Thursday, October 02, 2008


For the ten of you who have the Sleuth channel on your cable and for the three of you who actually know you have it, let me recommend PLAYERS, which just began another cycle of reruns. Like almost every other Dick Wolf-produced program without the words "law" and "order" in its title, PLAYERS didn't last very long, just a shortened season during 1997-98. NBC aired only 16 of the 18 episodes made, but Sleuth is now (again) airing all 18 in their original order. The pilot episode that establishes the series aired earlier this week, but PLAYERS is light on continuity, and you'll have no problem picking it up.

In a nutshell, Isaac "Ice" Gregory (rapper Ice-T), Alphonse Royo (Costas Mandylor) and Charlie O'Bannon (Frank John Hughes) are con artists who are paroled by the FBI on the condition that they use their fleecing skills to help the Bureau trap bad guys. Kept on a tight leash by their comely handler, Special Agent Christine Kowalski (Mia Korf), the guys go undercover in a variety of disguises and characters to trick bank robbers, kidnappers, extortionists, serial killers, etc. One of the best episodes, "Three of a Con" (all titles are puns using the word "con"), which was directed by Michael Vittes (NORTHERN EXPOSURE) from a teleplay by Randy Anderson and former comic book scribe Gerry Conway (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, among many other DC and Marvel titles), finds the boys enacting a tremendously complex sting operation to trap a paroled white collar criminal (Gregory Itzin, the wonderfully odious evil President on 24) into revealing where he hid the millions he scammed from his middle-class victims.

PLAYERS was a very light crime drama played for humor by a cast that gelled well together. Like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, another series that fundamentally relied on capers, the actors perform believably in the variety of roles called for in the scripts. They seem to like each other and their roles, and that chemistry keeps the energy high. PLAYERS seemed tailor-made for its early Friday night timeslot in the fall of '97, but was still yanked after just eleven episodes. It came back after February sweeps for another five apparently low-rated shows. Besides DATELINE NBC, the network had troubles programming hits on Friday nights, although it kept the struggling but critically acclaimed HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET for several (deserved) years.

PLAYERS is a very charming series that appears to be a conglomeration of similar ideas presented to Wolf, who also had NEW YORK UNDERCOVER running on Fox at the time. UNDERCOVER producer Reggie Rock Blythewood, Ice-T, former teen idol turned TV producer Shaun Cassidy (THE HARDY BOYS) and Wolf receive creator credit. What's odd is that PLAYERS is virtually identical in format to another Dick Wolf series that was quickly cancelled by NBC just four years earlier called SOUTH BEACH. Unfortunately, neither show caught on with audiences, but you can catch up with PLAYERS a decade later on Sleuth. Ice-T moved to another Dick Wolf show, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, and both Mandylor and Hughes have continued to have successful careers in television and motion pictures. Greg Yaitanes, who just won an Emmy for an episode of HOUSE, M.D., made his network directorial debut with PLAYERS, while other segments were directed by ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL's Allan Arkush and MACON COUNTY LINE's Richard Compton.

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