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Last Updated: 18 October 2000

 


SENTINEL SEASON FINALE - May 24 1999

From Hollywood Reporter
By Michael Farkash

TV REVIEWS
THE SENTINEL: THE SENTINEL BY BLAIR SANDBURG

(UPN) 9 tonight

What happens to poor Sentinel Jim Ellison (Richard Burgi) in the show's finale is what every superhero fears: The world finds out that he has special gift, thereby endangering his life and the lives of his friends and his ability to operate. It's an engaging idea, and there's plenty of action to make this an entertaining hour.

Directed by Danny Bilson and written by Bill Froehlich, this episode, "The Sentinel By Blair Sandburg," has some nifty manhunter moments and an exciting, energetic shootout scene.

The press learns about Ellison's super-senses. He never wanted to be thought of as a superhero, and now he can't function efficiently as a cop with the paparazzi flashing cameras in his face. Partner Blair Sandburg (Garrett Maggart) is apologetic that his mother e-mailed his tell-all manuscript about Ellison to a publisher, but mom Naomi (Leigh Taylor-Young) just wanted to help her son's writing career.

Now Ellison has to deal with the frantic press in his face as he tries to track down a hit man (the always marvelously villainous Udo Kier).

Of course, this is episodic TV and not a cliffhanger episode, so things work themselves out, more or less.


DUFFY'S BEST BETS

From Detroit Free Press
By TV Writer, Mike Duffy

The Sentinel (9 p.m., WKBD-TV, Channel 50, UPN). Season finale. Alas, it's now a series finale because The Sentinel didn't make the UPN fall schedule and has been canceled. So in this explosive adios, Blair Sandburg's (Garrett Maggart) meddling mother Naomi (Leigh Taylor-Young) blows the cover on Det. Jim Ellison's (Richard Burgi) supernatural abilities by secretly arranging for the publication of her son's thesis. Drat!

(Thanks Noon)


IT'S ABOUT FRIENDSHIP - June 2 1999

Translation from Tevel
Israeli TV Guide

It's About Friendship
Personal Opinion
by Sari Shine

When I was a little girl, about 100 years ago, Israel Television was in its infancy and offered only two-and-a-half series on its schedule: a British series, the Mabat newscast, and Hawaii 5-0. There wasn't anyone who wasn't familiar with the phrase: "Book 'im, Dano!" Times have changed, the offerings on television have grown, and the fall season of American television is no longer so distant and inaccessible. The series that will entertain American audiences in the fall will arrive here during the winter. The networks have just issued "the list" - Who is continuing for another season? Who is canceled? Who is joining the schedule? And the "ratings" float over all of these decisions like a cloud, the determining pretext.

One of the series that was taken off this season was the charming show The Sentinel, starring Richard Burgi and Garett Maggart. The UPN network had already decided to remove Sentinel after its third season. Why? Who knows. Perhaps the ratings were not sky high, but they certainly didn't warrant removing the show from the screen, certainly not in the opinion of its thousands of angry viewers, who were apparently skipped over when they calculated the ratings.

Thousands of faithful fans bombarded the networks, Paramount and UPN, with protest letters. Apparently, this made the difference, and in a rare gesture, the network decided to return the show for a fourth season, but with only eight episodes. Why only eight? Who knows. The eight episodes were shown (hopefully we will see them soon), and during the course of these episodes, or perhaps even beforehand, the network decided that they would not renew the show for a fifth season. Continuing for a fifth season was apparently dependent on the success of the aforementioned eight episodes. And the ratings cloud floated over them all.

Aggressive public relations and promotion on screen, as is well-known, are crucial factors in the ratings of a series. The ratings for The Sentinel weren't spectacular, and the network, in a callous lack of caring, didn't do anything to promote this beloved series. Quite the opposite. Strangely enough, the show's time slot was switched, and it was forced to challenge, against all odds, the trendy and highly-rated show, Ally McBeal. Did UPN ever have any intention of returning The Sentinel to the screen? Did it give us the eight episodes merely to calm the faithful fans for a while? And now what?

If, indeed, they returned the series because of thousands of letters, then why have they taken the series off now? Politics? Perhaps! Can any one really understand the path of the decisions making? What exactly do they think happened to all those thousands of viewers, who are once again disappointed and hurt? Their opinions don't count anymore? Or is it that their opinion didn't carry as much weight as we thought? Who knows.

