Devoted fans leap into action to save two adventure shows from certain death

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When viewers campaign to save an endangered series, it’s usually for a so-called quality show like Cagney & Lacey (which was brought back by popular demand after being scrapped by CBS in 1983) or Relativity (which ABC canned in 1997, despite appeals from rabid fans). This summer, The Magnificent Seven (CBS, Saturdays, 9-10 p.m.) and The Sentinel (UPN, Wednesdays, 8-9 p.m.) were snatched from the jaws of cancellation after supporters deluged their networks with calls, letters, and E-mails. (Alas, a similar effort couldn’t save CBS’ Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, which attracts a less demographically desirable audience than these young-male-skewing action series.) Both Seven and Sentinel will now return as midseason replacements. While no one would mistake these cult faves for Emmy-caliber TV, they do have their schlocky charms.

Seven got off to a lucky start. CBS’ promos—cleverly set to the tune of Paula Cole’s smash single “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”—helped the show debut in the top 10. Yet its pilot proved an uninspired remake of the 1960 Western movie (which itself was an uninspired remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai). Viewers tuned out and missed seeing the series actually get better.

In subsequent episodes, Seven‘s ensemble began to take shape: Michael Biehn (The Terminator) stars as Chris Larrabee, a black-clad gunslinger who organizes a ragtag posse to defend underdogs in the Old West. His compadres include a hard-drinking preacher (Beauty and the Beast‘s Ron Perlman), an ex-bounty hunter (Eric Close), a con artist (Anthony Starke), a lady-killer (Dale Midkiff), a former slave (Rick Worthy), and a tenderfoot Easterner (Andrew Kavovit). Old pro guest stars Robert Vaughn (one of the original Magnificent Seven) and John Cullum (Northern Exposure) also lent the show credibility.

An unapologetically violent throwback to the golden age of TV shoot-’em-ups, Seven overflows with barroom brawls and gunfights. It’s TV’s best Western series since Gunsmoke left the air nearly 25 years ago—which unfortunately isn’t saying much, considering the competition (e.g., The Young Riders).

Another steadily improving series, The Sentinel has built a small but loyal following since its 1996 debut. It’s the straight-faced story of a police detective (Richard Burgi) with extraordinarily heightened senses; he can literally sniff out criminals. He’s assisted by an anthropologist (Garett Maggart) who’s studying sentinels—members of ancient tribes with the same special powers. In the fictional Northwestern city of Cascade, they chase bad guys under the supervision of a terminally apoplectic police captain (Bruce A. Young, channeling Starsky and Hutch‘s Bernie Hamilton).

The Sentinel got a much-needed kick from the recent addition of the Nicole Kidman-esque Anna Galvin as an Aussie officer assigned to be Burgi’s partner. Like a Down Under Lois Lane, she’s unaware of her coworker’s superhuman abilities. The show is clearly trying to follow the model of UPN’s own Star Trek: Voyager, which got a big boost after beaming up space babe Jeri Ryan (who also guested on The Sentinel‘s season finale as an evil seductress who may have murdered Maggart’s character).

Did The Magnificent Seven and The Sentinel deserve to be saved? Maybe not as much as some of last season’s other casualties, like CBS’ George & Leo, The Gregory Hines Show, and Michael Hayes. But the dedication of Seven‘s and Sentinel‘s fans seems refreshing in an era when Americans’ remote-control trigger fingers are growing increasingly itchy.

The Magnificent Seven

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