January 12, 2009 / 5:23 AM / 10 years ago

Ailing Patrick Swayze still central to new drama

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A&E’s plans to promote its new drama “The Beast” have been disrupted by Patrick Swayze’s sudden hospitalization for pneumonia related to his stage-four pancreatic cancer.

Actor Patrick Swayze attends the fan screening of "Mission: Impossible III" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood in this May 4, 2006 file photo. In a television interview airing January 7, 2009, Swayze said he was scared, angry and "going through hell" with pancreatic cancer, but a year after being diagnosed, he was determined to keep going. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

He was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital on Friday, hours before he was scheduled to appear at the Television Critics Assn. press tour.

On “Beast,” which premieres Thursday, Swayze plays a tough FBI veteran named Charles Barker. The show’s panel session went on without him, with producers telling stories of working with the actor and detailing how his cancer has impacted — and, more often, not impacted — the production.

Producers said they learned Swayze had cancer only four hours after hearing that A&E picked up their show to series. The production moved forward without the usual insurance coverage.

“Typical cast insurance was not available in this case,” A&E president and GM Robert DeBitetto said. “We knew the risks we were taking. We decided to go forward and are pleased we did.”

Added creator and executive producer William Rotko, “When we found out he had cancer, we went to his house. He’s not a man who sheds a lot of tears, and when he saw how emotional I was ... he came up and said, ‘It’s going to be OK, I’m going to be OK.’”

Out of shooting 12 episodes after the pilot, the actor missed only one day of work, producers said.

“You forget sometimes Patrick is going through treatment for cancer,” Rotko said. “It brings us closer together as a tight-knit group. It makes you stop and think before you say you have a tummy ache.”

After the panel, pilot director Michael Dinner said if the show receives a pickup, the production would be ready to start shooting a second season as soon as March to accommodate the actor’s schedule.

Asked if the first season’s story line sets up Swayze to continue playing the role, or if he could be replaced as the show progresses like actors on ensemble crime shows like “CSI,” producers were adamant that Swayze is central to “The Beast.”

“We’re taking our cues from Patrick,” showrunner John Romano said. “The only rough conversations I have with Patrick is him asking, ‘Are you writing me down? Are you having me climbing fewer walls than usual?’ (‘CSI’ is) not our model. All of our thinking is about Barker as played by Patrick Swayze vs. the Beast.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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