There are all types of television series. There are those you invite into your living room every so often, there are those you become friends with. The Sentinel was one of those series that make you feel good. It had everything: drama, action, entertainment, the right dose of science fiction in the form of Jim Ellison, the cop with the hyperactive senses. The wonderful Richard Burgi as Jim Ellison succeeded in using his fine acting skills to make a good script great, and Garett Maggart couldn't have been a better choice to play Blair, his anthropologist friend and partner.

Several weeks ago, a chat session was held on the Internet with the two stars. The chat was held before the broadcast of the last episode of the fourth season - and the last episode, period, for the time being. Thousands of distraught fans participated in the chat. The two actors, who are also full of humor and warmth towards their fans in their private lives, were quite entertaining, but it was impossible to shake the feeling of great despair felt by the viewers who bid the series farewell over the Internet. "Our role as actors is to entertain, and I hope that we did so as best as we could," said Burgi at the end of the chat. And indeed, he did.

In the midst of all the farewells there was still a feeling of optimism, that the Sci-Fi cable network would show The Sentinel in re-runs in its fall season, and perhaps even new episodes would be made. Faithful viewers are fixing their bayonets towards the network in an effort to influence their decision, and fans in Israel are invited to join the fight by voicing their protest and support. [S.O.S link]

It's very rare to find a show that you truly like, and when you talk about The Sentinel every one knows that it's about friendship, and for friends you fight, so open your computers and let the fight begin.

(Thanks to Z and The Richard Burgi Fan Club)


LAST BOY SCOUT - June 3 1999

X-Pose #35
By David Basson

The Sentinel recently returned to UPN for a fourth season of extraordinary extrasensory exploits.

Last May, news of The Sentinel's cancellation came as a shock to even the show's most perceptive viewers. Not only had the stylish fantasy-adventure saga consistently been one of the highest-rated series on the fledgling UPN channel, but its heavily-publicized third season finale, Sentinel, Too, concluded the show on a cliffhanging note, with the apparent death of Detective Jim Ellison's (Richard Burgi) friend and partner, Blair Sandburg.

Fortunately, however, Sentinel, Too's closing words, "To Be Continued ...," were destined to prove prophetic. In the months that followed the series' cancellation, fans from across the globe embarked on a no-holds-barred campaign to see Ellison resume his super-human battle against the forces of darkness. And according to the show's cast and crew, the viewers' tireless efforts played a key role in The Sentinel's return to American screens at the beginning of this year.

"I like to credit the fans [for the show's resurrection]," says executive producer Danny Bilson. "There's a huge fan element that is very loud and has put a lot of pressure on everybody."

Bilson's fellow executive producer, Paul DeMeo, feels that the fans' use of the Internet particularly served to advance their cause. "It certainly revolutionizes this sort of fan-based support for any show," he notes. "And in particular, our show. I think it really did make a big difference."

Of course, fan pressure alone was not enough to revive The Sentinel. Its return ultimately required the Powers-That-Be at UPN to re-evaluate their original treatment of the property, as Jim Ellison's rugged alter-ego, Richard Burgi, points out.

"I'd like to think that one of the reasons it's back on is the people that are running the network are flexible," the actor explains. "And I think that in order to be flexible in this day and age is a very necessary quality, to admit that you've mad a mistake and look at something that's a good product and support it as such."

Thanks to UPN's change of heart, a fourth season of The Sentinel was commissioned in July 1998, and began shooting in Vancouver, Canada, on August 26th. Although many campaigner were disappointed to learn that the series had been revived as a mid-season replacement of just eight episodes, its cast and crew all shared Bruce A Young's joy at resuming work on the show.

"As actors, you never are depressed about work," maintains Young, who stars as Captain Simon Banks in the series. "I mean, for myself, any chance to get out and, once again, recreate what we felt was a very good product was a pleasure to do."

Undeterred by the limited nature of the series' return, its staff vowed to make all of season four's eight episodes as good as they could possibly be. With each instalment budgeted at an all-time high of $1.85 million, the cast and crew were able to realize some of The Sentinel's most ambitious storylines and most elaborate set-pieces to date.

Season four also managed to attract several familiar guest-stars, including Man from UNCLE icon Robert Vaughn and Star Trek: Voyager's resident Borg Jeri Ryan. Vaughn appears in the season's sixth instalment, The Real Deal, while Ryan reprises her role as the amoral female Sentinel, Alex Barnes, in the season opener, Sentinel, Too - Part ll,

"I think that there are among these eight some of the best episodes we've ever done for the show, seriously," says DeMeo of season four. "And some unusual ideas that we wanted to do for quite a while."

