By DONALD PORTER
PASADENA, Calif. -- ABC is serving up a pretty rare animal: "Charlie Grace." The Mark Harmon vehicle is unusual because private-eye dramas are long since out of favor. No more "Magnum, P.l." No more "Rockford Files." About the closest you come is "Murder, She Wrote" -- and it's not really playing in the same game.
"Charlie Grace," according to executive producer Robert Singer, is an homage to earlier private detectives -- the types hatched by the minds of authors Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
"One thing we tried to do with this show," Singer said at the Summer Press Tour, "is just bring it into the ’90s, but give it an element of an earlier time. … And that's almost a mythic L.A. And it's something that (the character Charlie Grace) wishes L.A. could be. While he loves L.A., he realizes all the problems with it, and would like a simpler time."
For star Mark Harmon, who worked with Singer previously on the series "Reasonable Doubts" and the feature film "Let's Get Harry," "Charlie Grace" allows the actor to play a character not too far removed from his own experience: He lives in L.A., was born there and has consciously chosen to make the city his home. As such, he has more affection for the city, and views it more positively and less critically.
"When we did 'Reasonable Doubts,' we spent a whole lot of time in every back alley of downtown Los Angeles," Harmon said. "And I think when Bob and I sat down and talked about doing this show, the one thing we tried to do is make sure we don't spend time in downtown back alleys, you know. And so you see Bel Air, and you see Venice, and you see Beverly Hills, and Malibu and that side of Los Angeles."
The role of Charlie Grace is a far cry from Harmon's most infamous TV role: that of serial killer Ted Bundy in "The Deliberate Stranger" -- a made-for-TV movie filmed in Utah in 1986. Harmon said he thinks the part did some good things for his career, and some bad.
"From an acting standpoint I think it's a terrific opportunity to be able to take a whack at a role like that. And I don't know that had Ted Bundy not, you know, physically looked the way he did ... would I have gotten a shot to do that?
"But since I did, I think in many ways it opened up certain spectrums much wider than they were before. At the same time, it closed of other things. I mean, I got the role in (the comedy) 'Summer School' after (director) Carl Reiner watched 'The Deliberate Stranger,' so go figure, you know?"