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A few years ago, martial arts movie star Chuck Norris would never have done a television series.

And it wasn't for lack of offers.

"Gosh, I have had so many offers for series," says the former professional world middleweight karate champion. "I have had a dozen offers for series."

But he turned them all down because they were typical cop and detective series fare. "They were nothing different," says the trim, fit 53-year-old Norris. "I would get bored with it. At least with a movie, you work just 10 weeks on it. In my heart, I never thought I would do it."

So how did CBS lasso him to star in its new modern-day Western, "Walker, Texas Ranger," premiering Wednesday?

"About two years ago I thought, 'I have done 21 movies over 17 years,' " says Norris, who has starred in "Code of Silence," "Force of One," "Invasion U.S.A.," as well as three "Missing in Action" and two "Delta Force" action films. His latest movie, "Sidekicks," opened last week.

"I have been all over the globe," Norris explains. "I am really tired of traveling here and there. If I could find the right series in the right location, maybe I would be interested. That was kind of my subconscious mind talking. As providence would have it, this concept came to me, 'Walker, Texas Ranger.' "

Besides Norris, "Walker" also features Gailard Sartain as C.D. Parker, Walker's buddy who owns a country-Western bar; Clarence Gilyard as Walker's young partner, James Trivette, and Sheree J. Wilson as assistant district attorney Alex Cahill.

Norris liked the screenplay and found Cordell Walker to be a unique TV character. "That was the key for me, to do something that has never been done before," he says. The series would be filmed in Dallas and Fort Worth, and Norris just happens to have a ranch two hours outside Dallas.

Besides, Norris adds, he and Walker have a lot in common. "His father is a full-blooded Cherokee who marries an Irish lady and has a child, which is kind of my background," says the Oklahoma native, who was born Carlos Ray of Cherokee and Irish heritage. "In the series, his parents were killed when he was 12 and he was raised on the reservation until he was 18. He goes into the Marines and becomes the Marine kickboxing champion."

Norris himself dreamed of becoming a policeman, but was too young to join the force after he graduated from high school. So Norris enlisted in the Air Force and began studying martial arts while stationed in South Korea.

Walker, Norris says, is a "do-it" type of guy. "When he goes after a criminal, he is going to get him, but at the same time there is that side to him that his friends know--the compassionate side which they take advantage of. They know how to push his buttons. He is a soft touch."

"Walker" executive producer David Moessinger thinks Norris is somewhat of a soft touch himself, and that's the reason audiences worldwide like him. "I have been around a lot of stars and I have got to tell you, he has an incredible appeal to the masses," he says. "There is a warmth and a honesty about this man. You immediately trust him. He is that way in real life. What you are seeing is what Chuck really is--a very decent, warm and kind person."

Norris hopes "Walker" will be a show the whole family can enjoy. Therefore, violence will be kept to a minimum. "It will be done tastefully," Norris says. "I know there is this big thing about violence. The action has to got to be done in a way that is tasteful. There is no other way to do it. It is a defensive form of action, not an offensive form of action."

"We are really trying our best not to make it violent," Moessinger says. "Chuck will use those things which have made him a world-class star, but we are trying to hold down the violence as much as we can. If he fights, it is more as a choreographed ballet, so to speak. Both Chuck and I and the network really want to play away from it as much as possible and play into more of the crime-solving aspect of the show and trying to build a family of characters."

When Norris isn't acting, he's busy trying to raise funds for his Kick Drugs Out of America Foundation, based in Houston. "I work with youngsters in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades," he explains. "Physical education in schools today is a joke. They go out in the field and they play around for an hour."

Norris's foundation teaches the martial arts to 1,000 students in five Houston schools. "These are all inner-city kids," Norris says. "We have had this program for a year-and-a-half. I love to brag about this because the response and positive results have been absolutely unbelievable. These kids who could have gone one way or another. We have gotten them directed down the positive, right path."

"Kids have to belong to something," Norris says, "and if it is not something good, it's going to be something bad. What I'm trying to do is instill these kids with a sense of belonging to something, but in a positive way. My goal is to have this in every school in America."

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