"What was said was, 'Let's do them for ourselves,'" adds Bilson. "What we are saying is that the pressure of the eight, of us all wanting them to be perfect and all wanting to save our show, created a lot of heavy emotions. Everything was a lot more important this year."

As a sign of gratitude to the show's loyal fans, Bilson and DeMeo decided to place an increased emphasis on The Sentinel's two most popular elements: namely the series' mythology and the relationship between Ellison and Sandburg. Significantly, when it came to developing the season finale, the executive producers also ruled out the idea of doing another cliffhanger and declared that the episode should provide the entire series with a sense of resolution, as a precaution against cancellation.

Bilson himself took the helm for the resulting episode, The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg, which is clearly designed to address many of the show's ongoing themes and issues. Yet, as Bilson insists, the episode's conclusion does not prevent future Sentinel adventures from entering production at a later date.

"[The finale] allows the show to continue, but wraps up the first 65 episodes in a lot of ways, both emotionally, and some of the situations that were set up in the pilot three years ago. We felt that for the fans and for ourselves, if we're not going to go on beyond the eight, we wanted to have something that would work as a series finale, and not just walk away after what happened with the cliffhanger.

"I think it's one of our best episodes," Bilson states proudly.

"I think that the final episode that Danny directed opens the door for the show to go on in a completely different direction," adds Burgi.

Provided that UPN realizes the acute good sense of commissioning a fifth season of the show, Richard Burgi, Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo will be able to start scouting those new directions for The Sentinel later this year.

(Thanks Michelle)


BILSON & DEMEO in TVZONE - June 1999

TV Zone #115 - June 1999
By Steven Eramo

The old adage "Time flies when you're having fun" certainly applies to the men behind quite a few successful series.

The clock is constantly ticking for Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, creators and executive producers of the popular UPN programme The Sentinel and the hit, syndicated Viper as they split their schedules between California and Vancouver where the shows are filmed. The gregarious duo recently took some time out to discuss their work as well as how they became writing partners.

action, sf and fantasy ...

The Sentinel, about a police detective with hyperactive senses, was born from an idea the two had while at Warner Bros in the Eighties. "We were trying to do a kind of Lethal Weapon-type action show on television that incorporated elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which we both like," explains Bilson.

"We mentioned it to CBS and they weren't really interested, so we put it on the shelf and became involved in a bunch of other things. Paul and I had also talked about it to Ron Taylor, an executive at Warner Brothers. Ultimate, he became an executive at UPN when they first started up. One day he called us and said, 'We're thinking about doing some kind of psychic detective series. I remembered that Sentinel idea you guys had years ago and I think that would be much better. Would you be interested in doing it?'

"At the time Paul and I were in the middle of writing two feature films and had kind of moved away from television. I said, 'You know, we'll do it if you guys give us a pilot deal,' because I didn't want to write just a script. So they did and 65 episodes later here we are, but I credit Ron a lot. It wasn't like we went out and pitched it. He remembered and called us."

"We'd pretty much put it on our shelf of good ideas that never went anywhere," adds DeMeo. "So it was a hugely satisfying element of the whole experience that it was something that we kind of had in our back catalogue that suddenly sprang to life."

planned location change

Originally, The Sentinel was supposed to be shot on location in Seattle, but because of the elaborate stunts and special effects this proved too costly. Plans to begin filming the pilot in April 1995 were put on hold until August when the show was re-budgeted in Canadian dollars and the production moved to Vancouver. According to DeMeo and Bilson there were a few other issues to be ironed out including finding the right people to write for the show.

"It's especially difficult to write for the types of shows we do because in most cases they're cop stories plus one other big element," notes DeMeo. "There might be several individuals who can write a brilliant episode of Homicide: Life on the Street or NYPD Blue but they don't know how to give you something a little crazier that has some far out elements to it. They either go too far into cartoon land or simply don't know how to mix a contemporary cop show with the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres."

sentinel casting

Casting The Sentinel's main character Detective James Ellison also proved to be a challenge, especially when it came to finding someone with equal amounts of brain, brawn and talent. Choosing an actor for the role of Ellison's sidekick, anthropology graduate student Blair Sandburg, was much easier. Despite his lack of acting credits they immediately recognized that Garett Maggart was their man, but surprisingly Richard Burgi was not the first choice to play Ellison.

