Maybe the curse on "Due South" has lifted.
Canceled in June, the unpredictable, tragicomic adventures of a handsome, wholesome, crime-busting Mountie loosed on Chicago has returned to CBS (Fridays at 8 p.m.) in hopes of boosting the network's third-place lineup.
"Due South" has been a struggle for its stars Paul Gross, as Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and David Marciano as Ray Vecchio, the cynical police detective who is Fraser's foil and best friend.
"It's been cursed and blessed from the beginning," says Marciano. Both he and Gross initially rejected the series because neither of them could get a handle on their characters.
"I laughed out loud the first time I read the script," Gross says. "And I also thought, 'I have no idea how to play this part.'
"A lot of the scenes you could push into 'Saturday Night Live' comedy, but then you'd have a followup scene that was serious, with real implications for his character," he says. "And you can't put them side by side."
Marciano, best known as the bicycle messenger in the defunct "Civil Wars," had similar problems. "When I first received the script I thought, 'Good writing. Funny. But the character doesn't jibe.' "
Despite their misgivings, both signed on for the pilot episode, which was shot partly in the Yukon. When the plot called for a dead caribou, the producers killed one. Enter the curse:
"The Inuit people up there told us, 'You killed this caribou and you didn't use it for its true purpose. So we have to have a burial and a ceremony to get the curse off you, [otherwise] your whole show will be cursed,' " Marciano recalls.
Unfortunately, nobody took the Inuits seriously and the production moved back to its Toronto home.
"Suddenly all this weird stuff began happening to us," Marciano says. A plane used in the production crashed. A special-effects explosion nearly blew up the El Mocambo rock club. Finally, the producers had had enough.
"Somebody flew up to the Yukon and they did a proper burial," he says.
The pilot episode, which aired as a two-hour movie, astonished everybody by finishing 22nd for the week. "CBS thought, 'Oh, boy, we'd better start making shows,' " Marciano recalls.
That meant trouble for Marciano and Gross, who were still uncomfortable with their characters. In fact, Marciano despised Ray Vecchio.
"I called my acting teacher after the fourth episode and I said, 'I hate him.' She said, 'You can't hate him.' I said, 'I hate him. I don't want to play him any more.' She said, 'You're in big trouble.' "
Marciano finally "found" Vecchio's core of loyalty to friends, and realized that although Fraser is the main character, Vecchio is the spark. "The minute Ray goes back on his heels, the show goes flat," Marciano says. "Maybe that's why I didn't get him."
Gross credits guest star Leslie Nielsen for helping him with his character. The two men had finished a scene together and Gross was upset with himself, and had complained that he'd ruined the piece. Nielsen offered this counsel:
"He said, 'Well, maybe it's not the best scene that you've done. It seemed pretty good to me. You've got to remember that no matter what you do, that is it. You are the character. Nobody else is. They're watching you. You can do anything you want, and it's still the character.'
Gross grins. "I'd never really thought of it that way," he says. "That relaxed me enormously."
Has the curse lifted? Despite its CBS cancellation, the show's producers slashed budgets and kept it in production. It airs in 62 countries and it's a hit in Australia, Britain, Germany--and Canada.
"Last year, if we found ourselves in trouble with plot resolution, we'd blow something up or have a high-speed chase," Gross says.
"In the absence of that kind of money, we've been forced to focus much more on the characters and relationships--the interior of the story lines--and I think that's been helpful."