back on ABC later the same night.
The West Wing returns Wednesday September 24th on NBC, with Ed back as its lead-in. The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. also premieres that night on CBS to challenge Law & Order on NBC.
Friends, Will & Grace, CSI, Without a Trace and ER all return on Thursday September 25th. (Look out Tru!)
Joan of Arcadia speaks to the creator on CBS starting Friday September 26th. JAG sails to Fridays that night and later The Handler and Boomtown go neck and neck on CBS and NBC respectfully.
The new Spelling show 10-8 debuts on ABC Sunday September 28th, opposite Cold Case on CBS and the two-hour return of Charmed (also a Spelling show) on The WB. Alias returns the same evening. The Lyon's Den lawyers over at NBC will take on what's left of The Practice cast on ABC later that night.
Las Vegas shows up on NBC Monday September 29th.
At last! Smallville and Angel come back to The WB on Wednesday October 1st. Karen Sisco debuts on ABC later that night.
The WB presents our first look at Tarzan on Sunday October 5th.
Oh, and The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle will be back Sunday November 2nd.
That's about enough for me.
The rest of the horrible reality shows and people standing on pastel sets with laugh tracks will be back whenever.
I think we're gonna miss Buffy - until Angel starts, at least.
ABC Fall Preview - http://abc.abcnews.go.com/primetime/schedule/index.html
CBS Fall Preview - http://www.cbs.com/primetime/fall_preview_2003/index.shtml
Fox Fall Preview - http://www.fox.com/schedule/schedule_2003.htm
NBC Fall Preview - http://www.nbc.com/nbc/Primetime_Preview
WB Fall Preview - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Special/0,11116,113684,00.html
UPN Fall Preview - http://www.upn.com/shows/fallpreview_2003
For those who prefer charts and skipping most of the mundane, that means a typical schedule for genre fans might look something like:
| ||8PM/7c ||9PM/8c ||10PM/9c |
|Sunday ||Charmed (WB) |
Cold Case (CBS)
|Tarzan (WB) |
Law & Order (NBC)
|The Lyon's Den (NBC) |
The Practice (ABC)
|Monday || ||Skin (Fox) |
Las Vegas (NBC)
|CSI: Miami (CBS) |
|Tuesday ||Navy NCIS (CBS) |
Gilmore Girls (WB)
|24 (Fox) |
The Guardian (CBS)
|NYPD Blue (ABC) |
Judging Amy (CBS)
Law & Order (NBC)
|Wednesday ||Smallville (WB) |
|Angel (WB) |
West Wing (NBC)
Jake 2.0 (UPN)
|Brotherhood of Poland NH (CBS) |
Karen Cisco (ABC)
Law & Order (NBC)
|Thursday ||Tru Calling (Fox) |
Threat Matrix (ABC)
|CSI (CBS) |
The O.C. (Fox)
|Without a Trace (CBS) |
|Friday ||Joan of Arcadia (CBS) ||JAG (CBS) |
Boston Public (Fox)
|Boomtown (NBC) |
The Handler (CBS)
|Saturday || ||Hack (CBS) || |
Kristin Chenoweth Will Be Wicked on Broadway
New York August 5, 2003 (eXoNews) - According to Playbill Magazine, the casting is set for the Halloween 2003 Broadway opening of Stephen Schwartz's new musical Wicked, the prequel to L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz. Christopher Fitzgerald, from the Michel Legrand musical Amour, has just been added in the part of Boq, a Munchkin who falls in love with Glinda, played by Kristin Chenoweth.
Broadway's Wicked is described officially as a tale of two witches in Oz "long before Dorothy drops in. . . One [witch], born with emerald green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. Wicked tells the story of a remarkable odyssey in which these two unlikely friends grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch." The play is based on a novel by Gregory Maguire, with a score by Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman.
Glinda the Good is best remembered as portrayed by Billie Burke in the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz. Burke was also a well-known Broadway star in her day and the wife of Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld. Character actress Margaret Hamilton became famous for her dual role in the film classic, playing Glinda's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West ("I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!"), and Dorothy's Kansas nemesis Almira Gulch.
Stephen Schwartz is the musical creator behind the now-classic musicals Godspell, Pippen and The Magic Show. His work in Hollywood won him Oscars for his songs in Disney's Pocahontas and Prince of Egypt, a Golden Globe and Grammy for Pocahontas, and Grammys for Godspell and multiple other nominations for Oscar and the Globes.
