WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Craig Bierko goes from a 'Madman' to his new 'Pride & Joy' on NBC


It may not seem like it, but Craig Bierko is taking a well-deserved break.

The 30-year-old actor--who played investigative reporter B.J. Cooper on "Madman of the People," which recently got the ax from NBC--has made a mad leap into a midseason replacement series. "Pride & Joy" starts this week, also on NBC.

The new Touchstone Television sitcom takes a light look at starting a family in the '90s.

"This is the most fun I've finally had since I've been out here," says Bierko, a Westchester, N.Y., native who's lived in California for seven years and recently bought a condo in an upscale Los Angeles area. "For once, (the new show) is a relaxing experience. I had such a very unpleasant experience with 'Madman,' and was always on edge. I can now take a break from all the anxiousness."

Bierko, interviewed both last winter, right before "Madman" was supposed to undergo changes, and more recently on the set of his newest show, says his Hollywood experience "has made me a real fatalist out of necessity. I now just say, 'Whatever will happen will happen.' "

When Bierko first talked about the changes "Madman" was to undergo, he seemed optimistic, despite frustrations about his character who had become, he says, "a mutant offspring of Ted Baxter" "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" anchor." Now, he says, "it was a very painful experience and those changes I told you about weren't what I thought they would be. It was a very high-profile failure."

As it's been for many other actors, failure hasn't been a stranger. Bierko's two previous series--"Sydney" and "The Powers That Be"--as well as his own pilot, didn't make it.

But "Pride & Joy," he says, "just hit me, it's really sweet and I like the character." He laughs about playing his third journalist in a row, saying, "I think it's purely coincidence." He doesn't even think he looks like the prototype for a writer.

As for the life of an actor, he says, "Ouch! The rejection is unbearable, so if you don't know who you are, you won't be a happy person and you won't be a good actor."

Separated from his family, with whom he "keeps up an intravenous hookup over the phone," he's glad for friends like "Pride & Joy" co-star Julie Warner ("Doc Hollywood"). He says she is "the closest person in the world to me. We know more about each other than we do anyone else. She is absolutely my best friend for the last five years," he says and points out their great height difference makes "her look like a long-distance shot and I look like an extreme closeup. When we hug, she looks like an amulet on my chest."

Bierko also points out the two are not romantically involved: "We've rarely been single at the same time and she's going to marry Jonathan Prince ("Throb") in June," so on-screen romantic clinches were initially difficult. "We couldn't get through our first kissing scene, because we were laughing so much. Now it makes so much sense and because of how well we know each other, it is like we're really married. The chemistry is there and it's believable."

He says he's "not going to obsess like I have in the past" about whether "Pride & Joy" will get picked up after its six-week run.

"I've got a power book with 37 screenplay ideas, and I'd like to develop projects, do a film, write, all of that," he says. "There's nothing I don't want to do. I have a great respect for the work."

But acting is his first love. "If I end up being an actor doing background work in educational films, so be it. I just want to work. I've been out there long enough to know to keep moving forward and don't sacrifice your ethics. I'm not one too proud to just keep working."

"Pride & Joy" airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

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