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TALK ABOUT A FEW GOOD BREAKS ...

The Morning Call Newspaper Company
by Sylvia Lawler, The Morning Call
Sunday, April 8, 1990


"Everyone I've talked to at ABC says they've never dealt with a situation quite like this, where a very expensive show is finished shooting, looks great and all 13 episodes are in the can ... before it even makes it to air to see how people will respond to it."

It's not as though "Capital News" were a dog. "I'm proud of what I've seen of the show," Bethlehem's Dan Roebuck says about his second television series. (It will finally premiere in two-hour movie form at 9 p.m. Monday, before settling down in its regular time slot at 10 p.m. next Monday). But what with a crowded second season schedule of adult-oriented drama, including "Equal Justice," and David Lynch's wildly anticipated "Twin Peaks," ABC had trouble finding a berth for its latest Lloyd Bridges starrer. (It is Bridges' seventh series).

Roebuck is featured as reporter Haskell Epstein in what is, strictly speaking, an ensemble piece set in a newsroom supposedly a twin to The Washington Post. (But Bridges' character Jo-Jo Turner is said to bear a striking similarity to Post executive editor Ben Bradlee).

Roebuck, who made the critics and the public sit up and notice in the theatrical films "River's Edge" and "Disorganized Crime" has done well in his six years in Los Angeles. There was also the largely forgotten "Dirty Dozen" series he made with Ben Murphy for Fox two years ago, and a recurring role on Andy Griffith's "Matlock" for two seasons. Roebuck, Michael Woods and Helen Slater are perhaps the three best-known among the lot of players Bridges has called "a wonderful cast of actors.".

I tell Dan the word is that "Capital News" picks up where Ed Asner's newsroom drama "Lou Grant" left off. "Really?" he says by phone from Glendale, which, though he says its stodginess and quiet suit him, he is about to abandon for a move 10 miles north to his new ranch home at Mission Hills.

"I'd say it's really a hybrid between `Lou Grant' and `Hill Street Blues.' David Milch, one of the creators of `Hill Street,' is the driving force behind this show." In it, he says, "you get a glimpse of everyone's life, but the amazing newsroom set is focal point of show. That and four characters, myself included, who all live in a house together."

Obviously, Roebuck is still under contract to the series and can't work elsewhere until the rating's dye is cast and ABC either picks the series up with an order for 13 more episodes... or doesn't. He is bound until June, when they have to tell him either way. But that is not the only oddity concerning Roebuck and "Capital News."

Unfortunately, about midway through the first 13 episodes, Roebuck's newsroom vis-a-vis, played by Jenny Wright with whom he is pictured on the cover, became ill. "She got sick in the fifth or sixth episode. I disappeared (along with her) for four episodes and when we returned, we never really came back to speed for some reason." As a consolation prize, the producers gave Roebuck the ninth episode, which in television parlance means his character is written to become the main focus of the storyline.

What happens, Roebuck says, using "L.A. Law" for an example, is that when an ensemble show starts out, everyone is given equal prominence even though "Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey are supposed to be the stars. But over the course of time, public opinion mixes in. It turned Michael Tucker and Corbin Bernson into the real stars. That's how things change."

While Roebuck and Wright were away from the plot, the producers chose to highlight the love affair between Helen Slater and William Russ instead. But that direction could change once more, depending on public response.

Television is not an exact science. Uncertainty is why some young actors -- he is 27 -- are often left hanging in self-doubt and disappointment.

"It's not as I had wished; it's an unfortunate stuation. But how do you ever prepare yourself for something like that?" Roebuck muses philosophically.

"I've had five `big breaks' and every one has led me up the ladder a bit. But none have been the break I thought they would be."

All things being equal, he would prefer doing theatrical features. "The (prejudicial) line between movie and television is disappearing but it's still there. I got to develop more as a character actor in features, where the benefits overall are a little better. You work a little slower and get to do more different things, not the same thing every day.

"But you get to the point," he went on in a streak of high-energy, "where you want to be comfortable. You want to eat. When I agreed to do the series I knew my character wouldn't be a star in the beginning, but it might develop. It wouldn't be thrown into the background, they assured me. But the unforeseen happened."

It's happened to him before. He was written out of a movie three years ago when his role ended up "not being right." Two months ago he started a film for John Hughes in Chicago, and just before shooting began, the powers that be decided he was too young.

"The more I climb up the ladder, the more barriers are thrown in my way. But I don't think `Oh God, this is a sign that I shouldn't be doing this.' On the contrary, it means I must work harder."

