July 14, 2008

Cyrano, Hercule, Old Hollywood on PBS

By Robert Bianco

LOS ANGELES -- PBS is once again queuing up the classics, while modernizing a little around the edges. Among plans revealed Sunday at the semi-annual gathering for TV writers:

*Cyrano de Bergerac. The acclaimed Broadway run starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner comes to Great Performances as a January special.

The filming was done during an actual performance, which, Kline says, can sometimes make actors fret: "Theater is an ephemeral experience, and they're capturing it." But the cameras were so carefully placed, "I never noticed them."

Kline is known for his versatility. While he loves Cary Grant -- the kind of actor who basically does the "same thing in the same role and does it brilliantly" -- that's not him.

That's one reason he has turned down offers for TV series. "Just the tedium of doing the same character didn't appeal to me. ... I'm not averse to television, I just don't want to get stuck."

Other Great Performances this season: Ian McKellen's King Lear, The Police's final concert tour and a British version of the musical Chess starring Josh Groban.

*Hercule Poirot & Co. David Suchet will be back on Masterpiece Mystery next season as Agatha Christie's detective. He'll be joined by a new Miss Marple: Julia McKenzie from Cranford. Four of each series are in production, and Masterpiece head Rebecca Eaton says Suchet wants to eventually complete the entire Poirot canon.

PBS also will start a new series starring Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander, author Henning Mankell's Swedish police inspector. And Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) will play a rogue agent in Masterpiece Contemporary's presentation The Last Enemy, due in October.

*Ken Burns. Next up for the famous filmmaker is The National Parks: America's Best Idea, a 12-hour, six-part series for fall 2009.

Even further out is On Record: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, due fall 2010, an eight-hour film tracing the history of recorded music and how music on records changed pop culture. It will be hosted by George Martin, producer of The Beatles.

Martin at one point was said to be showing up on another American show -- Fox's American Idol. Not true, he says. "I know it's enormously popular, American Idol, but it's not my cup of tea. I wouldn't dream of being on it."

*David Hyde Pierce. The Emmy- and Tony-winning actor is continuing his crusade against Alzheimer's. On Aug. 3, PBS will repeat the 2004 documentary The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer's, and Hyde Pierce will moderate a new panel discussion, The Future of Alzheimer's.

His grandfather and father both were stricken by the disease, and while he does think about the genetic risk, he doesn't dwell on it. "I don't want the fear of it to overtake my life," he says. "I want to be responsible and reasonable about it and do what I can. And, of course, one of the things that we all can do, which I'm doing, is do everything we can to help the whole country become aware of it."

*Old Hollywood. You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, a five-hour film history from Richard Schickel, arrives in September. Narrated by Clint Eastwood, the special is sure to feature another actor Schickel calls "the quintessential Warner Bros. guy": Jimmy Cagney. "You know, he was a tough little not-so-hot-looking guy with all that energy and all that spirit and all that kind of social consciousness," Schickel says. "So, you know, hats off to him." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>