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Back To Earth ‘Seaquest Dsv’ Shakes Up The Crew A Bit For Its Third Voyage For Nbc

Ron Miller San Jose Mercury News

When last we saw the crew of NBC’s “seaQuest DSV,” there wasn’t much left of it - just science officer Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis) and Dagwood (Peter DeLuise), the genetically engineered janitor, drifting in a life raft on a global sea on an alien planet.

It seemed the ideal cliffhanger for a sagging series. If NBC wanted to completely overhaul the show, it could say the rest of the crew, including Capt. Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider), had perished in the disaster that apparently doomed the submarine seaQuest.

That would permit wholesale recasting and maybe even a new series premise: teen idol Brandis and his trusty sidekick as castaways on a sort of “Gilligan’s Planet.”

But, as it turns out, NBC did renew the show and will bring back most of the original cast, including Darwin, the dolphin, for a third season of “seaQuest DSV” on a new night - Wednesdays opposite “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

Executive producer Patrick Hasburgh, who concedes that the first two seasons amounted to a “work in progress,” now says “seaQuest” knows where it wants to go, which seems to be back to the bottom of the sea - on planet Earth.

“Last year, we took the ‘seaQuest’ to a place where we would really have to change the show in order to bring it back,” said Hasburgh.

He’s not giving away all the cliffhanger secrets, but Hasburgh does say the show will veer away from the wild fantasy of last season and concentrate on more traditional science fiction this fall.

“If you’re going to do a show about a submarine,” he admitted, “you should probably stay underwater.”

How the “seaQuest” leaves the ocean planet and returns to Earth is one of Hasburgh’s secrets, but we understand the 1,000-foot sub just bobs to the surface of an earthly sea in the season premiere, some 10 years after the marine disaster of last spring.

Taking the helm will be a new commander, Capt. Oliver Hudson, played by veteran Canadian actor Michael Ironside, who spent the last few weeks of last season playing the new head of surgery on NBC’s “ER.” It’s common knowledge that his predecessor, Roy Scheider, was reluctant to devote any more of his adult years to a kid show, so nearly everybody predicted “seaQuest” would be commanded by somebody new if it returned.

But the surprise is that Scheider’s Capt. Bridger character didn’t die off on the alien planet. He will return this fall, but only for a limited number of episodes.

“Roy and I talked a lot about what he would be doing on the show,” said Hasburgh. “He did want to come back, but, you know, he has a brand-new daughter at home and a new house up on Long Island, so he’s (only) going to do five or six episodes for us.”

Two crew members who definitely won’t be coming back are Dr. Wendy Smith (Rosalind Allen), the psychic biophysicist, and Sensor Chief Miguel Ortiz (Marco Sanchez). But Ironside’s Capt. Hudson and another newcomer, J.J. Fredricks (Elise Neal), who’s “an underwater stealth pilot,” will take over the empty bunks.

In its former Sunday time slot, “seaQuest DSV” fought a running battle for the hearts and minds of young viewers with ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” but the ABC show finally won the war in sheer volume of viewers.

Never popular with critics, “seaQuest DSV” surely wouldn’t be returning this fall if it hadn’t done well in the demographic ratings prized by both NBC and the Madison Avenue ad agencies. Though it routinely finished third or fourth in the “household” ratings, “seaQuest” frequently won the time period among adults 18-49 and was especially strong among men 25-54.

From the start, “seaQuest” has been a troubled show. It was torpedoed by most critics in its first season and experienced a huge round of “creative” problems. Producers came and went, and the series last season pulled out of Los Angeles and set up shop at Universal’s studios in Orlando, Fla. Rumors that Scheider had threatened to jump ship came up again and again.

“Roy was unhappy, at times, with the show,” said Hasburgh. “He was often right. The show was a little inconsistent and sometimes too fantastic. I think Roy’s (now) going to play the character he always wanted to play, which is, for lack of a better description, Jacques Cousteau. He’s the captain emeritus.”

Ironside’s Capt. Hudson will be more of a “by the book” officer, but a dedicated one who has been searching for the missing submarine for a decade when it finally reappears on Earth.

“He’s a lifer,” said Ironside, “one of those men who loves the formality of the service. He loves the rules and regulations.”

With Scheider moving away from the foreground of “seaQuest” and Ironside’s character yet to be established, the burden of carrying the show increasingly will fall on Brandis, 19, who believes he’s finally growing out of his teen-idol period.

“I had done certain teen magazines for a number of years,” he said, “and I think it was time to give it to somebody else. I think it’s time to move on from certain teen publications, you know? I think the way Patrick (Hasburgh) is writing the character this year, you’ll see he has matured quite a bit.”

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