The CBS legal drama "Close to Home" never generated much buzz last season. The story of a prosecutor in Indianapolis who is juggling a tough job, a baby, and a husband at home didn't seem to excite the masses, even though it was produced by TV impresario Jerry Bruckheimer .
Starting with Friday's premiere of the second season, CBS is flipping the script and wiping out much of what made the series unique.
Protagonist Annabeth Chase is now mourning the death of her husband , Jack , who was killed by a drunk driver in the first season finale. Complicating matters is her new boss (David James Elliott of "JAG" fame), a New Yorker with a tough exterior. There are two new co-worker investigators to contend with as well, Jon Seda and Cress Williams. Viewers won't see much of Chase's family life anymore, but the widow will juggle a parade of baby sitters as she confronts single parenthood.
``This is almost like a first-year show again," said Eric Overmyer , the new executive producer of the series, who replaced the creator, Jim Leonard. ``In the new season, the office is the home and her co-workers are her family."
Hollywood can be harsh toward new dramas with modest success such as ``Close to Home," which averaged 10.4 million viewers last year. And while plenty of new shows get canceled, those produced by power players like Bruckheimer often have a better chance at a second chance.
``The fact that it's a Jerry Bruckheimer show is the most significant reason that CBS is trying to make it work. He's a huge supplier with a huge success rate," said Sam Weisman, a Newton-based television director.
``Obviously, CBS didn't like something it saw in its audience research. They are looking for a certain demographic, and if they got rid of the husband, the show is probably skewing too old."
The problem with such a makeover, Weisman warns, is that the soul of a show can be lost. The director learned that first hand when he produced NBC's ``The Single Guy" in the mid-1990s. In the series, the protagonist was dealing with the fact that all of his close friends were married and he was single. ``NBC told us, `We want to see hot girls,' " Weisman recalls. So single characters were added for the second season. The series didn't last.
Robert Thompson , the director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, is skeptical about the ``Close to Home" makeover. ``With changes this radical, is it even the same show anymore? They should change the name from `Close to Home' to `Long Way From Home.' "
Overmyer concedes that attracting young people on Friday at 9 p.m. is a stretch. The series will air between ``Ghost Whisperer" and ``Numb3rs." ``A lot of young people are out at that time," he said. ``The network always dreams of younger viewers."
But the producer is convinced that his new cast members will make a difference. Elliott, in particular, is an upgrade, he said. ``He's a little more dynamic and younger and sexier than the previous guy. John Carroll Lynch [the original boss] is a good actor, but he's kind of shlumpy."
Seda and Williams, he added, ``are both good-looking, charming, and young. With Kimberly Elise [who plays Chase's immediate boss] and Jennifer Finnigan [the star of the show], we have a very photogenic cast."
Don't call him youth-obsessed, but Overmyer also replaced the set of fraternal twins who portrayed Chase's infant daughter, Haleigh , last year in favor of identical twins who look younger. ``As they got older, one twin clearly looked much [different]. It didn't work for production reasons," the producer explained.
Overmyer denied Internet buzz that Chase will be linked romantically to her new boss. ``I'm dubious about that. He's 20 years older. . . . We want to open up the future for her romantically. But it won't happen this year. We'll give her a reasonable amount of time to get over the death of her husband. I think eventually she'll have a romantic interest outside of the office."
Certainly, this show's makeover was not just about looks and physique. Overmyer said that last year's crew of three regular actors was probably the smallest cast on television.
``They were limited with where they could go with the storytelling," he said. ``It put a terrible burden on Jennifer Finnigan. They were wearing her out. Now she doesn't have to be in every scene and the audience won't get tired of her."
Viewers who liked watching Chase's late-night dialogue with her husband at home will have to adjust. ``We're trying to bring her private life into the office. The baby will come to work occasionally. Annabeth has a number of steady baby sitters and other fill-in help," Overmyer said.
But, he adds, ``We won't be going home with her so much."
Suzanne Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.