Anthony Edwards returns to TV with Zero Hour

Crédit photo: NICOLE RIVELLI/ABC Anthony Edwards returns to TV with Zero Hour

Anthony Edwards played one of television’s most admired and beloved characters in one of TV’s most admired and beloved dramas, ER, for nearly a decade, starting in 1994. When it was over, Edwards walked away from the small screen and said he wouldn’t be back.

Unless.

Unless he was offered something special and unique that made him want to put in 14-hour days again as the lead actor in a weekly, hour-long drama.

When Edwards returns Thursday in the Da Vinci Code-themed Zero Hour, he will be playing a cynic, not an idealist. Edwards plays Hank Galliston, the dishevelled editor-publisher of a muckraking magazine called Modern Skeptic, which specializes in debunking myths, disproving crackpot theories and revealing half-baked conspiracies for what they are — half baked. Galliston is worlds removed from Dr. Mark Greene, the idealistic, good-hearted trauma surgeon Edwards played for eight years on ER.

Zero Hour’s story kicks off when Galliston’s wife, played by Jacinda Barrett, is kidnapped from her antique clock shop. Faster than you can say, “A reporter should never become part of the story,” Galliston is on the trail of a shadowy cabal of conspirators, personified by a sinister, seemingly indestructible assassin known only as White Vincent.

Genetic experimentation, a hunt for modern-day Nazis and an Arctic chase soon follow. Zero Hour’s pilot episode was filmed last spring in Montreal; the series itself is based in New York.

“When ER was over I felt like I had really accomplished something,” Edwards said in a recent interview in Los Angeles. “It had been an amazing eight years, but I was ready for a new adventure in my life that was about taking time for myself and my family, and moving to New York. It took a while to recover. I said I would never do a one-hour television show again, and I meant it. I was done.”

As the years passed, Edwards began to have second thoughts. He still had reservations, but it was no longer an absolute.

“I knew that if I was going to come back, having done ER, it would have to be something that was exciting to me. Like all things in life, Zero Hour was a surprise. A really pleasant surprise. When an old friend sent me the script, I could not put it down. I thought, ‘If these guys are crazy enough to tell this story, I want to do it with them.’

“The fun part is that we have done what we said we wanted to do, both in the pilot in Montreal and in the episodes we’ve done since.”

Zero Hour was created by Paul Scheuring, the creator of Prison Break and a former featured speaker at the Banff Television Festival. Scheuring settled on Montreal for Zero Hour’s pilot episode because he wanted that first hour to have a big look for the big screen, more like a feature film shot outdoors than a budget-strapped TV drama trapped on a poky back lot somewhere in Los Angeles.

Scheuring also wanted snow for Zero Hour’s Arctic chase scenes. In life, though, as in Hollywood, the best laid plans of men and TV producers often go astray. The Zero Hour production team ended up filming its Arctic scenes in a more Arctic-appropriate setting: Lake Winnipeg.

“We were really chasing the snow last year,” Scheuring explained. “It was quite warm in Canada — 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than normal. The funny thing about that was that Lake Winnipeg was melting beneath us as we were filming our sequence.

“It worked great, though. That was one of our mandates from the beginning. It’s one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and do this. I thought, look, if we’re going to do an international show and tell an international story, it has to have real scope. It can’t be Tales of the Gold Monkey, which is one of our favourites, all of us.

“Today’s TV audience is quite sophisticated. They want to feel like they’re going to these places, that they’re actually there and not being hoodwinked. You can no longer just shoot something with a long lens and a small set, throw a Chyron graphic over it and say it’s Cairo.”

Digital imaging has advanced greatly in the 10 years since ER has been off the air. Even so, there’s no substitute for the real thing, Scheuring said.

Zero Hour’s weekly, and sometimes hourly, changes in setting — Paraguay one moment, India the next — have been an eye-opener for Edwards, who filmed much of ER on a sound stage on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif.

TV budgets being what they are, Zero Hour has not actually travelled to Paraguay or India, but Edwards defied anyone to spot the difference when they actually see Zero Hour.

“I think television gets criticized for being condescending and telling stories too simply,” Edwards said. “We bring the crazy with this. What I mean by that is this is going to really challenge and excite people, because we’re not laying out the story simply. It’s a complicated story, and that takes real commitment to tell it well.”

Zero Hour debuts Thursday, Feb. 14, on Global and ABC at 8 ET/PT, 9 MT.

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