Frasier fans will know Tony-award winner Kristin Chenoweth as Frasier's agent Portia or maybe Lily St. Regis in the Emmy and Peabody Award winning Disney/ABC version of the stage hit Annie. She's a hot property on the Great White Way (the NY Times called her "the musical-theater equivalent of Reese Witherspoon.")
The Sony Classical label put out Kristin's Let Yourself Go CD in 2001, a collection of 1920s, 30s and early 40s classics, which features a duet with Producers and Seinfeld star Jason Alexander.
Wicked is directed by Joe Mantello (2003 Tony Award for Take Me Out) and the cast includes Robert Morse as The Wizard and Carole Shelley as Madame Morrible.
Tickets for the Broadway run are now available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.
Stephen Schwartz Official site - http://www.stephenschwartz.com
Kristin Chenoweth Official Site - http://www.kristin-chenoweth.com
Dracula's Ship Stars in 'Last Voyage'
By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES August 4, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - German-born writer-director Robert Schwentke has come aboard to direct "The Last Voyage of the Demeter," which expands upon the captain's log chapter of Bram Stoker's "Dracula."
The Phoenix Pictures project is the story of the ill-fated journey of the merchant ship Demeter, which carried Dracula's coffin from Transylvania to England only to arrive at port with no survivors aboard.
Schwentke will rewrite Bragi Schut's original screenplay with his writing partner Mitch Brian. Schwentke wrote and directed the thriller "Tattoo." He also is attached to rewrite with Brian and direct the Disney action feature "Labor Day" and the Columbia thriller "Man With the Football."
Winnie the Pooh Gets New Lawyers
LOS ANGELES August 1, 2003 (Reuters) - The family suing Walt Disney Co. in a decade-old case over marketing rights to children's book character Winnie the Pooh has hired a new team of attorneys, including a former state appeals court judge, it said in a statement on Friday.
Stephen Slesinger Inc., the corporation that represents the Slesinger family's interests, said it had hired Elwood Lui and Rick McKnight of the firm Jones Day.
Lui was an associate justice of the California Court of Appeals, Slesinger said, while McKnight is the partner in charge of the firm's Los Angeles office.
The family of the literary agent who purchased U.S. marketing rights to the honey-loving bear from British author A.A. Milne in 1930 claims Disney has shortchanged it on royalties.
Billions of dollars in merchandise, video cassettes and movies based on Pooh and other characters from Pooh stories are sold each year.
Slesinger's prior attorney, noted Los Angeles lawyer Bert Fields, withdrew from the case in June. The family had said in late June that it expected to hire a new attorney within a week.
[I hear Gary the Rat is available. Ed.]
Jon Stewart's Daily Show Nukes the News
By DAVID BAUDER
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK August 3, 2003 - Jon Stewart could barely contain himself.
A congressman had publicly called a colleague a "fruitcake" and, since it happened on a Friday night, Stewart couldn't joke about it on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" until three days later.
"I do believe we need to go to a 24-hour fake news channel," he said. "Fox can't be the only fake news channel out there!"
Stewart can't wait to bare the absurdities of the news and the people who cover it, and his sharp humor has made "The Daily Show" a growing force. No one hit the comic mark more consistently during the war in Iraq. As an election year approaches, Stewart's in top form.
He and "The Daily Show" are up for five Emmys next month, and the Television Critics Association gave him two awards last month. The critics even nominated "The Daily Show" for best achievement in news, along with "60 Minutes" and "Nightline."
On Aug. 14, the nation's reigning political celebrity, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is Stewart's guest.
During unfunny times, viewers have responded to Stewart's ability to make fun. The show's average nightly audience has nearly doubled from 427,000 in 1999, the year he took over, to 788,000 so far this year.
"Even though terrible things are going on around us, I would hope that wouldn't mean that the sense of humor is lost," Stewart said, relaxing in his office after taping a show. "The idea isn't to make jokes about horrible things. The idea is to find the absurdity in the difficult circumstances around us."
Stewart helps keep political satire alive for a young audience that - the experts say - isn't very attuned to the news.
The show's fake "debate" about foreign policy, using film clips to show President Bush arguing about nation-building with presidential candidate Bush, was as pointed as a political cartoon.
"He's really strong at political satire," said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, whose first name, naturally, has made him a target of Stewart's barbs. "I don't know of anybody who does it better than he does."
Blitzer said he can tell that Stewart and his staff are news junkies.
"The Daily Show" recognizes that its audience has an astute media awareness, too. Stewart made note last week, for example, that The New York Times used an obituary of comedian Bob Hope written by a reporter, Vincent Canby, who died in 2000.
