The latest news from the TV beat

Divine ‘Providence’?

Looks as if Concetta Tomei’s lungs may not get a break after all. Producers on Providence remain cautiously optimistic that NBC will reverse its decision to cancel the four-year-old drama — good news for the 10.6 million fans who enjoyed watching Dr. Sydney Hansen (Melina Kanakaredes) converse with her dead, chain-smoking mom (Tomei) each week. NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker now admits he made a snap decision to cancel the show that typically won its Friday time slot, though something had to be done since Kanakaredes is due to have a baby this month and will need time off. Though Zucker gives Providence a 50-50 chance of remaining on NBC — he’ll make a final decision in January — executive producer Ann Hamilton says no one should underestimate the show’s staying power. ”It still hangs in there. People love to make fun of it, but it doesn’t pretend to be Shakespeare. It knows exactly what it is, a sweet, unpretentious family show.” And expect more of the same should it return in September. Says Hamilton, ”We want to find romance for Jim (Mike Farrell) down the line, and there’s certainly the possibility of a pregnancy for Syd and Owen (George Newbern).” Here’s an idea: Have Syd think she’s about to have a baby, but then not really, but then yes, really. Fans just love that kind of uncertainty.

A Girl-Girl Thing

Calling all guys: Fox’s Fastlane will get freaky in mid-January when it pits Tiffani Thiessen’s Billie against a lesbian criminal! In a Jacuzzi! Wearing practically nothing! Luring more male viewers wasn’t the writers’ primary goal (though Fastlane could use the help in that category, since it ranks only No. 40 among all shows watched by men ages 18 to 49): By sending Billie undercover to catch a gay burglar (Not Another Teen Movie’s Jaime Pressly), the Fastlane writers can finally explore her sexuality. ”We want to hint at something in Billie’s character — is she bisexual because she’s doing her job, or is she a lesbian?” teases exec producer John McNamara, who says Fox’s standards and practices department gave them major leeway to tell the story (so look for plenty of making out). ”One thing about the show that’s worked is that it is not afraid to be outrageous when it needs to be outrageous.”

AND SO ON… Laraine Newman will reunite with fellow Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd on a special one-hour episode of ABC’s According to Jim on Jan. 21. The two play partners in the police department who Newman says are ”secretly in love with each other but can’t express it.” Here’s another challenge: The duo’s guest spot is going up against the premiere of Fox’s American Idol 2…. Beginning Jan. 9, Ed Asner will join NBC’s ER for three episodes as an ailing doctor from a local clinic who befriends Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle)…. Take this down: Erin Cressida Wilson, the writer who adapted the short story Secretary for the big screen, has been hired by HBO to create a series for the pay-cable network.

According to Jim
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