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More Lessons to Learn

March 18, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While making the acclaimed 1997 CBS movie "To Dance With Olivia," Louis Gossett Jr. fell in love with his character--a strong, successful, small-town Southern lawyer.

"He's a strong role model," Gossett says of his character, Daniel Stewart. "He's into politics, and he's into law. It's a wonderful character."

Gossett reprises the role in the sequel, "For Love of Olivia," which airs Sunday on CBS. Also returning to the drama, of which Gossett is an executive producer, is Lonette McKee as his wife, Olivia, and Kathryne Dora Brown as their daughter, Camille.

In the first "Olivia," Stewart and his wife are coping with the accidental death of their young son. "Olivia wasn't able to come out of her bedroom," recalls McKee. "She wore black all the time. She didn't want to participate in anything the family was doing. She almost didn't attend her daughter's wedding. All [the family] could do was to support her coming out of the room, which they did. She does attend the wedding, and she and [Stewart] end up dancing on the porch."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 21, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Screenwriter's father--H. Haden Yelin, the screenwriter of the March 18 CBS movie "For Love of Olivia," is the daughter of R. Quentin Haden, a Missouri legislator and prosecutor at Nuremberg. The March 18 cover story in TV Times misidentified her as the daughter of Phil Silvers.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 1, 2001 Home Edition TV Times Page 3 Television Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
In the March 18 TV Times cover story, a reference to the father of H. Haden Yelin, screenwriter of CBS' "For Love of Olivia," was incorrect. She is the daughter of R. Quentin Haden, a prosecutor at Nuremberg and the youngest legislator in the history of Missouri.

Set in 1966, eight years after the original, "For Love of Olivia" finds Stewart in the running to become the first black congressman from the district. Though Olivia is trying to live as normal a life as possible, she's still in a fragile emotional state.

In the middle of the race, the wife of incumbent Horton Roundtree (Robert Urich) is found murdered in her bed. The suspect is a poor black carpenter (Sterling Macer Jr.) who was seen running from the Roundtree house that night. Stewart agrees to defend the carpenter, though Olivia pleads with him to remove himself from the trial.

McKee loved revisiting the character of Olivia and working once again with Gossett and Brown. "It's always fun to go back and have them do a sequel," she says. "It validates that the first one was well done."

The Oscar-winning Gossett ("An Officer and a Gentleman") is the godfather of Brown, who is the daughter of Tyne Daly and Georg Stanford Brown. "I keep telling her, when she was 2 years old and on her tricycle, she flirted with me," Gossett recalls, laughing.

Executive producer Dennis Considine, who runs Gossett's company Logo Entertainment, says that Gossett has long wanted to do an "Olivia" sequel.

"This is exactly the kind of character that the audience likes to see him in and he likes to play, which is that kind of strong moral center of the piece--the moral compass that has the kind of vulnerabilities we all have, but has the ultimate guts to push through and do the right thing, no matter how tough he has to be to do so.

"He plays an upper-middle-class lawyer in the South in the '60s," adds Considine. "He's not a victim being chased by the Klan. This town does have its problems, but [Stewart], because of the environment that he is in, rose up to be a well-off contributor in that society. It is a role that ... any actor can play. It is a good, strong central character that overcomes these obstacles to do the right thing."

While Gossett and Considine have developed the "Olivia" movies, it was writer H. Haden Yelin, also an executive producer, who brought them the idea. Though there was no written script, she had fleshed out all the characters.

"We flipped for them," says Considine. "We brought them to CBS and they bought it."

"I have known Haden since she was 6," says Gossett. "I knew her father, Phil Silvers."

McKee recalls that, during production, Gossett wanted to make certain that the film showed the Stewarts as a strong family unit who demonstrated "that a black family can have issues and some dysfunction and struggle and live through it without having [the father] walk away from the marriage and the relationships."

Gossett would like to do a limited series of "Olivia" movies. "If only the networks would understand," says Gossett, "there is so much history you can see through this family."

"For Love of Olivia" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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