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Gannett News Service
October 20, 1994, Thursday

Calling All Earthlings

by Mike Hughes

What we really need, maybe, is one more good planet.

The current one has trouble, but we could find another. Then we'd move there and be happy.

Unless we landed on the wrong side of the planet ... Or confronted creatures ... Or ...

Meet " Earth 2, " which has its much-delayed premiere at 7 p.m. EST Sunday (Nov. 6) on NBC. It hopes to be different.

"It is really, to our understanding, the first science-fiction show set entirely on another planet," says producer Mark Levin.

OK, count that as a tiny difference. There are some bigger matters at work here.

"A lot of science fiction has been about a military unit," says producer Carol Flint. "We've got (laymen) thrown together, and they have to work together."

Certainly, the military route is typical of TV sci-fi. That includes:

- All the "Star Trek" tales. "Star Trek 6" is at 9 p.m. Sunday, after the two-hour " Earth 2" opener.

- "SeaQuest," which is from the same company (Steven Spielberg's Amblin) as "Earth 2. " Beginning next week, they'll be paired at 7 and 8 p.m. Sundays.

- Syndicated shows, including "Babylon 5,"' which has its season-opener this weekend on some stations.

Now " Earth 2" tries to be sci-fi's de-militarized zone.

"(We're) breaking down all the militaristic tonality that has kind of qualified the genre before," Levin says. "And say: 'What if real people really had to contend with these people?"'

So Sunday's opener introduces:

- Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino), a wealthy woman whose son is dying in a space station. She stakes a mission to investigate a planet - 20 light years away - that's similar to Earth.

- Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), her pilot. Yes, he's a handsome hotshot.

- John Danziger (Clancy Brown), his mechanic.

- Dr. Julia Stern (Jessica Steen), hurled into crisis. "(She's) a young woman doctor who has never practiced alone before," Flint says.

- Two kids.

- A bureaucrat (John Gegenhuber) and his wife (Rebecca Gayheart) - the only person onboard who's ever lived on a real planet, not a space station.

- And Yale (Sullivan Walker), who fits no clear category. "(He's) a man, but he has had his memory washed and he has had encyclopedic computer knowledge implanted," Flint says.

Now they crash-land on the wrong side of a planet and must begin plowing past unknown places and beings.

Michael Duggan, another producer, says it all started with an idea at Amblin: "What would it be like if we had a show that revolved around a wagon train-type story on another planet?"

The actors seem as farflung as the characters. Sabato is a native of Rome, Walker is a native of Trinidad; their screen images are just as diverse.

Sabato was a teen sex symbol on "General Hospital"; Brown was a menacing villain in "Loves, Lies and Murder." Steen was a taut activist on "Homefront"; Farentino was a quirky love interest in "Homefront."

Throw them together on a distant set, mix in some children, and what do you get?

"Tony (Sabato) was the Pied Piper of the set," says Farentino. "That's his social life."

This is filmed near Sante Fe, N.M., giving cameramen some fresh opportunities. "There are areas in New Mexico that do look other-worldly," Duggan says.

But what about the actors? Far from Hollywood, they adjust to different values.

"It's just beautiful, driving there ...," Sabato says. "You wake up every morning and it's just clean. There's no traffic, no smog."

Farentino agrees. "We've seen stars at night that you don't see ... Driving to the set one day, I saw a thunderstorm to the left and blue sky top the right."

And Brown puts it bluntly: "Further away from L.A., the better for me."

Brown may be understated on some matters, but he's passionate about the show's themes. " Earth 2" strips away authority figures and makes people act individually.

"It is simply survival, much like it was in the settling of America," Brown says.

"And that brings with it a lot of moral problems and ethical issues. If a species is threatening your child, are you justified in destroying that species,or should you let your child die?

"(These are) basic survival issues ... That reduces it to a real visceral level, and that's really what I like."