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Published: Friday, 7/18/2008

Rewarding loyalty: 'Eli Stone' gets a plum time slot for its sophomore season

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Eli Stone star Jonny Lee Miller, left, listens as executive producer Greg Berlanti discusses the second season of the show.
Eli Stone star Jonny Lee Miller, left, listens as executive producer Greg Berlanti discusses the second season of the show.
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - In its first season, ABC's Eli Stone didn't draw huge ratings, but the series - about a corporate lawyer with an aneurysm who has visions of his colleagues singing and dancing - did find a loyal audience.

ABC offered the show a vote-of-confidence-renewal in May, even giving it a plum time slot after Dancing With the Stars when its second season debuts Oct. 14. Eli Stone producers know they have an opportunity to capitalize on their show's lead-in.

"We're scary-shameless as far as overlap with Dancing With the Stars," said executive producer Marc Guggenheim, who didn't rule out the possibility of guest spots on Eli Stone by Dancing cast members. Eli Stone will also try to retain Dancing viewers by putting its song-and-dance scenes near the start of its episodes.

The show's first season ended with Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) having the aneurysm removed and waking from a coma. Will his visions cease or will they continue, establishing him as a modern-day prophet? Executive producer Greg Berlanti said the series will answer those questions in its season premiere.

"We definitely start out the year with another bang of the same kind of size we ended last year with," Berlanti said. "In the story room we often talk about Eli as sort of having this super power, and at the end of year one, he said he didn't want it, he wanted a normal life. He rechooses for significant reasons to reinvest in his role and status, and this year it becomes about the trials and errors he commits."

Katie Holmes, who worked with Berlanti when he wrote for Dawson's Creek, will guest star, sing, and dance in the second episode of the season. And George Michael, who appeared in many of Eli's visions, may return if he can fit filming into his touring schedule.

Berlanti said the second season will take on bigger, broader themes as a way to bring new viewers to the series. But the show will continue to deal with notions of faith and spirituality while side-stepping religion.

"We want to be completely inclusive," Guggenheim said. "I always semi-joke, this is the religious show for atheists because it should appeal to people of every religious stripe.

"Even if you're an atheist you have an element of spirituality in you. Everyone does. Our mission statement for the show is to make it as big a tent as humanly possible."

At the start of a session with ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson, the first question came from a reporter none of us recognized as a media colleague. He started asking questions about rumors that ABC might make a bid for Jay Leno after Leno is transitioned out of NBC's The Tonight Show next year. (Conan O'Brien has been announced as Leno's successor on the show)

"If that were to happen, would Ted Koppel get fired or how would that work?" the "reporter" asked, oblivious to the fact that Koppel has been off Nightline for several years. "If you were to talk to Jay Leno now, wouldn't that be contract tampering, wouldn't it be illegal?"

"How do you keep your hair so nice?"

Of course, it wasn't a reporter asking these questions, it was Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, who stands to lose if ABC hires Leno. The fact that ABC got Kimmel to make fun of the situation makes it clear that ABC believes in Kimmel and will find a way to keep him happy even if the network pursues Leno.

"I can't say enough about Jimmy," McPherson said. "His show has just exploded this year. As for Leno, I can't believe they're gonna let this guy go at the top of his game. If that happens, I guess we'll look at it at that time, and Jimmy will be involved in those discussions, and that will be that."

"Are you at all afraid that if you do replace Jimmy Kimmel he might do something crazy to you or your car?" Kimmel asked before quickly departing, no doubt to avoid reporters' questions about his recent breakup with Sarah Silverman.

When Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles returns for its second season Sept. 8, the series will feature less serialization and more self-contained episodes.

"Sometimes we got overly complicated," said executive producer Josh Friedman of the first season. "We're trying - a slightly less ambitious storytelling method that's more clear."

Beyond that, producers were unwilling to say much about the new season. They wouldn't address what the future will hold for the robot Cameron (Summer Glau), who was in a truck that exploded in the season finale.

She's a Terminator - of course she'll be back.

I tried to throw them an easy question that avoided specifics: What's the theme for season two? "Evolution," was the best Friedman could offer somewhat haltingly. Makes you wonder if they have much of a plan in mind.

This much we do know: Scruffy John (Thomas Dekker) gets a haircut and looks sleeker and stronger. Dekker said he worked out with a trainer in advance of season two production.

"I felt I didn't need to be physically able last season because I wasn't doing much. This season, I felt like there was going to be more.

John Connor wasn't ready to be a leader in season one, Dekker said. "There was an essence of youth and innocence and I think a lot of that dies at the beginning of this season. I'm trying to do it subtly. It can't be night and day that he turns into a savior [overnight]. I definitely wanted to give the audience more of what they wanted to see last year, but there had to be a transition, has to be an arc."

This year John gets a new friend at school, Riley (Leven Rambin), who was named after Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, just with a different spelling. "When I pitched this season, I thought we'd add a girl maybe in episode seven, and Kevin said, maybe it should be in [episode] one or two, so we compromised on two," Friedman said.

And what will this mean for the potential of a relationship between John and Cameron?

"Every interesting relationship I've been in was a triangle," said executive producer Tim Wirth.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.

Contact him at:

rowen@post-gazette.com



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