Stewart also didn't let the latest odd Dan Rather moment pass by. He played tape of when the CBS anchor, in a deadpan voice, recited lyrics to "Take Me Home, Country Road" when former POW Jessica Lynch returned to West Virginia.
"I'm just glad he didn't keep going," Stewart said later. "He could have. There's more choruses. He could have gone into `Annie's Song.' He could have gone into Jim Croce. He was on a roll."
Stewart's political humor stands out, in part, because he's willing to be tough at a time others aren't. At the same time, he's less threatening because he has no ideological ax to grind.
"Believe me, the idea of the show is not to be a bold, critical voice that stands out amidst timidity," he said. "It's more like, `I think we need a fart joke at the end of this because we're getting too strident.' Ultimately, everyone here thinks of ourselves in terms of being a comedy show and that's it."
He's seen no evidence that his barbs against the president have drawn blood.
The rigid discipline of the Bush administration is easy to have fun with, he said. At the very least, it's a big change from Monica Lewinsky jokes.
"When you look back on it now, I wish we were making jokes about that," he said. "That was a luxurious scandal if there ever was one. Imagine a president right now who'd even have time for extra oral sex."
"The Daily Show" will begin gearing up this fall for another presidential campaign. Right now, the staff is just happy the GOP convention is in New York, so they can sleep in their own beds.
Stewart's "Indecision 2000" coverage attracted attention last time. With a larger audience, it's likely to get even more this time.
The upcoming Clinton appearance is an indication of that. Other than the insatiable need for applause, Stewart can't quite understand why it's important for politicians to go on comedy shows. Not that he's complaining.
"I can't imagine anyone lauding Churchill's legacy as, yes, he rallied England during its darkest hours but, also, tremendous ribald wit," he said. "Great leadership, as far as I know, doesn't require that you go toe to toe with pranksters, but for some reason, they feel that it adds to their electability."
Stewart is signed to stay with Comedy Central through the end of the 2004 elections. His name is always at the top of the list when broadcasters go looking for late-night talent. But unless one of the really big jobs - Jay Leno's or David Letterman 's - open up unexpectedly, he's probably better off staying where he is.
"There are things about those jobs that are very appealing," he said. "There are things about those jobs that are unappealing. I'd probably think more about something else if I wasn't happy where I was. But I don't feel an emptiness, an itch. I like doing what I'm doing."
Comedy Central - http://www.comedycentral.com
Manson is Back and CBS Has Got Him
By Nellie Andreeva
LOS ANGELES August 4, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - The gruesome tale of the Manson Family murders is coming back to the small screen.
CBS has greenlit "Helter Skelter," a three-hour TV movie based on former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book about the capture and trial of Charles Manson and three of his "family" members -- women he had persuaded to do the killings for him.
John Gray, who most recently penned and directed the CBS original movie "Martin & Lewis," wrote the script for "Helter Skelter" and is set to direct.
The film will be the second screen adaptation of the book by the man who convicted Manson in the bloody 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles, following the 1976 CBS movie starring Steve Railsback as Manson.
"That adaptation focused on how Vincent Bugliosi got Manson," said Mark Wolper, who is executive producing the film. "Our movie now is the flip side of that. It focuses on who Manson is, why he did what he did and how he got people to kill for him."
A search is now under way for an actor to play Manson.
[Ho-hum. There have been two of these all ready. How about a Hitler mini-series - oh, done that too? I nominate Jim Carrey to play Charlie, but they'll probably choose Luke Perry. Ed.]
Lucky Cashes Out
LOS ANGELES July 31, 2003 (Zap2it.com) - Like a poker player holding nothing better than a 10 high, FX has folded its comedy "Lucky" after only one season.
The show, which starred John Corbett as a former world poker champ trying to rebuild his life after losing everything, won some of the best reviews of the past season, and creators Mark and Robb Cullen earned an Emmy nomination for writing the pilot.
The accolades didn't translate into ratings.
An FX spokesman says that while the cable network was proud of the show creatively, it never found an audience. The show debuted to about 2.5 million viewers in April, but by midway through its run had lost about half that audience.
In comparison, new drama "Nip/Tuck" dipped only about 10 percent, from 3.7 million viewers for its premiere to 3.3 million viewers for the second episode this week. Its rating among adults 18-49 even rose slightly.
FX's flagship series, "The Shield," also averaged more than 3 million viewers a week in its second season.
The Emmy nomination for "Lucky" was the first ever for a comedy series airing on basic cable.
[We'll miss Lucky and his crew. You gotta sell soap or you're outta the game in this business. Ed.]