"We had tested Richard three times before for three other pilots," recalls Bilson. "He was our first choice on virtually all three of these other projects but the network always ruled him out. This time he had just come back from working on One West Waikiki in Hawaii and when we first saw hime read for The Sentinel he just seemed wiped out and not ready to take on another series.

"The person who read the best was John Wesley Shipp who had starred on another series Paul and I did, The Flash. John was terrific and we wanted him to be the Sentinel at that point and so did Paramount [the show's production company in association with Pet Fly Productions], but Lucy Salhaney, who was running UPN then, really wasn't sure and wanted to look further.

"A friend of mine suggested that we bring Richard back, so we did but this time he looked healthy and well rested and had done a lot of work on the character. He read for the part and just nailed it so he won the role. However, it felt strange at first, because I direct a lot of the episodes and I was already prepping for the pilot in Vancouver and visualizing John in all the scenes, but then it became Richard. Now, of course, Richard is the Sentinel."

first direction

In the show's pilot episode James Ellison is tracking an elusive serial bomber, the Switchman, when his hypersenses begin to emerge. Concerned that he might be losing his mind, Ellison decides to take a leave of absence and reluctantly asks Blair Sandburg to help him try to understand what is happening. Bilson laughs when recalling the less than perfect conditions under which he had to direct the story.

"We were out int he woods in the middle of August and the first day it was pouring," he says. "Now, I had never filmed before in Canada. We'd always done every previous project in Los Angeles and if it rains down there you move inside to a set and carry on. Well, I came out of my trailer kind of scared and depressed and I saw all this equipment I'd never seen before. The crew just pulled all this stuff out, and bam, bam, bam, the cameras and everything else were waterproofed and we began shooting. So up there you learn to ignore the rain."

Although they tend to do a lot of things together Bilson and DeMeo realized over the years that in some cases a division of labour was needed to get the job done properly. Their system has developed naturally in response to their strengths and talents and lends itself perfectly to their positions as executive producers on The Sentinel and Viper.

split localities

"Because both programmes are shot in Vancouver it became apparent fairly quickly that one of us was going to have to spend more time up in Canada and the other in California manning the fort," sayd DeMeo. "All the writing is done here in our offices in Burbank [California] as well as the editing and any administrative work. So what's happened over the last few years is that I've had to be here more often. I don't direct, Danny directs. We both work on the editing but Danny is heavily involved in the day-to-day production stuff and spends more time in Canada than I do. That seems to have worked out a lot better for us," he notes.

"Well, the only way it worked out for me is that I fell in love, which helped a lot, otherwise I would have been asking, 'What the hell am I doing up here?'" jokes Bilson. "My finacee is Heather Medway, the lead actress on Viper. We've been together for three years now and it makes it so much easier with me having to be in Canada because I have a second home up here. I handle the day-to-day running of things from a kind of senior perspective. Paul and I go over every script and cover every edit - we share those duties - but he spends more time in writers meetings while you can usually find me in production meetings with the producers."

The hard work and dedication of Bilson and DeMeo as well as The Sentinel's cast and crew paid off with three successful seasons as UPN's second highest rated programme. Viewers were left hanging at the end of the show's third season finale, Sentinel Too, in which Blair Sandburg apparently drowns.

With the words 'To be continued' on the screen, it seemed that the series would be back. However, in a last-minute move the network opted to not renew The Sentinel, in favour of new programming. Thanks in part to a huge campaign by fans to save the show, UPN had a change of heart and brought the series back as amidseason replacement in January 1999.

"We had the numbers [ratings], we had the history, we had the quality; it made no sense to us that the show was cancelled," says Bilson. "We shot a two-parter in which we supposedly killed of one of our main characters and then they cancelled us! It's obvious that we were completely caught by surprise or we wouldn't have prepared that kind of ending creatively," muses the producer.

