Wednesday, January 24, 2007

TV Notes: Vaughn, Wagner play con game

In the 1960s, they were the sauve and debonair private eyes and spies who drew millions to TVs for weekly tongue-in-cheek adventures. Now, Robert Vaughn ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") and Robert Wagner ("It Takes a Thief") have reunited for a single episode of AMC's "Hustle," an "Ocean's Eleven"-type con series, in which the still-charming actors, both in their 70s, will match wits and tailors to charm a new generation of viewers.

Vaughn stars in the ensemble British series, co-produced by AMC and BBC, as the only American member of an elite group of con artists specializing in the "long con" -- an elaborate sting whose marks always deserve it. In this episode, shot in Hollywood and airing in April to launch the show's fourth season, the group travels to California to trick Wagner, a shady millionaire, into thinking he can buy the Hollywood sign from them.

Wagner said he was drawn to the show because of "the whole idea. It's a tongue to cheek, and it's played so well." What's more, its structure was written so solidly, he said, "it's like you're walking into a kind of Rolls-Royce."

Wagner, 76, rose to television stardom in "It Takes a Thief" as playboy spy Alexander Mundy and also starred as the rich and witty sleuth Jonathan Hart in the 1980s series "Hart to Hart." He was introduced to a new generation in later years by Mike Myers, who worked with him on "Saturday Night Live" and cast him as Number Two in the "Austin Powers" movies.

He said he rarely guests on television shows, but his appearance in the finale of "Boston Legal" last year, where he played Denny Crane's counterpart in the Los Angeles law offices of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, led some to hope he would return in his own spinoff.

It was "Hustle" that revived Vaughn's career, still highlighted by his portrayal of spy Napoleon Solo in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

Recently, the 74-year-old actor had been seen in several guest spots on "Law & Order" and in a string of commercials for law firms when he was tapped to play hustler emeritus Albert Stroller in the series.

"The BBC wanted to have it all British people, and the production team wanted me," Vaughn said.

By the time he was cast, shooting had begun, he said. "Suddenly I got a call from my British agent saying, 'You have to leave for London tonight.' I took the next flight and I was working the next morning."

"This is the first chance we've had to work together, but we've known each other for a very long time," Wagner said.

"A very long time," Vaughn emphasized. (In 1974, Wagner and Vaughn worked on "The Towering Inferno" but never shared any scenes.)

Marc Warren, whose character became the gang's leader after actor Adrien Lester left, said he learned much about acting and professionalism from Vaughn and Wagner.

Warren said he'll never forget watching the sunset from the Hollywood sign with Wagner and Vaughn and afterward driving with them in a convertible down Hollywood Boulevard. "That was amazing."

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