Not even cancellation could stop TV's hero with
[Caption: The Sentinel stars Bruce A. Young,
Richard Burgi and Garett Maggart are happier now that the show has been given
a new lease on life.]
TV series get cancelled all the time: it's par for
the course in the entertainment biz. But it isn't often that a show gets
canned and then brought back. That's what happened with The Sentinel,
UPN's popular series about a police detective, Jim Ellison, who discovers he
has developed a keen range of hyperalert senses. Like the mythical
"sentinel" of precivilized cultures, he possesses radically enhanced
sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Ellison teams up with grad student
Blair Sandburg, who taps into his encyclopedic knowledge of the
"sentinel" legend to aid Ellison in dedicating his newfound
abilities to the war on crime.
The Sentinel --
which has been resurrected after three seasons for at least eight more
episodes, to begin airing this winter on UPN -- was created by Danny Bilson
and Paul DeMeo. The two wrote and produced such cult sci-fi films as Trancers,
Arena and Zone Troopers -- which Bilson also directed -- before
going mainstream in '91 with Disney's The Rocketeer. The duo's other TV
credits include The Flash and The Human Target.
Bilson -- whose Pet Fly Productions also delivers the
nationally syndicated series Viper -- feels quite close to The
Sentinel after three years, and was understandably bitter when the show
was initially given the heave-ho. He is very thankful to the outpouring of
support from hordes of Sentinel fans seeking to rescue the show from
oblivion. "We have a huge fan base that was writing letters and jamming
their phone lines," he says. "I had no idea that they had that much
at stake emotionally, but I was surprised and delighted by how passionate they
[Caption: In a series full of action, it's the
relationship between Sandburg and Ellison that stands out for the fans.]
Bilson thinks he has a pretty good idea what the main
attraction is the people who put so much time and effort into keeping the show
going: the relationship between Ellison and Sandburg. "I get a lot of
feedback from the fans," he says, "and that's what I base things on.
We even adjust things based on the fan input. And they absolutely love the
friendship between the two guys; that's kind of the core of the show. The
production value, the action and the adventure are all secondary to their
The Sentinel is
unique as far as TV cope series go, and Bilson traces its success to its rare
blend of elements. "We take a high-energy, over-the-top action/cop show
and then add this science- fiction aspect -- the heightened senses. That was
always the concept we hooked onto, and that's what we think is really
[Caption: Having survived cancellation, situations
like this should be a breeze for The Sentinel's cast.]
Richard Burgi plays the tough but vulnerable Ellison,
the sole survivor of a doomed reconnaissance mission that forced upon him 18
months in the jungles of Peru. It was here that he was instilled by the
Peruvian tribesmen with the extraordinary sensory gifts that allow him to hear
a ticking bomb entranched in the deep recesses of a large building, or to
discern the emotional state of an adversary. While growing up in Montclair,
New Jersey, Burgi was surrounded by the performing arts -- his parents were
involved in theater and his brother is an accomplished musician.
Before taking on the role of Ellison, Burgi spent
many years in TV soap operas, including Another World, As the World Turns,
One Life to Live and Days of Our Lives. But he says that acting in
soaps isn't really all that different from performing in The Sentinel.
"You know, it's all the same," he offers. "I mean, when it's
presented in its purest distillation, soaps are just actors living in a moment
-- hopefully responding seriously to a given stimuli. And it's fun; I enjoy
Burgi also enjoys the camaraderie involved in filming
The Sentinel in Vancouver, Canada. "The people I work with up here
are just delightful," he says, "and I have a lot of fun with the
actors on the show. It's kind of like going on a madcap caper week after week.
It's the people that make it fun, and that's what excites me about it."
His other passions include surfing, traveling and playing music; he's the
proud owner of the legendary Buddy Miles' vintage drum set.
One person who has already tried out those prized
drums is Garett Maggart, who portrays Sandburg, the grad student dedicated to
keeping his thesis subject (Ellison) in one piece. Maggart claims he's a
"hack" on drums -- and on guitar -- but admits that musical
inclinations run in his family. His father is actor and former opera singer
Brandon Maggart, and his sister is none other than pop vocalist Fiona
[Caption: Grad student Sandburg (Maggart) would
never see this much action hanging around a library.]
Maggart says that the biggest challenge of his Sentinel
role is just sustaining Sandburg's character. "It's different than doing
a guest bit where you just go and you pop it and leave," he says.
"The longevity of the show is the challenge -- to keep the excitement and
the thrill and the energy of it up -- because sometimes you can get sort of
complacent and lackadaisical with it."
The actor was most impressed by how the fans of The
Sentinel reacted in its defense when word of the cancellation first got
out. Their charged response also made him realize the power of the Internet.
"I think that our fan base are all on chat lines," he says.
"They all have Sentinel web pages and things, and they just inundated UPN
with E-mails, jammed up the phone lines, stuff like that. It's amazing what
the Internet can do. It's scary, too."
The third star of The Sentinel is Bruce A.
Young, who plays Captain Banks, Ellison's tough but fair superior officer, who
has no recourse but to accept the detective's erratic behavior once his
hyper-vigilant senses surface. No office-bound bureaucrat, Banks is
considerably more likely to thrust himself into an investigation alongside
Ellison than to toil at his desk pushing paper.
The classically trained Young has guest-starred on
such series as The X Files, Highlander, and Quantum Leap; his
most recent movie role was opposite John Travolta in the hit Phenomenon.
Like The Sentinel's other principals, he was taken aback by the fan
support, and hopes the show will continue to win reprieves from cancellation.
"It is a different and offbeat type of show," he says, "not
your usual crime drama, so we do have a lot of fun with it. It would be nice
to keep it going."
Young has actually met many of The Sentinel's
enthusiastic fans in person during conventions and such, and reports that they
majority of them are female. "We have a very large female audience that
is very loyal," he says, "and they're the ones who are the most
vocal. I imagine there must be some guys, but they don't' come to the
conventions. The girls are willing to fly and come meet people; I think the
guys just stay home and watch TV."