Roebuck sounds like an up-tempo guy who knows how to roll with life's body blows. Haskell, his character, he says, "looks more like me more than any other part I've ever played, but he's an underdog and I've never played an underdog." He was not brought up Jewish either, he says, referring to 12 years of parochial school to prove it.

"Haskell Epstein is even an underdog name isn't it? When you're born with a name like that you have to come up through the ranks the harder way. It's like having a name like Daniel Roebuck," he says. "I thought of changing it for a second until I realized that people always remember it. You know. Sears & ..."

And then there is the Roebuck family back home. His parents, an older and younger brother and a younger sister are tightly knotted in Bethlehem, where he returns frequently because he is a hometown-boy kind of guy. "Really good people," he says, and the name stays. "So I have to go out there, this Slavic Dutch boy from Pennsylvania, and hold my head high and say to myself `You're just gonna have to deal with it, dammit.'"

The best gift he's received in six years, he says, was "Matlock" and Andy Griffith. A string of guest appearances blew up when the network decided it didn't want him on the show, anymore. Nothing personal, you understand.

"I was hired four years ago to play a suspect. It was just supposed to be one episode but something happened between Andy and me. He took a liking to me. "He said `Who is this guy? That's who we need on the show.'"

They really hit it off. Grffith was generous with the fatherly advice. Roebuck had just finished doing a community theater version of "No Time for Sergeants," the Broadway play that had transported Griffith to stardom decades before. "And he's a Moravian, who nearly came to Bethlehem to study at the college. The guy is just amazing."

"And so, the producers developed the character into Alex Winthrop, a whole 'nother guy, and we got a two-part season opener two years ago introducing my chracter as the new guy on the show."

Great break, right? Only the network decided it wanted someone "more in the Michael J. Fox mold and ended up never finding the person." Griffith wanted Roebuck, the network wanted demographics. It all went up the shoot. "It was all amicable. I'd find a message on my machine. `Hi Dan, it's Andy. I just wanted to tell you how television works ... ' This great actor was taking me under his wing to tell me what was happening, reaffirming that it wasn't my work."

So "Capital News," Roebuck figures, is about the fifth big break in his Hollywood career. It's an arresting story when you realize it was less than a decade ago that he was doing community theater in the Lehigh Valley, selling tickets at Allentown's Pennsylvania Stage Co. box office, finally graduating to walk-ons at that regional theater with sneeze-and-you'll-miss-him parts like the barber in "Born Yesterday."

His Hollywood apparatus is in motion. Agents, managers and publicist who work for him. A brand new house with a pool and Jacuzzi and a room for his collections. (He is seriously involved with toy collectibles, particularly Captain Action dolls and monster film masks).

"If I were a real estate agent, I would hang on back lot. The minute someone gets a serious series, all of a sudden he buys a house," he says.

His team of trained experts, he says, "does the whole Hollywood thing for you. They do my work and they tell me where to go and what to read and I do the rest."

A colorful talker, he continues unprompted. He wants eventually to have his own production comany because "I need control. I like to know what's gonna happen in the course of a day. My friends all make fun of me but I need to plan things out. There's very little spontaneity in my life. I've had a lot of really good friends, good mirrors, people who really know me who've maintained that my greatest strength is that I know my weaknesses.

"Like, I know I can't be part of the Hollywood party scene. I'd be so annoyed by it all. There are more colors than black. I went to a Hollywood Christmas party once and I was the only one wearing a different color. Everyone else had on black. For CHRISTMAS! No red. No green. No festivity. Just black."

He's not at all sure he's glad the way the deal-making industry is going, either. "People under 40 are in control right now in the new Hollywood. The people making decisions were law students, not Jack Warners or people who knew and loved the business. Now it's about making decisions demographically."

He has not, he says, gone Hollywood. "I give my parents an enormous amount of credit. Someone said once that "Nobody's a star in their own home, which is so true of my home. The whole notion of a star is in direct contrast with what I've been brought up to believe. What my father does, what my mother does, how they work and interract with people is no less important than how I interract.

"My mother is going to graduate from college after 13 years of going to night school. Thirteen years to better herself. That takes an amazing amount of strength. Everyone has their own little victory and that's just as interesting, just as important as me having this job and being an actor.

The best part about his job: "I can get up in the morning and not regret going to work."

PHOTO by UNKNOWN.
CAPTION: Bethlehem actor Dan Roebuck and actress Jenny Wright take their place in the newsroom for the new Lloyd Bridges' series "Capital News," premiering at 9 p.m. Monday on ABC. (Appeared on Cover Page, TV Channel Choices.)

PHOTO by DAN DeLONG, The Morning Call
CAPTION: Actor Dan Roebuck: in Bethlehem with parents Elaine and John Roebuck