Hall Sees Life From 'The Dead Zone'

Fans of USA Network's "The Dead Zone" have had to be very patient people. Eleven episodes aired last summer, and then one new episode aired at Christmastime, but that was it until the show's 11-episode fifth season premieres tonight.

"I can't believe it," star Anthony Michael Hall says. "Five seasons in four years. This last year was great."

Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King and created by the late Michael Piller and his son, Shawn, "The Dead Zone" was originally created for UPN, which announced it to advertisers. When UPN changed its mind, USA stepped in, premiering the show in the summer of 2002.

Hall stars as Maine native Johnny Smith, who woke up with psychic powers after a six-year coma caused by an auto accident. Most of his visions come through touching people and objects.

Again this season, the show draws on a plot thread inspired by the book, with Johnny on an ongoing crusade to bring down politician Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery). According to Johnny's visions, Stillson will bring a nuclear holocaust to Washington, D.C.

If fans need to catch up, the fourth-season DVD box set came out on June 13 from Lions Gate Television, Inc.

While online viewers track Johnny's adventures, the 38-year-old Hall -- who came to fame as a teen in the '80s in such John Hughes films as "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club" -- has his own way of marking the history of "The Dead Zone," shot in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"I check out my hairdos from over the seasons," he says. "I was approaching the mullet."

USA has until August to decide whether to renew "Zone" for a sixth season. Hall says, "I don't know [if we'll be back]. All I can say is, I know we've done well. The numbers went up last year. They were good.

"One thing I can take pride in, from a business standpoint, is, along with 'Monk,' other cable shows, we affected a change in the industry in terms of counterprogramming. The networks can no longer sleep.

"I'm proud of us for so many reasons. It stretched me as an actor. I know I became a better person, with the additional responsibilities, just taking that, really carrying that."

He's also sanguine about the success of such psychic-come-lately network dramas as NBC's "Medium," with Patricia Arquette as a psychic mom, and "Ghost Whisperer," with Jennifer Love Hewitt as a newlywed who talks to the dead.

"Everything's been done," he says. "All these other shows, like 'Ghost Whisperer' or 'Medium,' they're 'Dead Zone' with boobs. If I had the choice of looking at me or Jennifer Love Hewitt, I'd probably look at Jennifer Love Hewitt."

Hall has also had to deal with two losses in the last year, both connected to his professional life. Last November, Michael Piller died after a battle with cancer.

At that time, Hall was finishing principal photography on his upcoming film "Aftermath" in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., hometown of writer and director Thomas Farone. In addition to his leading role as a construction boss who finds himself embroiled in murder, Hall was a producer on the film, as was his stepfather, Thomas Chestaro.

"I put the film together," Hall says. "I packaged it, got all those actors. I brought my stepfather on board."

Also starring are Tony Danza, Elizabeth Rohm and "Dead Zone" veteran Frank Whaley, along with Christopher Penn, brother of Sean Penn.

Chris Penn died in January, making "Aftermath" his last movie.

Penn's passing, following so closely the loss of Piller, brought Hall to a revelation.

"Obviously I thought about Michael and his sickness," he says, "but when Chris died, it brought their lives into focus for me. One thing I thought was interesting, that I noticed inside myself, was that, here's two guys who really gambled on me.

"Michael really believed in me probably more than anyone except John Hughes. He's at that level of my career in terms of impact. And Chris, it's the same thing. He was a great guy. He was a lot of fun. Once we did his deal, he committed to making this movie.

"He came up, and he gave a great performance. It really is like his 'Hustler.' He comes off as this Gleason-type guy, just larger than life."

Hall also transformed himself a bit for "Aftermath," currently aiming for a 2007 release. "It's all blue-collar," he says. "I dyed my hair brown. I worked out a lot."

Hall is happy to come back if "The Dead Zone" is renewed, saying, "I'm grateful. I really am. Either way, I'm at peace with the future. If it continues, it's audience-contingent, and that's the good news."

A co-producer on "The Dead Zone," Hall also has other projects in the works, and not just as an actor or producer.

"Directing, too," he says. "I have a couple of scripts that I've written in the last year. I've gone through numerous drafts on both of them. The first one I want to do is a comedy set in Vegas.

"Wayne Newton's attached, and Paris Hilton is interested. I'm going to be talking to her soon. I'm going to be talking to George Carlin, who's one of my heroes."

Hall also relished the opportunity to move from Vancouver to upstate New York.

"That's the joy for me," he says, "you just go somewhere. You're in a house or a hotel room. It feeds the whole explorative thing.

"In Saratoga, we came in the fall, so the leaves were coming down. After being in Vancouver for five years, it felt nice to be in a new place in my own state. I loved it."

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