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A Wilder West : THE FOURTH NETWORK HOPS ON THE WESTERN WAGON WITH 'BRISCO COUNTY'

August 22, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It isn't easy making a Western in Los Angeles. The wide open spaces these days aren't very wide or open.

But the producers of the new Western "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." are finding it an exciting challenge.

"There's really few vestiges of what was once a huge operation," Carlton Cuse ("Crime Story") says. Cuse and partner Jeffrey Boam ("Lethal Weapon 2") are the creators and executive producers of "Brisco," which premieres Friday on Fox.

During Westerns' heyday back in the '40s, '50s and '60s, Cuse says, Hollywood studios had Western towns and stables. "Most of the stuff has been torn down," he says. "Those sets have been turned into office buildings. The ranches have been supplanted into housing developments."

Luckily, Warner Bros., the studio producing "Brisco," still has a Western street in Burbank. For other locations, Cuse says, "We are out on the fringes of Valencia just to find open countryside. There are a lot of logistical problems."

Today, "Brisco" is staging a Mexican revolution at a Valencia ranch just a few minutes drive away from the bustling Golden State Freeway. This being Hollywood, nothing is what it seems, including the white markings on the forehead of Copper, one of the three horses that play Brisco's green apple-loving horse, Comet.

"Don't pet the horse on his forehead," warns a wrangler. "He has makeup on." Indeed, on closer inspection, Copper's distinctive markings are simply greasepaint.

It may seem odd that Fox would be doing a Western. The oft-irreverent network takes responsibility for the trend-setting series "The Simpsons," the urban comedies "Martin" and "Roc" and rather tasteless sitcoms such as as 'Married ... With Children." But then, "Brisco" isn't exactly "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

Set in 1893, "Brisco" is part "Wild Wild West," part "Indiana Jones" and part tribute to the Republic serials of the '30s and '40s. Bruce Campbell, the star of such campy horror flicks as "The Evil Dead," "Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness," plays Brisco, an adventurer with a Harvard law degree.

In the two-hour pilot, Brisco is hired by a group of robber barons (played by such familiar Western TV faces as Robert Fuller, James Drury, Rayford Barnes, Paul Brinegar) to track down the world's most notorious outlaws. Julius Carrey is bounty hunter Lord Bowler and Christian Clemenson plays the barons' stuffy attorney Socrates Poole. And just like the old serials, each half-hour ends with a cliffhanger.

Starring in a Western is a dream come true for the lanky Campbell, who usually battles vampires, skeletons and other ghouls in the movies. He has been a fan of Westerns since he was a kid. "My mom read practically every Louis L'Amour book ever written," he says, relaxing under a tree. "When it became time to be an actor they just weren't doing any Westerns. So that was kind of a drag."

Campbell fell in love with Brisco when he read the pilot. "There's more to him than a glib one-liner hero who is never affected by anything," Campbell says. "In the pilot, he never pulls his gun. I liked that. It throws a twist on the whole thing."

The father of two small children, Campbell is pleased Brisco also is an attorney. "You have a whole new dimension to him," Campbell says. "He can talk. He can reason. He doesn't have to shoot everybody. I have been in some of the goriest movies ever made. You can't do the same things in TV as you can do in features. It's not so gross."

For the first time in his career, Campbell has had to learn dialogue. Usually, he says, he would average two dialogue scenes per movie. 'It's not just a bunch of phone-in dialogue," he says. "You have to do the dialogue, interact and jump on the horse and ride like the wind. It's really strange to be interacting with a person with dialogue."

Christian Clemenson is enjoying playing the proverbial fish out of water. "I get to do most of what Brisco does, but I get to do it badly," he says, laughing. "I watch Bruce practice and practice--I just have to get it done."

Clemenson believes the resurgence of Westerns in movies and on TV stems from the fact people yearn for a simpler time. "I think we long for an age without technology," Clemenson says. "That's what Westerns give us."

Cuse and Boam decided to give "Brisco" yet another spin by setting it in 1893. "There's a big difference between Westerns which are set in the 1860s and Westerns set in the 1890s--1893 was on the cusp of the progressive era," Cuse explains.

"It's a weird time period," Campbell adds. "You had phones and electricity. It's not the 1860s. Things are not as primitive. The weird blend allows writers to come up with cutting- edge technology."

"We're not in any way striving for authenticity," Cuse says. "I think the fun is taking some of the conventions of the genre and not treating them with reverence."

"The Adventures of Brisco Country, Jr." premieres Friday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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