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Last Updated: 18 October 2000



Sci-Fi Teen #5 (March 1999)
by Steve Newton
Not even cancellation could stop TV's hero with super-senses

[Caption: The Sentinel stars Bruce A. Young, Richard Burgi and Garett Maggart are happier now that the show has been given a new lease on life.]

TV series get cancelled all the time: it's par for the course in the entertainment biz. But it isn't often that a show gets canned and then brought back. That's what happened with The Sentinel, UPN's popular series about a police detective, Jim Ellison, who discovers he has developed a keen range of hyperalert senses. Like the mythical "sentinel" of precivilized cultures, he possesses radically enhanced sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Ellison teams up with grad student Blair Sandburg, who taps into his encyclopedic knowledge of the "sentinel" legend to aid Ellison in dedicating his newfound abilities to the war on crime.

The Sentinel -- which has been resurrected after three seasons for at least eight more episodes, to begin airing this winter on UPN -- was created by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. The two wrote and produced such cult sci-fi films as Trancers, Arena and Zone Troopers -- which Bilson also directed -- before going mainstream in '91 with Disney's The Rocketeer. The duo's other TV credits include The Flash and The Human Target.

Bilson -- whose Pet Fly Productions also delivers the nationally syndicated series Viper -- feels quite close to The Sentinel after three years, and was understandably bitter when the show was initially given the heave-ho. He is very thankful to the outpouring of support from hordes of Sentinel fans seeking to rescue the show from oblivion. "We have a huge fan base that was writing letters and jamming their phone lines," he says. "I had no idea that they had that much at stake emotionally, but I was surprised and delighted by how passionate they were." 

[Caption: In a series full of action, it's the relationship between Sandburg and Ellison that stands out for the fans.]

Bilson thinks he has a pretty good idea what the main attraction is the people who put so much time and effort into keeping the show going: the relationship between Ellison and Sandburg. "I get a lot of feedback from the fans," he says, "and that's what I base things on. We even adjust things based on the fan input. And they absolutely love the friendship between the two guys; that's kind of the core of the show. The production value, the action and the adventure are all secondary to their friendship."

The Sentinel is unique as far as TV cope series go, and Bilson traces its success to its rare blend of elements. "We take a high-energy, over-the-top action/cop show and then add this science- fiction aspect -- the heightened senses. That was always the concept we hooked onto, and that's what we think is really fun."

[Caption: Having survived cancellation, situations like this should be a breeze for The Sentinel's cast.]

Richard Burgi plays the tough but vulnerable Ellison, the sole survivor of a doomed reconnaissance mission that forced upon him 18 months in the jungles of Peru. It was here that he was instilled by the Peruvian tribesmen with the extraordinary sensory gifts that allow him to hear a ticking bomb entranched in the deep recesses of a large building, or to discern the emotional state of an adversary. While growing up in Montclair, New Jersey, Burgi was surrounded by the performing arts -- his parents were involved in theater and his brother is an accomplished musician.

Before taking on the role of Ellison, Burgi spent many years in TV soap operas, including Another World, As the World Turns, One Life to Live and Days of Our Lives. But he says that acting in soaps isn't really all that different from performing in The Sentinel. "You know, it's all the same," he offers. "I mean, when it's presented in its purest distillation, soaps are just actors living in a moment -- hopefully responding seriously to a given stimuli. And it's fun; I enjoy soaps."

Burgi also enjoys the camaraderie involved in filming The Sentinel in Vancouver, Canada. "The people I work with up here are just delightful," he says, "and I have a lot of fun with the actors on the show. It's kind of like going on a madcap caper week after week. It's the people that make it fun, and that's what excites me about it." His other passions include surfing, traveling and playing music; he's the proud owner of the legendary Buddy Miles' vintage drum set.

One person who has already tried out those prized drums is Garett Maggart, who portrays Sandburg, the grad student dedicated to keeping his thesis subject (Ellison) in one piece. Maggart claims he's a "hack" on drums -- and on guitar -- but admits that musical inclinations run in his family. His father is actor and former opera singer Brandon Maggart, and his sister is none other than pop vocalist Fiona Apple. 

[Caption: Grad student Sandburg (Maggart) would never see this much action hanging around a library.]

Maggart says that the biggest challenge of his Sentinel role is just sustaining Sandburg's character. "It's different than doing a guest bit where you just go and you pop it and leave," he says. "The longevity of the show is the challenge -- to keep the excitement and the thrill and the energy of it up -- because sometimes you can get sort of complacent and lackadaisical with it."

The actor was most impressed by how the fans of The Sentinel reacted in its defense when word of the cancellation first got out. Their charged response also made him realize the power of the Internet. "I think that our fan base are all on chat lines," he says. "They all have Sentinel web pages and things, and they just inundated UPN with E-mails, jammed up the phone lines, stuff like that. It's amazing what the Internet can do. It's scary, too."

The third star of The Sentinel is Bruce A. Young, who plays Captain Banks, Ellison's tough but fair superior officer, who has no recourse but to accept the detective's erratic behavior once his hyper-vigilant senses surface. No office-bound bureaucrat, Banks is considerably more likely to thrust himself into an investigation alongside Ellison than to toil at his desk pushing paper.

The classically trained Young has guest-starred on such series as The X Files, Highlander, and Quantum Leap; his most recent movie role was opposite John Travolta in the hit Phenomenon. Like The Sentinel's other principals, he was taken aback by the fan support, and hopes the show will continue to win reprieves from cancellation. "It is a different and offbeat type of show," he says, "not your usual crime drama, so we do have a lot of fun with it. It would be nice to keep it going."

Young has actually met many of The Sentinel's enthusiastic fans in person during conventions and such, and reports that they majority of them are female. "We have a very large female audience that is very loyal," he says, "and they're the ones who are the most vocal. I imagine there must be some guys, but they don't' come to the conventions. The girls are willing to fly and come meet people; I think the guys just stay home and watch TV." 


PopStar! #2, vol 3

Accompanying the picture below, was the following write-up. Well done people!

In PopStar! (v.2 #5) we ran the complete results of all the write-in votes in our on-going Hollywood's Hottest Hunk series.

After Hollywood's Hottest Hunk #2, so many readers wrote in to beg for return engagements of their favorite hunks, we decided to provide you with pinups of some of the top vote-getters.

Most of these dudes showed up in #1 or #2. The only newcomers are Richard Burgi and Garett Maggart, hunky stars of the UPN series The Sentinel, and William Shockley, a costar on the unfairly canned CBS series, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. These three men sparked a massive e-mail campaign that taxed our system, so it's only fair to give them their day in the sun.

Enjoy the eye candy! 

(Thanks Sherry)
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