Goodbye Hollywood, Hello Toronto
By GREG RISLING
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES August 1, 2003 (AP) - Hollywood is seeing stars - but not the kind it's accustomed to.
The state's compromise budget, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Gray Davis on Saturday, dealt a blow to the entertainment industry by ending an incentive program aimed at keeping runaway TV and film production in California.
So-called "runaway production" is when foreign cities such as Toronto and Montreal serve as film sites in place of cities like Los Angeles and New York to save on expenses.
The incentive program called "Film California First" is operated by the California Film Commission and subsidizes fees paid by producers for government services during filming.
Initiated by Davis more than two years ago, the program has resulted in about $16 million in rebates for more than 2,800 productions.
"We believe that most filmmakers understand California's budget situation and share our disappointment that essential programs like Film California First will not continue at this time," said Karen Constine, director of the commission.
Under the proposed state spending plan, the incentive program's $8 million annual budget would be eliminated.
"I think it's a disaster for the entertainment industry," said Michael Apted, president of the Directors Guild of America, which lobbied for the program. "In the long-term, it means that film production will be driven out of state."
The loss of the program is the latest setback for Hollywood. A nonprofit agency created to curb the flow of productions from the Los Angeles area is under investigation for allegedly misusing public funds for expenses and political contributions. The industry also is dealing with long-standing complaints about noise and other disruptions that accompany filming in neighborhoods.
"Right now the film industry feels misunderstood," said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "The biggest challenge for the motion picture industry is to articulate who is most hurt by runaway production."
Hollywood has stepped up efforts to retain filming in California since a 1999 study revealed that runaway production cost the U.S. economy $10 billion.
Although movie and television production in this country has rebounded somewhat over the past two years, production companies are still flocking to places like Canada. That country saw revenue from filmmaking more than double from $309 million to $750 million between 1998 and 2001.
U.S. officials have tried to play a role in keeping production in the United States. The latest attempt is a bill introduced by two California congressmen that would offer tax credits to small and independent productions with payrolls of less than $10 million.
Some industry observers said it was inevitable that the entertainment industry would be hurt by the state budget crisis.
"It's disappointing but not surprising," said Steve Caplan, senior vice president of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, a trade organization. "There hasn't been any government program that was perceived to be the silver bullet for our industry."
Angel Gets Harmony and Eve
LOS ANGELES July 30, 2003 (Zap2it.com) - As the only currently active outpost in the known Buffy-verse, "Angel" is swelling its cast to include even more familiar faces, as well as one or two new characters to replace departed Charisma Carpenter and Vincent Kartheiser.
As has long been rumored, Mercedes McNab will join the show on a recurring basis, revisiting her Harmony character.
This will allow Harmony, a somewhat bumbling vampire whose attempts at self-empowerment rarely end well, to reunite with former flame Spike (James Marsters, who has already been announced as a new series regular).
McNab made appearances as Harmony on both "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel."
McNab's other credits include appearances on "Dawson's Creek" and "Boston Public."
The WB has also confirmed that another "Boston Public" alum, Sarah Thompson, will join "Angel" for at least six episodes.
Thompson is Eve, a new assistant to David Boreanaz's Angel at Wolfram & Hart.
Those in the know are coy about Thompson's character, who may or may not provide temptation for the show's undead hero.
Thompson, who played high school seductress Dana Pool in the first season of "Boston Public," appeared on episodes of "The District" and "Touched by an Angel" last season. She also was in the feature "Malibu's Most Wanted."
Angel returns October 1, 2003 Wednesdays at 9 PM / 8c on The WB.
Angel Official Site - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||139,00.html
Vote in the eXoNews Buffy Exit Poll! - http://flatdisk.net/buffy
Peacemakers: Gunsmoke meets Sherlock Holmes
Hollywood July 31, 2003 (eXoNews) - Tom Berenger is one of those faces you think has always been there, even if you can't remember exactly where you saw him last. Truth is, his movie career dropped off after he won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar Nomination for Platoon in 1986. He won a lot of supporting roles after that, but rarely got the lead.
Maybe that's because Tom Berenger is an actor who looks best on a horse, or at least toting a six-gun, and there just haven't been many notable big screen Westerns for the last couple of decades - the curse of a dying breed of stalwart movie heroes that he shares with Tom Selleck.
My personal favorite Berenger film was Last of the Dogmen (1995), a modern Western where he played a bounty hunter who discovers a lost Native American tribe while searching for escaped convicts in the Montana wilderness.
