The Palm Beach Post


Ten hours.

That's the length of The 10th Kingdom, NBC's $40 million, special effects-laden miniseries. I'll say this only once: Nothing - nothing - should ever take up that much air time, unless, of course, it's Roots, Rich Man, Poor Man or a naughty Halle Berry pay-per-view special. The last time network TV aired a miniseries so long was in 1988, when ABC broadcast War and Remembrance.

Not only is The 10th Kingdom, which tells the rather engaging tale of a cute waitress (Kimberly Williams) and her gruff janitor dad (John Larroquette) stuck in a magical land, 10 hours, it will stretch out over an incredible nine-day period. (The miniseries will air five of those nights.)

NBC's curious programming strategy certainly didn't make executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. (Gulliver's Travels, Alice in Wonderland), too happy. "NBC had no idea how to program this," gripes Halmi. " They were really scared of it. I mean, Roots was done in one week."

The 10th Kingdom, which took seven months and three directors to shoot, represents a huge risk for NBC. When the mighty miniseries of the '70s and '80s aired, no one had 500 cable and satellite channels. Viewers were more willing to stick with five-day movie events because the competition wasn't as fierce as it is now. Today, however, viewers' attention spans last about as long as it takes to boil an egg.

"There was a lot of concern about this," admits Simon Moore, who wrote the 700-page script. "But either you give in and say, `The only thing people will watch is something that's cut to the pace of a music video, ' or you can take the opposite view and hope there is an appetite for something that is substantial and more complex."

The 10th Kingdom essentially is a grown-up fairy tale. As Moore puts it, "It's about what happened after happily ever after." After waitress Virginia (Williams) befriends a stray dog (he's really a prince) on her way to work, she and her dad are transported through a magic mirror to the Land of the Nine Kingdoms. In this alternate dimension, an evil Queen (a delightfully hissing Dianne Wiest) has escaped from Snow White Memorial Prison to overthrow Prince Wendell's (Daniel LaPaine) throne. Along the way Virginia and her father meet the Toothy Fairy, goofy trolls, a slightly heavier Snow White (The Practice's Camryn Manheim) and a half-wolf, half-man (Scott Cohen).

As the manic, over-the-top Wolf, it's Cohen who steals The 10th Kingdom with such lines as, "I'm not sure whether I want to love her or eat her."

For Cohen, who also has a recurring part as an alcoholic detective on NYPD Blue, the role brought out the, well, animal in him. "During the first audition, I was sitting in the waiting room and I was looking at myself in the mirror and this bizarre transformation was taking over," recalls Cohen. "My eyebrows started to move and I was scratching my forehead with my fingers. I asked this girl auditioning for Virginia if she wanted to read lines with me and I started growling at her. She got weirded out and said she didn't want to read anymore. I thought, `I'm really (messing) this girl up' ."

Cohen soon will find out if it was worth it.

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