I may do a KAREN SISCO episode guide, simply because, well, no one else is doing one, and the Internet could certainly use one. Only ten episodes were produced in 2003. ABC aired just seven. The rest made their broadcast premieres on the USA cable network alongside unaired episodes of the also-canceled-by-ABC L.A. DRAGNET.
Over the last couple of decades, ABC has developed a reputation as a notorious mishandler of quality one-hour dramas. The list of dramas ABC prematurely killed by canceling them too soon or sticking them in dreadful time slots or meddling with the creative team is long enough to make fans of quality television cry. Shows like MURDER ONE, CUPID, FANTASY ISLAND, C-16, NOTHING SACRED, CRACKER, HOMEFRONT, THE MARSHAL, VENGEANCE UNLIMITED, GIDEON’S CROSING…really, just about every season, you can expect ABC to develop one or two very good dramas and then find a way to destroy them.
In the fall of 2003, KAREN SISCO was ABC’s sacrificial lamb, which was evident from the moment it was scheduled on Wednesday nights opposite NBC’s powerhouse LAW & ORDER, as well as the Major League Baseball postseason. Never mind that it would have been a perfect fit behind ALIAS on Sundays, when ABC could have creatively and aggressively promoted the two female-oriented action shows. On Wednesdays, however, KAREN received a rough ride, though it quite possibly could have survived if it has gotten a chance to grow. ABC pulled the series after just seven weeks, and even though it announced that KAREN would return from “hiatus” in the spring, it never did.
Fans of light character-driven crime fare are still feeling the loss, as the cop shows that followed in KAREN SISCO’s wake are pretty much pulled from the same mold—humorless procedurals with great emphasis on gory corpses and technobabble dialogue. KAREN SISCO was based on the literary works of the great pulp novelist Elmore Leonard. She appeared in Leonard’s novel OUT OF SIGHT (Jennifer Lopez played her in the excellent 1998 film adaptation), as well as the short story “Karen Makes Out,” which became KAREN’s pilot.
Although Lopez was quite good opposite George Clooney in OUT OF SIGHT, it’s hard to imagine any actress fitting the role better than 31-year-old Carla Gugino, a talented brunette with much film experience (such as the SPY KIDS franchise and the sharp thriller JUDAS KISS) and occasional TV work, such as Michael J. Fox’s forgotten love interest during the first season of the sitcom SPIN CITY. A rare combination of mature sex appeal and brainy sophistication, Gugino is a television star waiting to happen. But not this time (nor on her next series, THRESHOLD, which CBS cancelled after nine episodes).
Karen Sisco is a United States Marshal based in Miami, where she works under the leadership and guidance of her father-figure boss Amos Andrews (Bill Duke, who signed my PREDATOR DVD). Actually, Karen is surrounded by father figures, including her actual parent, Marshall (Robert Forster in his first regular television gig since 1974’s NAKIA), and a bevy of family friends, many of whom are lovable ex-cons with a protective yen for Karen. Unusual for a television leading lady, Karen has an exceptionally close bond with her father, with whom she shares intimate details of her personal life, although most of the time it appears she’d rather be playing poker with him and his buddies than out on a date. Believably tough clad in her U.S. Marshal garb busting a perp and scrumptiously soft flirting with a guy over bourbon, Karen Sisco is a refreshingly contemporary TV heroine.
She’s also contemporary in her manner of dress, at least by TV standards. Although KAREN SISCO isn’t exactly a jiggle show, the producers jump at any chance to outfit their star in something that accentuates her curves. No typical TV waif, Gugino sometimes chases fugitives in tight tanktops and hip-hugging slacks. In the pilot, even though an ugly bruise from a gunshot marks her chest, Karen wears a loose-fitting lacy blouse on her first date with a hunky new beau.
Note should also be made of KAREN’s musical score by John Ehrlich. Standing alone alongside the various synthesizer and techno scores that mar other dramas, Ehrlich’s R&B-styled underscoring is perfectly suited to Leonard’s eccentric universe and the series’ sunny Florida environs. Accentuating the show’s light atmosphere is its opening titles, a sharply paced collection of red- and orange-tinted stills of Miami and the actors, punctuated by the Isley Brothers’ funky “It’s Your Thing.”