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Chemistry Behind `The Guardian'

Television *This season's highest-rated new drama is driven by the off-screen teamwork of its rookie series creator, veteran executive producer and Australian star.

November 27, 2001|LYNN ELBER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

In CBS' new drama "The Guardian," there's on-screen chemistry between Simon Baker, who stars as troubled attorney Nick Fallin, and Dabney Coleman, who plays his crusty father.

There's chemistry as well between Baker and Alan Rosenberg, who plays the tough director of the child-advocacy office where Fallin must perform community service after a drug arrest.

The potent cast has helped make "The Guardian" the highest-rated new drama this season--in a competitive 9 p.m. Tuesday time slot.

It has averaged 14.3 million viewers weekly against NBC's "Frasier" and ABC's "NYPD Blue." It has even managed to outdraw Fox's much-hyped new drama "24."

Off-screen, there's equally important combustion involving Baker, series creator David Hollander and executive producer Michael Pressman, the diverse trio shaping the drama.

Baker, 32, is an Australian with international film credits (including "L.A. Confidential" and the new "The Affair of the Necklace," which stars Hilary Swank).

Hollander, 33, is a TV novice, a playwright and screenwriter who shifted his focus because he had an idea that was better suited to the small screen's extended storytelling.

Pressman, 51, is a series veteran, a director and producer whose work includes the prestige David E. Kelley dramas "Chicago Hope" and "Picket Fences" as well as TV and feature films.

"The way I write the show, the way Simon acts, the way Michael Pressman oversees the direction of it," said Hollander, "we're really a small band of three guys that are sitting down every day and responding to each other."

The pilot for "The Guardian" was the first work Hollander had done for TV.

"I wanted to write about a flawed character that wasn't going to redeem himself instantly, that would change by degrees, and that those degrees would be measured over time and not by one event," said Hollander, who also serves as executive producer.

"The Guardian" turned out to be the first pilot script Baker read when he decided to give TV a try. A husband and father of three, he was looking for more stability than movie work offered.

"It was good, sharp, intelligent writing," Baker said.

And he liked Fallin, a hotshot aiming for a partnership in his dad's corporate law firm when he's nearly derailed by the drug bust.

Sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service, Fallin becomes a reluctant advocate for youngsters who have suffered abuse or other hardship that thrusts them into the legal system.

He battles his own demons while finding his way in an emotionally charged world of troubled kids, far different than the business terrain he slickly navigates.

"I've always been attracted to characters that allow the audience to see their ugly side," Baker said. "I think what saves it is there's a lot of hope for this character."

CBS wanted Baker for the role and so did Hollander--after his one doubt was put to rest.

"Literally the only thing that didn't make me feel he was the guy for the role was the accent," Hollander said. "Everything else was what I was looking for: The way he looks, the sort of pugilist's nose and the intensity behind his eyes."

"I love watching Simon slip into the character and see him connect the dots of the character."

The network agreed that Hollander could act as "show runner," the person in charge of the production, as well as primary writer. But they made it clear they wanted an experienced guide next to him.

Pressman, Hollander said, "was a very good match for my personality. Michael is a very collaborative, direct person.... He's also an enormously talented director, so it was a really easy match."

An average day for Hollander is spent on editing, casting, administration and some writing, with the bulk of work on scripts done at night or on weekends.

Pressman shares the duties, with an emphasis on supervising direction and post-production such as editing. "This is a 10-person job done by two people," said Hollander.

When he first read "The Guardian" script, Pressman said, he reacted as he had to pilots for "Picket Fences" and "Chicago Hope."

"I have no idea if it will work but I have not seen it before," he recalled thinking.

CBS was firmly behind the series, but there was "a kind of nervousness before the show aired," he said.

"The very thing that people were all worried about is the very thing that makes the show a success: Its uncompromising honesty, no happy endings, a flawed character, a father-and-son struggle," Pressman said.

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