DESPITE A STEALTH MOVE TO SATURDAY NIGHT, CBS' OVERLOOKED SECRET AGENT SERIES IS PLOTTING AN IMAGE MAKEOVER BY KICKING UP THE SPY GAMES AND HIRING A PAIR OF SEXY, SMOOTH OPERATIVES
CBS, 10-11 PM STARTS SEPTEMBER 28
Although The Agency’s original directive was to depict the sleuthing techniques of America’s premiere intelligence operation, for a while there behind-the-scenes turmoil at the CBS drama was giving off more of a Keystone Kops vibe. Last May, the series lead G-man, Gil Bellows, was suddenly axed (CBS found Bellows’ portrayal too cerebral and had his character, Matt Callan, knocked off), while the drama itself (which the Eye’s suits felt lacked enough action or heroism) was whisked back to headquarters for an overhaul. Now the show, having been reassigned to Saturday night, is looking to embrace its inner Jack Ryan.
”We’ll have characters who will go out into the field, kick some ass, and do what we all secretly want the CIA to do,” says CBS senior VP of current programming David Stapf.
Bellows’ replacement? Studly Irish actor Jason O’Mara (Band of Brothers), who plays elite soldier-turned-spy guy A.B. Stiles. Stiles will not only crank up the action — he’s an expert in several kinds of combat and can even pull off a mean underwater rescue! — he also turns up the heat: He beds field operative Terri Lowell (Paige Turco) in the first episode after successfully tracking Callan’s killer.
”I have to pinch myself,” says O’Mara. ”I’m playing the kind of character I’ve loved since I was a kid. It’s classic leading-man stuff.” CBS seconds that. ”Jason is reminiscent of a young Steve McQueen,” says Stapf. ”Men want to be him and women just want him.”
In other undercover ops, CIA director Tom Gage (Beau Bridges) tries to hide his desire for Avery Pohl (Lolita Davidovich), a former colleague who reenters his life as an FBI agent. Work presents its own struggles for Gage, who took over after Director Alex Pierce (Ronny Cox) resigned in disgrace last season. An operation involving the CIA, FBI, and INS goes wrong in the premiere because none of them know what the others are doing (sound familiar?). Stiles faces another hairy dilemma in episode 2, when his plane is hijacked and the CIA considers shooting it down. ”In these post-9/11 days, everyone assumes its terrorism, but it’s not. It’s an old-fashioned disgruntled employee,” says creator/exec producer Shaun Cassidy.
After 9/11, CBS worried that Americans would be disgruntled with a drama featuring terrorist attacks and international bad guys, but Cassidy is more determined than ever to keep true to the show’s battle plan. ”Either we cancel The Agency or do the show we originally envisioned,” says Cassidy. ”It ended up being more of a documentary than anybody ever imagined.”
Another big surprise: The Agency finished the season as the most watched spy series (10.3 million viewers), ahead of the more critically acclaimed series Alias and 24 (9.7 million and 8.6 million, respectively). And although the move to low-profile Saturday must be a bit of a kick in the gut to the troops, they’re staying positive and focusing on the dearth of competition on that night. Or as Cassidy puts it: ”Saturdays are homeland security personified.”