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'Crazy' script lured ER's Edwards back to one-hour TV show

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PASADENA -- It's an awkward assembly of words, but a consistent truth, in show business, as in life:

There's always a reason to say "Never say never."

Take for instance, the recent career shift of actor Anthony Edwards, who ended his eight-year run as the star of ER in 2002 by declaring he was done with weekly series television.

Well, uh, paging Dr. Greene ....

"Yeah, I said I would never do a one-hour television show again," Edwards said this week during ABC's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "I was done ... (which is) to say that, like, when ER was done, I felt like I had really accomplished something. It had been an amazing eight years, and I was ready for a new adventure."

Edwards, as it turns out, was here in Pasadena to discuss his starring role in Zero Hour, which is -- wait for it -- a one-hour TV drama series that premieres Feb. 14 on ABC (and, in Canada, on Global). In other words, "never" really meant "later."

"It really took a while to recover," Edwards explained. "I also knew that if I was going to come back to television, having done (ER), it would have to be something that was as exciting to me as that was going in, and like with all things in life, it was about the surprise. And this was a great surprise when Lorenzo (Bonaventura, the series' executive producer), an old friend, sent me this script, and I read it, and I could not put it down.

"And I just said, 'If these guys are crazy enough to tell this story, I want to do it with them.'"

The "crazy" story told in Zero Hour is actually a dense, complex yarn filled with historical detail, religious symbolism, fanatical villainy and end-of-times prophecy.

Edwards plays Hank Galliston, the publisher of a New York-based magazine whose sole purpose is debunking myths and dismissing conspiracy theories. But when his wife is kidnapped from the antique clock shop she runs, Hank is forced to reconsider his skepticism and embarks on a desperate journey that could make him a believer in many of the wild theories he has spent his whole life ridiculing as nonsense.

It turns out that an old clock his wife acquired contains a tiny jewel that has engraved upon it a detailed map and cryptic text that could, if they fall into the wrong hands, have dire consequences for all of humanity. It's a storyline element that prompted many in attendance here to wonder if its writers were looking to build a Da Vinci Code-style mythology.

"For me, a serialized show is only as good as its MacGuffin," said series creator Paul Scheuring, referring to the showbiz term for an object or goal that motivates dramatic characters' actions. "Over the years, I've interfaced with a lot of other creators of serialized shows, and I've really been kind of blown away by the fact that they create a big spectacle at the beginning in the pilot, but they don't ultimately know where they're going. And that's terrifying to me, and creatively disingenuous.

"So ultimately, before I even put pen to paper... I was like, 'What's the coolest MacGuffin you can come up with? What are the last frames of this series?' The secret that's behind this entire thing (has) to be evocative, quite original, and thought provoking, and it (can't have) been done before. So from that, I reverse-engineered this larger kind of construct and threw in all these delicious elements, like the Nazis and the church and such, to get to that final place. That's a very, very long-winded way of no, it's not The Da Vinci Code."

OK, then. The series pilot was shot mostly in Montreal, but one sequence in the episode-ending climatic chase was actually filmed last spring on the not-quite-frozen-enough surface of Lake Winnipeg.

"We shot the pilot in Montreal, but lot of the tundra stuff was shot north of there," said Scheuring. "We were really chasing the snow last year, because it was quite warm in Canada, 20 degrees warmer than normal, so we had to shoot that sequence up on Lake Winnipeg, which was melting right beneath us."

For Edwards, the whirlwind, two-day jaunt to the west side of the Manitoba's biggest lake last March turned out to be a particularly memorable experience.

"We had a lot of experts with us, testing the ice all the time, so it was much safer than some people would like to let on," Edwards told the Free Press in an exclusive chat. "We were shooting in Montreal, and we just took a smaller group to Gimli to do those scenes on the ice. We landed that Otter (small aircraft, used in the series pilot) on the ice, which was super-cool, and when we got there, it was so clear and beautiful. But it was pretty warm, and we had this submarine thing on the ice, and it kept sinking.... We didn't have quite as much snow as we wanted.

"But I'll say this -- Gimli's a wild place, a beautiful, fun place, and as a pilot, knowing the story of the 'Gimli Glider,' and knowing how that guy brought in that (1983) Air Canada (Boeing 767) flight, dead-sticking it into that tiny place, was unbelievable. And it's beautiful up there; I can totally understand why people spend their summers in Gimli."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 G3

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