Doubtful at first, Heigl now a believer in ‘Roswell’
Monday, May 15, 2000
By JOHN LEVESQUE
POST-INTELLIGENCER TV CRITIC
A few years ago, Katherine Heigl couldn’t have cared less about the fate of a struggling television show on a small network.
“I was a real TV snob,” the 21-year-old actress confessed during a recent stop in Seattle to promote a new line of Levi’s products. With a blossoming feature-film career built on a modeling foundation that began when she was 9, Heigl watched TV but paid little attention to its potential for enhancing her career.
Then she was persuaded to read the pilot script for “Roswell,” a well-crafted sci-fi love story based on the “Roswell High” series of books by Melinda Metz, about teenage aliens trying to survive in a hostile environment — Earth.
“I read it hesitantly,” Heigl recalled.
But the prospect of a steady income and regular weekly exposure is appealing to most young actors, and Heigl gradually warmed to the idea of playing Isabel Evans, one of three orphaned survivors of a UFO crash in Roswell, N.M.
By the time Heigl (pronounced HIGH-gul) had been put through TV’s “torturous” audition process, first in front of producers, then in front of network executives, she was so invested in the project that her snobbery had melted under a tide of intense proprietorship.
“At that point,” she said, “I really wanted it.”
And now, after shooting 22 episodes of a series with a cult following for which “enthusiastic” is a wholly inadequate descriptive, she really doesn’t want to lose “it.”
The riveting season finale of “Roswell” airs tonight at 9 (KTWB/22), but the fate of the series won’t be officially known until tomorrow, when The WB unveils its fall-2000 lineup in front of the New York advertising community.
Recent signs are pointing toward renewal, thanks to improved ratings after the show moved from Wednesdays to Mondays last month. In the Wednesday slot, it was pitted against UPN’s “Star Trek: Voyager,” a well-established science fiction drama. On Mondays, “Roswell” is the only sci-fi show on the mainstream dial, a distinct alternative to the silliness of “Ally McBeal” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Still, location filming and special effects make “Roswell” an expensive series, so if a cost-benefit analysis is factored into marginal ratings, non-renewal is certainly a defensible option.
Defensible, maybe, but not wise. Probably the best argument for renewal is the show’s rabidly devoted fan base. If the network chooses to cancel, it can expect a backlash the likes of which it probably hasn’t seen in its brief existence. Fans have created dozens of Web shrines (the slickest and most authoritative: crashdown.com), and a hard-core group calling itself AlienBlast raised enough money to advertise its concerns in Variety. The most visible “statement,” though, was a “Roswell Is HOT!” letter campaign that directed thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce to The WB’s corporate offices in Burbank. (Tabasco sauce is a favorite condiment of the “Roswell” aliens.)
The WB then mailed some of the bottles to TV critics, but enthusiasm from the publicity side doesn’t necessarily mean the programming side is of the same mind.
Heigl, who grew up in New Canaan, Conn., a tony suburb of New York, thinks The WB would be foolish to pull the plug on “Roswell,” and not just because she’d be out of a job.
“They need that audience,” she said of the show’s relatively strong showing among 18- to 34-year-olds. “That’s the demographic they’re lacking.”
Industry-savvy talk comes naturally to Heigl, who has grown up in front of cameras and now lives outside Los Angeles with her manager/mom, Nancy. From 1992 through 1998, the 5-foot-9 Heigl, who has always looked older than her age, made at least one film a year, including 1994’s “My Father, the Hero” with Gerard Depardieu. Though few people are likely to be wowed by some of her other films — “Bride of Chucky,” “Under Siege 2,” “Bug Buster” — Heigl considers it all a learning experience.
The past year on “Roswell” she describes as “stressful but satisfying” — the stress coming from 12- and 14-hour work days, the challenges of working with a different director every week, and trying to fit into an ensemble cast. The satisfaction, she said, comes from seeing all the characters evolve under the guidance of creator Jason Katims (“My So-Called Life,” “Relativity”) and executive producer Thania St. John and, ironically, from working with all those different directors.
A particular favorite is Jonathan Frakes, another executive producer. Frakes, a veteran of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” directed three episodes this season. Heigl calls him “funny, exuberant, a great actor’s director.”
Heigl, who signed a seven-year contract, can’t imagine the show running that long. But “another year or two,” she said, is definitely warranted.
“I’m really impressed and proud of what it’s become,” she said. “I thought it would be boring. It’s been anything but.”
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