It must get younger viewers if it wants to please CBS.
By DAVE MASON
If "JAG" returns next season, the military series will no longer have to hide the palm trees.
Instead, it will embrace the beach.
Lt. Col. Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie, the Marine lawyer played by Catherine Bell, will be reassigned to the San Diego JAG office if CBS picks up the series despite its poor showing among advertiser-coveted younger viewers, "JAG" creator-executive producer Donald Bellisario said.
Bellisario said he has had to film just the bottom of palm trees to maintain the illusion that the show, which films just north of Los Angeles, is set in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Va.
He said in a phone interview that, if renewed, the series will continue to film in Ventura County, but will do a lot of shooting at the San Diego Naval Air Station and that city's port. Bellisario said he plans to use the San Diego beaches, along with changes in music and filming and the addition of young actors, to make "JAG" more hip.
Back to the original focus
"I don't need anyone at CBS to tell me that for the show to be picked up, it has to appeal to young people," Bellisario said.
He also plans to make "JAG" return to its original focus: the courtroom. Recent seasons have featured missions to Afghanistan and elsewhere, and Bellisario said he plans to concentrate less on Iraq because viewers see enough about that in the news.
The move to San Diego and a hipper approach won't hinder the stories, Bellisario said. He explained that he isn't changing the plots.
"It doesn't pose any problem because the West Coast JAG office in San Diego handles most of what happens in Iraq and the Pacific," Bellisario said, but added he will still feature scenes at JAG headquarters in Falls Church.
Bellisario said he won't learn until April whether CBS will renew the series, which he said has won its night in the overall ratings even as it failed in the young demographic. "JAG" airs at 9 p.m. Fridays.
Elliott leaving series
The final episode this season will tackle the relationship between Mac and Cmdr. Harmon "Harm" Rabb in a way that Bellisario said will be surprising and a little ambiguous. After 10 seasons, David James Elliott, who plays Harm, is leaving the series.
"If the show is not picked up, the fans will put their own idea on how it ended and how the Mac and Harm relationship was resolved," he said. "Some fans will say they're together, and other fans will say, 'That's the end of it.'"