Dawn of the Dead

This was to be a column extolling the daring and inventiveness of a very groovy Sci Fi Network television show called good vs. evil, in which two dead men, a fro-sporting, cool-spouting brutha and his pale-faced partner, try to save the souls of those who have made Faustian deals with the devil's minions, among them Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis and LeAnn Rimes. This was to be a column exhorting viewers to tune in on Friday nights, to catch the last remaining must-see show of the 1999-2000 season, lest it suffer the same fate as Freaks and Geeks and Action and Wonderland, all aborted by their respective networks long before those shows had run out of episodes to air. Right now, good vs. evil garners one million viewers a week, barely enough people to keep a commercial on the air for long.

Instead, this will be a column lamenting the death of that very same television program. This Friday the final new episode of good vs. evil will air. The show -- a loving, hysterical, intelligently goofy homage-parody of 1970s cop shows and supernatural thrillers that looks like Starsky and Hutch, sounds like Shaft and feels like Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- will then disappear without an epitaph or a tombstone or even a little hug. It will bid a shrug of a farewell before viewers even have a chance to say hello. The demons have had their way: The good guys are dead.

Or perhaps not. It seems no one associated with the show, from network execs to the show's creators to its stars, can agree on what is to become of good vs. evil. A publicist at Sci Fi insists the show has not yet been canceled, that its fate "is still up in the air" -- to be determined, she says, by the network's programming executives. Jonas Pate, an indie filmmaker who created the show with his 30-year-old twin brother, Josh, says he will know if Sci Fi is going to order more episodes of good vs. evil "within the next two weeks" when the networks, big and small, announce their fall lineups. Call back on May 15, he says, and there oughta be an answer.

All of this comes as news to Clayton Rohner, who plays the late journalist Chandler Smythe, one half of good vs. evil's undead-cop duo. (His partner is Henry McNeil, played by Richard Brooks, better known as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette on Law & Order during its first three seasons.) When told the show allegedly is not yet buried, Rohner can't decide whether to laugh or cringe. So he does both.

"We're canceled," he says -- or, actually, moans. "We've been canceled for weeks. I don't understand what that's about. I don't know why they're all holding on to this hope. I feel really weird telling you this, because I don't understand why they're maintaining this posture that the show might be picked up. But I've been released. I've been told to look for other work. So has everybody else." Rohner, during this interview, is playing the stock market in his Hollywood home. For now, that's how he pays the bills.

Rohner wants to make it clear that he is not bitter about the fate of the show; business is business, after all. He respects Sci Fi for even airing the show, adores the Pates and hopes to continue working with them, and insists good vs. evil was the best experience of his professional life, which has included stints on ABC's Murder One, Hill Street Blues and the 1985 teenybopper movie Just One of the Boys. Rohner says he loved the show so much, he filmed the pilot for a lousy 50 bucks.

But he is operating under the assumption that Sci Fi has decided not to order more than the 22 episodes already in the can. Fans of good vs. evil, a show Jonas Pate describes as riding the line between "lowbrow and highbrow," are also mourning its premature demise. One Web site, www.cleya.com, maintained by a 29-year-old Maryland schoolteacher who has cultivated friendships with the show's actors, bears this notice: "I have just received word that GvsE/good vs. evil is not to be renewed. While not completely official yet, my source is 99.99 percent sure." It's probably a good bet, since Sci Fi has already torn down the show's sets.

"Maybe I'm fired from the show, and nobody wants to tell you," Rohner says. "Hey, nobody hopes this show gets picked up more than little ol' me. Boy, I sure hope we come back, because my girlfriend wants me to build a new addition to the house, and I can't afford it otherwise, so I am prayin', prayin', prayin'."

So is his partner. "Right now, I think we need a miracle," says Brooks, who recalls that Law & Order wasn't a hit on NBC until the A&E network began airing reruns. "We need people to get behind it. It's a weird thing, because being on Sci Fi, you almost need to advertise on networks. Letting people know about the show is really the big thing. Twenty-two episodes isn't enough. This show needs more time, because you're not just trying to find an audience, but you're trying to get people used to discovering new shows."