This week, Fridays are fun again


For the USA Network, this is a big shift -- its first attempt to put new, scripted shows on Friday.

And for viewers, it's good news. Fridays are a semi-wasteland, when CBS is virtually the only place interested in scripted shows. And with the basketball tournament, even CBS will skip the next two Fridays (March 16 and 23).

That makes this the perfect time to open the seasons for "Fairly Legal" and "In Plain Sight," at 9 and 10 p.m. this Friday. Both are smart shows with likable heroines. Here are the two stories I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

The contrary life always looked good on
Kate Reed.

She was a lawyer who hated the law, a
rich kid who distrusted wealth. As the lead character in “Fairly
Legal,” she had beauty, a boat, a hunky husband and a dad who owned
a law firm.

And now, as the second season starts,
much of that has changed.

“The idea was to take Kate out of her
comfort zones – Justin and her boat,” said Sarah Shahi,who stars.

In th season-opener, she's divorcing
Justin Patrick (Michael Trucco), the assistant district attorney. By
the end of the hour, the boat may be gone, too.

And there are more problems at work:
Her dad is dead and the law firm has dueling co-owners – Kate (a
mediator and ex-lawyer) … Lauren (her dad's glamorous young widow)
… and a cocky newcomer.

They battle amid wobbly finances. “It
forces her to grow up a little,” Shahi said.

Kate is the heroine – idealistic and
uncensored. Does that make Lauren the villain?

Not according to Virginia Williams, who
plays her. “I worked so hard as an actress to give her some depth
…. The only reason (to consider her a villain) is because the
protagonist doesn't like her.”

Well, Lauren fits all the stereotypes
for a TV villain. She's well-dressed and well-spoken; she towers over
Kate – which is not that difficult.

“I'm what they call 'fun size,'”
said Shahi,who puts her height at just under 5-foot-4. “She isn't
that much taller, but she gets to wear bigger heels.”

Both women grew up around the
pageant/cheerleader world of the South, but their roots are opposite.

Shahi's dad – descended from a
Persian shah – was able to get out of Iran before the 1979
revolution. He settled in Texas, for reasons Shahi doesn't know;
“maybe it was the barbecues,” she jokes.

She was born there, grew up in suburban
Dallas and soon shed her first name (Aahoo) for Sarah. “When I was
young, I couldn't wait to get out of Texas,” said Shahi, 32. “But
now I look at it fondly.”

Spanish on her mother's size, she was a
natural for that world. She won beauty pageants, was a Dallas Cowboy
cheerleader, then became an actress; she's married to fellow Texan
Steve Howey (the “Reba” son-in-law) and they have a 2-year-old
son .

So far, Shahi's best TV roles have been
Latina (“Life,” “The L Word”) and now WASP. “I wish
Hollywood would just become color-blind,” she said. “I've lost
jobs because I was too ethnic and because I wasn't ethnic enough.”

That doesn't come up for Williams, 33,
who fits all the requirements for a blonde belle. She grew up in
Memphis, savored the music (“that's always been my first love”)
and managed, at 17, to land a role on “One Life to Live,” playing
a teen villain. “I was very blessed; soaps are a fantastic way to
learn.”

This required constant commuting to New
York, while staying in high school in Memphis. “Some girls thought
it was cool and some were mean and jealous.”

She's been busy ever since, ranging
from starring in the Australian telenovela “Monarch Cove” to four
episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” as Claudia, whose wedding
caused complications.

And now she's busy towering (thanks to
helpful heels) over a heroine who's out of her comfort zone.

– “Fairly Legal,” 9 p.m. Fridays,
USA, rerunning at midnight

– Season-opener debuts March 16;
reruns at 9 a.m. Sunday, 11 p.m. Wednesday, 6:30 a.m. March 23

 

By MIKE HUGHES

At times, the whole
heredity-and-environment thing seems to take a detour.

One sibling goes academic; the other
becomes an actress. Sally Field's brother is a physicist; Isabella
Rossellini's twin sister is a literature professor who has taught at
Princeton and Harvard.

Then there's Mary McCormack, whose “In
Plain Sight” is starting its final season. Her sister is a law
professor, an associate dean and a candidate for Michigan's Supreme
Court.

Could McCormack have gone that route,
being an academic star? “Not really,” she said with a laugh. “I
did OK (in school), but I was much better at making friends.”

That's an actor-ly skill; fortunately,
she was on stage early.

McCormack, 43, grew up in New Jersey,
where theater is a big lure. “On my birthday, we would always go to
a Broadway show,” she said. “'Oklahoma,' 'Barnum,' 'Annie.' I
loved them.”

Friends sometimes went into New York to
audition for commercials. Her parents – a mom who's a therapist, a
dad who had a car dealership and then an ice cream parlor – said
no.

She could do community shows, but
nothing professional. That was good for her soul and her career,
McCormack said. “You can learn a lot more doing 'Amahl' than doing
a Burger King commercial.”

Yes, at 12 she played a boy in the
title role of the “Amahl and the Night Visitors” opera. She went
to Trinity College (the same place where her sister Bridget went
before law school), doing lots of plays. Then came theater, movies
and TV, including political roles (“K Street,” “West Wing”)
and the “In Plain Sight” pilot. “I just really liked the script
and and laughed out loud.”

She liked the notion of playing a
witness-protection program agent, tough, lustful and abrasive. “In
some ways, it's a character who, a few years ago, would have been a
boy.”

The role required McCormack –
married, with two then-preschool daughters – to spend half of each
year in New Mexico. “I'd never been there before,” she said.

It's a fine place to raise kids, she
said, and to do TV. “We get some beautiful physical locations.”

While working on the fourth season,
McCormack learned she was pregnant. The producer saw a neat plot
twist, she said: A baby jostles everything for a cynic who dislikes
children, a control freak whose life is already overcrowd. “She's
going to be sleep-deprived and frustrated.”

So will the actress who plays her. When
her third daughter was three months old, McCormack was back in
action, doing long days (often) in the searing heat (sometimes). Her
work load is demanding; maybe she should have tried academia,
instead.

– “In Plain Sight,” 10 p.m. ET
Fridays, USA Network

– Season-opener is March 16,
rerunning at 1 a.m.; also repeats at 10 a.m. Sunday, 11 p.m. March
22, 7:30 a.m. March 23