TV has never given up on the horse opera, however, and Berenger hasn't either. He won acclaim and a Lone Star Film & Television Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt in the John Milius TV movie Rough Riders in 1998, playing opposite Sam Elliott - another underrated modern cowpoke actor.
In 2002, Berenger led the likes of Luke Perry, Michelle Forbes, Burt Reynolds, and Rachel Ward down the trail in a Hallmark Western mini-series called Johnson County War.
In between Westerns Tom Berenger has done a wide range of memorable parts from a caustic ex-husband in Robert Altman's The Gingerbread Man (1998) to sky-diver Red Line in the sometimes brilliant action film Cutaway (2000) to Texas A&M football coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant in the ESPN original movie The Junction Boys (2002).
He's an actor who never stops working, even if there's no horse.
So it's no surprise that Berenger would be in the forefront of what looks like a rebirth of the Western in the 21st Century. Hot on the hooves of last year's Fox-fumbled Joss Whedon sci-fi Western Firefly and this year's wonderful Tom Selleck Western Monte Walsh for TNT - and preceding the recently announced new Steven Spielberg Western mini-series, also for TNT - the writer-director team of Rick Ramage (creator of Haunted on UPN) and Larry Carroll (The Huntress on USA) have come up with a perfect role for Tom Berenger as Marshal Jared Stone in USA's Peacemakers, which debuted in a ninety minute premiere last night.
While there were no big surprises in the opening episode of Peacemakers, there were no disappointments either. The show has been softened for modern, saddle-ignorant viewers by comparisons to the endless CSI and cloned CSI forensic series on CBS, but a more apt one-line description would be "Gunsmoke meets Sherlock Holmes."
If you like classic Westerns for their look and horses and Holmes for his turn of the century scientific bravado, Peacemakers is your man.
Peacemakers gives us Berenger at his best, a pipe-smoking, no-BS US Marshal who runs the town of Silver City. As a peacekeeper, Stone keeps his case files in his head and bases his deductions on the same gut feeling that served John Wayne and other memorable lawmen of his ilk.
When Silver City's founding father is murdered in a private railroad car, Stone's methods are challenged by the arrival of Pinkerton Detective Larimer Finch (Peter O'Meara), who shares Holmes' love for forensic clues and is up on all the latest modern inventions.
Explaining how he was able to recognize a forged land grant, Finch proclaims it couldn't be ten years old because the old deeds were printed on parchment and the forgery was "printed on pulp paper and pulp paper was only invented five years ago."
Holmes would definitely choke on that statement (pulp paper was invented by the Chinese sometime after the 6th Century AD), but Peacemakers is having fun with history the same way Wild, Wild West did. Nobody ever questioned how Artemus Gordon invented all his toys, and if Silver City claims to be the first Wild West town with telephones, so be it!
Character actor Bob Gunton is on hand as the Mayor (last seen as Junction Jack on Greg the Bunny, but don't let that throw you because Mr. Gunton has amazing credits, including a guest shot on the actual CSI) and Amy Carlson sidekicked as Katie Owen.
As near as I could follow, Katie Owen is the town's lady mortician, which allowed her to team up with Larimer Finch for scientific solutions. Luckily for us Western purists there is a purty town madam as well, hopefully there to provide a gal for Marshal Stone like the late Amanda Blake did as Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke.
The pilot mystery was elementary, my dear Larimer, with an obvious Big Bad revealed before Stone and Finch could prove their case, but there were interesting twists, including a trip to Silver City's "Chinatown", where they probably already knew when pulp paper was invented.
The horse action in Peacemakers was cranked (speeded-up) a little too much for me at times, ala modern detective show quick-cuts. Westerns should ramble a bit, partners, and I wanted to see the wild horses run through town in slow motion, not in fragmented little glimpses.
Like most modern Westerns, Peacemakers preferred to treat horses as vehicles rather than visually honoring the integral bond between man and steed.
In short, pull that camera back and let's see the animals run, boys! (Monte Walsh was much more respectful to his horse. Stephen Spielberg, please note.)
Recalling the fate of Whedon's Firefly, the ability of Peacemakers to woo a modern, no horse sense audience remains to be proven, but I'd like to see this show ride around for a couple of seasons, if only to save us from never-ending car chases and shots of people talking into cell phones.
[Peacemakers took 5.2 million viewers in its premiere, according to Zap2it.com, making the western "the second-best series premiere in the network's -- and basic cable's -- history, behind The Dead Zone's bow last summer." Ed.]
Peacemakers Official site - http://www.usanetwork.com/series/peacemakers