"So there was that initial disappointment, frustrationg and confusion, especially when you looked at the ratings," adds DeMeo. "When a decision was finally made to bring us back and they gave us only eight episodes we aid, 'OK let's make the best episodes that we can.' All we could do was work as hard as we could to tell good stories and get the rating that would, hopefully, justify another season in somebody's mind."

viper

DeMeo's and Bilson's other currently running series, Viper aired on NBC from 2 January 1994 to 1 April, 1994 before moving into first-run syndication. The abbreviated first year starred James McCaffrey as Joe Astor, a professional mob driver whose memory was erased by authorities ofter he nearly died in an accident. Now on the side of law and order, Astor was put behind the wheel of a high-tech, computerized Dodge Viper sports car outfitted with advanced weaponry and the ability to morph its shape. Astor fights organized crime in Metro City with the assistance of Viper creator Julian Wilkes (Dorian Harewood) and scam artist/ technical genius Frankie Waters (Joe Nipote).

"When we went to syndication it was a completely different situation because we had 22 episodes that were going to be shot in Calgary [Alberta, Canada]," says Bilson. "There was no script and we had to film a promo reel, but no one wanted to come in and do it. Jim McCaffrey was already starring in another series, Swift Justice, and at the time Jeff Kaake was the only actor who came in with any experience so we cast him.

"A few months later we wanted a female lead and once we saw Heather she was the only choice for the part of Detective Cameron Westlake. Joe Nipote was coming back and J Downing, who had guest-starred as FBI Agent Sherman Catlett, came aboard as a semi-regular and we finally made him a regular.

"This [third] year we're in Vancouver and Jim McCaffrey has returned to replace Jeff Kaake and that was the most positive change we've had in the syndicated version. Jim is just a wonderful presence on the set and we've been able to develop a sort of quasi-romantic/friendly relationship between him character and Heather's. He's happy to be back and he's a lot of fun."

DeMeo adds, "It's also nice for the continuity of the show to have the original star back in the driver's seat, and the way we worked him back into the show was very natural, I thought. We've also had Dorian in three episodes this season, which was great. We'd actually like to get him as a regular for next season.

first meeting

Bilson was born and raised in Los Angeles while DeMeo is a native of Buffalo, New York. The two met while majoring in theatre at California State University. "Paul and I found that we both had a love of the same old movies and the same great adventure stories," says Bilson.

"The first thing we wrote together was a Sherlock Holmes play that we produced in college and both acted in. Don't worry, we'll never perform again. It was before videotape, so there's no evidence," he laughs. "We've been writing together for over 20 years. There are times in our careers when we spend more time together than we do with our spouses. Luckily, Paul and I get along really well. If we had known each other as children I'm sure we would have been friends even back then."

Their first assignment was a comedy script they wrote back in 1980 about alligators in the New York sewers appropriately titled See You Later, Alligator. "It was never produced," says DeMeo, "but it actually got us into the Writers Guild." The duo went on to write and produce cult Science Fiction feature films Trancers, Zone Troopers, Eliminators and Arena and the 1988 comedy The Wrong Guys which was directed by Bilson. In 1991, five years of their work came to fruition with the release of The Rocketeer, a 1930's Science Fiction adventure tale starring Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly.

From 1990 to 1991, under and exclusive deal with Warner Bros Television, Bilson and DeMeo developed, wrote and executive produced The Human Target and The Flash. "God, I love that series," says DeMeo. "We were so ready to keep going. We had all these ideas for a second season and were just figuring out the series when they cancelled us."

Bilson concurs, "In intervening years there have been a-half dozen times when we've been at CBS pitching ideas and someone there has told us, 'You know, we never should have cancelled The Flash.' It was a major hit in Europe and we were so disappointed because it was our first series and we were cancelled. We learned so much doing that show, especially when it came to creating special effects. We're immensley proud of what we achieved with the programme and we still feel it's the best comic book adapted show ever done for television."

It is too early to tell yet whether The Sentinel and/or Viper will be back but Bilson and DeMeo are grateful for the loyalty the viewers have shown to both series. They enjoy hearing what people have to say and hope to keep the lines of communication open no matter what the project.

"If we were cave men we'd probably be the guys who sit around the campfire and tell stories and entertain people," chuckles Bilson. "It's great to be able to tell someone a story and then get their feedback. That, to me, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. The other is just the process itself. Working with a group of people in a collaborative way and just being creative is terribly satisfying whether something succeeds or fails because even in a failure the process can still be enjoyable. The bottom line is, 'Am I having a good time?'"

Says DeMeo, "As a film or television writer, until your script is filmed it doesn't exist, do you know what I mean? If you write a feature film script you could wait a few years, like we did with The Rocketeer, before it makes it to the screen. With television, Danny and I can write a script and a week later we're in production and that's really satisfying to see your story come to life so quickly."

(Thanks Michelle)

 


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