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TELEVISION Kojak returns to cable



Published: Sat, April 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



This Kojak follows a different New York street.

By DUSTY SAUNDERS

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE

T'S OBVIOUS THAT VIEWERS ARE SUCKERS FOR crime dramas. How else to explain the 23 cop series airing weekly on network and cable channels? And that doesn't include spy shows, such as "24" and "Alias," or daily repeats of the 23 series.

So do we really need another detective in the prime time lineup? My initial answer was a bombastic NO, until I saw the new "Kojak" on USA cable.

That's right, he's back -- Theo Kojak, the bald, gruff police lieutenant who, in the form of the late Telly Savalas, patrolled the New York streets in the '70s and '80s.

He's still bald and even more gruff. And he still sucks on lollipops.

But despite the overload of urban crime dramas, this venture shouldn't be dismissed as a rip-off of a TV classic. This Kojak follows a different New York street.

Not a typical TV show

In the fictional crime world, the good cops nearly always solve the problems and catch the bad guys before the final commercial. "Kojak's" premiere ends with the disconsolate hero (Ving Rhames) looking for a pal to drink with in a New York bar. He finds one in his superior, winningly portrayed by Chazz Palminteri.

An obvious copy of Andy Sipowicz's problems on "NYPD Blue?" Not really. This Theo Kojak is a different kind of law officer.

Kojak's setting in a police precinct is more realistic than the one "NYPD Blue" viewers visited for a dozen years. All the cops have decided New Yawk voices and attitudes.

The production, shot on location in New York, offers a you-are-there style similar to the four "Law & amp; Order" franchises. But unlike those shows, "Kojak" is deep into personalized drama.

This Kojak becomes emotionally involved in the survival of a victim's two youngsters. Such personalizing dictates an up-close camera style that regularly zeros in on Rhames' rugged features. You can almost count the wrinkles and scars -- and see the tears in his expressive eyes.

We learn that Kojak is an unabashed cool jazz fan, since his late father played jazz piano. This sets up the moody original background score by Mark Snow.

Love interest

A man as tough and tightly wrapped as Kojak certainly needs a woman in his life. And he has one in the person of Carmen Warrick (Roselyn Sanchez), a sensual assistant district attorney who gets involved in some of Kojak's cases.

Their adult relationship, complete with the jazz background, rises above the predictable let's-hop-into-bed scenarios that are so often part of today's cable dramas.

Wisely, the lollipop trademark is not overused. And I didn't hear Kojak say, "Who loves ya, baby?"

It's obvious the producers, which include Rhames, are using the famed character to attract an initial curious audience. They hope the series will then stand on its own.

Rhames has his own take on the character. "I can applaud Telly Savalas for what he gave to the role," Rhames said recently in Hollywood.

"But I'm of the belief that I have to be true to the character that lives through me. Olivi & eacute;r played Hamlet. While I play Hamlet, I can applaud Olivi & eacute;r, but I'm not trying to recreate what Olivi & eacute;r did."




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