When UPN canceled The Sentinel in May after three seasons, loyal viewers
protested vigorously. And they got results.
Chief programmer Tom Nunan, UPN Entertainment president, has responded
by renewing the action drama as a midseason replacement series, airing
here on WPWR- Channel 50.
Richard Burgi will return as Lt. Jim Ellison, a police detective in the
fictional city of Cascade, Wash. A former Special Forces soldier, Ellison
survived alone for 18 months in a Peruvian jungle. During his ordeal,
Ellison developed his heightened senses to a superhuman level.
Back in civilization, working as a Cascade cop, Ellison uses his sensory
powers to fight crime and protect people.
The Sentinel ranked 159th among the 179 prime-time series during
the 1997-98 season. Nunan will select a slot for the show after the fall
Richard Burgi talks about love, life -- and (offline) surfing
"Call me after noon, and we'll swing, Baby," Sentinel star
Richard Burgi promises PEOPLE Online. Barely awake and staring down a cup of
coffee while playing with his toddler son, Jack, the actor talks from his L.A.
home about his hiatus before starting the series' fourth season. "We're
all done till some time in August, September -- then we're going to be filming
in Vancouver for about seven months. Vancouver is a beautiful place to work.
My wife Lori teaches yoga up there, and my son comes to the set and wreaks
havoc all over the place."
Of his success as the psychic Jim Ellison on the UPN series, Burgi seems
pleased with his progress on the show, which has a large online following.
"I guess I fooled them all. I felt for a long time, in some way,
deficient. But now I think through all the work I've done in life -- I still
have a long way to go -- and I'm saying, give me the ball, I'll run with it.
I've always shied away [from] taking the bull by the horns, as it were."
The Montclair NJ native got into acting "when an old girlfriend was
directing a play when I was in high school, and she asked me to come in and
read. I was playing in a band and playing sports, and I thought, sure, I can
fit it in."
Turns out acting was a good fit for the 40-year-old actor, who first
attracted attention in several soap roles -- Another World, As the World
Turns, One Life to Live and Days of Our Lives. After a one-year
stint in District Attorney William Conrad's office on CBS' Jake and the
Fatman, Burgi had a recurring role in the NBC series Viper. Then,
in 1994, he costarred with Cheryl Ladd in the short-lived One West Waikiki.
which can now be seen on the Lifetime Television Network.
At first, The Sentinel almost didn't make it, though a strong viewer
campaign -- reportedly, more than 10,000 fans called to protest the show's
imminent cancellation -- ensured the show's survival. "I believe the fans
had a great influence keeping it going," Burgi says, "though I also
think it was Paramount's intention to keep the show alive." Burgi
appreciated the effort: "I love the show, I love the people I act with --
Garett Maggart and Bruce Young -- and the crew up in Canada are terrific. As
far as doing a show that's not on CBS or NBC -- I love working, and this for
me is actually more fun," he explains. "If Sentinel were on
CBS, NBC, ABC, I have no idea what it would be like. First of all, those big
network shows seem more reality-based. Secondly, I don't think I'd want that
scrutiny and incessant attention right now. I don't like to be creative when
I'm feeling stressed. I like to have a good time and be relaxed."
He was once so relaxed he nearly cracked his head open. "While
filming, I was doing a stunt on a jet ski -- I'm not that fond of those -- and
doing another scene, I had hurt my back picking a bad guy up and putting him
down. I've had this on and off back problem for years," Burgi recalls.
"The doctor gave me a Percocet. I was pretty hammered. So I got on this
thing, and I was spinning around and trying to splash the producer -- the
stunt guy had taught me how to take it on its side. We were working near this
huge steel barge, and each time I tried to get closer to it. I finally nicked
it, fell off, and the whole crew jumped up and were peering over the side,
thinking I'd crushed my skull on this barge. I got up, and the producer, still
on the phone, took it all in, never stopped talking, just kind of nodded like,
yep, okay, he's still alive."
For someone so relaxed -- both on and off the set -- Burgi says he has been
focused on some major goals. "I've had three clear thoughts in my life.
One, I was going to get married and have a family, one I was going to be an
actor and one I was going to surf," he says. His marriage three years ago
to Lori Kahn and the birth of his son (Jack Charles Burgi) in 1996
"changed my life around," he says. He married at 37 -- kind of late
for a handsome hunk. (One of his ex-girlfriends is Anne Heche.) "I came
close, maybe, but it was just all for the wrong reasons. Men, they evolve
slower. They mature slower than women -- they should take more time" in
In his spare time Burgi pursues his love of music -- he is an accomplished
musician and owns a vintage drum set. A nature lover, he is actively involved
with the Bozeman, Montana-based Yellowstone Ecological Survey, which works to
inform and educate people about Yellowstone Park's fragile ecosystem.
"Life comes and goes, and I think we need to save our planet and not hurt
it," he explains. "I like to be proactive, but at the same time I
like to work in a grass roots way and impact my environment as best I
As for having an interview published on the Internet -- well, Burgi's not
sure he will see the finished product online. "My wife is involved on the
Internet. I don't know how to turn the computer on, and I would like it to
remain that way," he admits. "My grandmother never got a driver's
license. She's 98 now -- she thought, no, I'll stick with the horse and buggy.
To me, the computer takes too much away from my analog life."
Spending many long days in front of the camera to put together each episode of The Sentinel,
the cast say their friendships get them through.
Garett Maggart (left), who plays Blair Sandburg in the explosive action series, says his feisty
on-screen relationship with Richard Burgi (police detective and ex-soldier Jim Ellison)
mellows considerably once the cameras stop rolling.
"Richard and I fuelled the antagonism between the two characters from the very start," he
says. "But, off screen, we get along brilliantly.
"He's a real trip, man. He's out there! We have a blast together. We all do. It makes the job
easier and the day go faster.
"We're always messing around and pulling jokes on each other.
"We pass time playing basketball. We're both very competitive. Richard's a big guy and
he's tall. I'm short, but I'm definitely the dominator."