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Into the Sunset

April 15, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It isn't difficult for Chuck Norris to discuss the two-hour series finale of "Walker, Texas Ranger," which is slated to air May 12 on CBS. Just ask him if he thinks the fans will be happy with the series' swan song.

"I hate to say it, but it's almost too good for television," says Norris.

"This is going to be incredible," continues the former martial arts champ with almost puppy dog enthusiasm. "The fans are going to love this show. We have a lot of stuff going on that is quite incredible. It's a movie, really."

After eight seasons and 203 episodes, "Walker, Texas Ranger" is moseying into the sunset. And the 61-year-old Norris, an executive producer of the series along with his younger brother Aaron, maintains it was his decision for "Walker," now in its eighth season, to end.

Truth be told, though, when the series was shifted from Saturdays at 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. this season, the audience declined by roughly 2 million viewers, averaging about 10.2 million viewers now.

"We wanted to quit while the show is still popular," says Norris. "You hate to be like a boxer who is fighting and they remember him as a loser rather than a winner."

"We just felt the time was right," echoes Aaron Norris, who is directing the finale. "It was time for us to do other things now."

Critics slammed "Walker" when it premiered in April 1993, but audiences liked the action-drama and Norris' modern-day Texas Ranger Cordell Walker. As the series progressed, "Walker" occasionally shifted back to the 19th century, with Norris playing Texas Ranger Hayes Cooper. The two-hour finale finds parallel story lines dealing with both Walker and Cooper, including Walker's wife Alex (Sheree J. Wilson) giving birth.

"If we relied on the critics, we would have ended the first year," Chuck Norris says, laughing. "But fortunately, people love this show."

Norris doesn't really know the secret of its appeal, but he believes in part it's the lack of controversy. Though that hasn't helped its popularity within the industry.

"I don't know what the reason is that Hollywood doesn't seem to want shows that don't have some kind of deep-seated conflict or perverted ideal," he says. "If it's positive in nature, it's negative to Hollywood, I think."

"Our fans have been unbelievable," says Aaron Norris. "What they have given us--watching the show and enjoying the show and making it a family show that we have always wanted it to be."

Though a UCLA Center for Communication Policy study three years ago singled out "Walker" as one of the two most violent series on the air, the Norris brothers don't agree with the study's conclusions.

" 'Walker' is one of the highest viewing family shows on the network," Chuck Norris says. "Our viewing audience ranges from 5 to 86. What we have done on Saturday night is bring the family back to the living room as a family. So the critics had to drop that concept [that it was too violent], because 'Walker' became too big of a family viewing show."

Norris, who starred in such action hits as "Code of Honor," "Missing in Action" and "Delta Force," had no desire to do a TV series. But while on location in Israel on a feature, he was sent the concept for "Walker."

"I had just bought a ranch in Texas and my intention was to move to Texas [from California] anyway, when this concept came to me," Norris says. "I looked at it and said, 'If I am ever going to do a TV show, this is the kind of TV show I would do.' I said, 'Let me think about it.' "

Norris realized it was a big gamble to go from features to TV. "If you jump into a TV series and it doesn't succeed, it's hard to jump back into film because you have failed [on TV]," says Norris. "But I kind of went with my gut feeling on this. Fortunately, it worked out."

But it took awhile for Norris to be happy with "Walker." The first season, he says, he "almost killed himself" trying to keep the show going because the first producer "wasn't doing what I felt would make the show successful. Then I brought in a new producer the following year and it wasn't quite what I wanted. Then the third year, I brought in another producer and I didn't feel it was clicking. So I talked to CBS about bringing my brother on and from that point on is when the show started to steam up."

*

"Walker, Texas Ranger" airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on CBS. The network has rated this week's episode TV-PG-V (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for violence).

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