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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Network unveils a lightened 'Bickford'

By Bill Keveney
USA Today

As Max Bickford faces a midlife crisis, his show is undergoing midseason change.

However, a lightening of the curmudgeonly professor and other changes don't mean "The Education of Max Bickford" is in crisis, despite the departure of the freshman show's lead producers, says Richard Dreyfuss, who plays Max. The show has suffered sluggish ratings after a promising start.

"The first thing everyone was told when we started was that a TV show morphs," Dreyfuss says. "I'm very happy about what's going on now."

What viewers will see on Sundays (7 p.m. on CBS) is a Max who laughs and smiles more, along with an episode structure that focuses on one story rather than five and a change in the music. Max's relationships with other characters, including a colleague played by Marcia Gay Harden, will improve.

"All we're doing is allowing him to still be a curmudgeonly, passionate guy who is funny and intense when he gets angry. But there's not that sort of bitter edge," says Joe Cacaci, the new executive producer.

Last summer, Oscar winner Dreyfuss said he was attracted to the abrasive nature of Max. But he has embraced his character's new outlook.

"Yes, (Max) is still in a midlife crisis," he says. But "you don't have to experience it all the time from a glum and gloomy place."

"Bickford" drew attention after Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich, creator and executive producer, left in the fall because of differences with CBS. The network wanted Max to be "more proactive" in helping others.

Dreyfuss didn't want to talk about the departure of Yorkin and Prestwich. They declined comment.

Episodes with fewer stories are designed to help viewers become more emotionally invested in Max and the other characters, says Nina Tassler, CBS senior vice president of dramatic development.

Max will still have a chip on his shoulder, and the show won't become sentimental, she says.

"Sometimes, he may hurt as he intends to help," she says. But "he fundamentally believes in helping."