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Jamie Kaler and his 'Boys' return Thursday to TBS

Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

Sometimes actor Jamie Kaler wonders what possessed him. He gave up his commission in the Navy to become an actor. "I can show you the letter from my father," he says over breakfast at a coffee shop here.

"He was upset because my brother is a retired admiral, and my father was a Navy pilot in World War II. He flew PBY's in the war. He's passed away. But he said it didn't matter how successful I was as an actor it was like, `Navy pays pretty good! You had a pretty good thing going back there in the Navy!'"

There was no burning desire to become an actor, either. Kaler sort of drifted into it. "I was on the ship for four years, and they were getting ready to deploy again. So I stayed on the ship for another year and got out. For the next year I lived on the beach, played beach volleyball and got a job bartending at the Pacific Beach Brew House in San Diego."

Kaler was serving on the USS Callahan, an odd coincidence, because he plays the red-headed Mike Callahan on the TBS comedy, "My Boys," arriving with new episodes on Thursday.

When he first read the role, the character sounded pretty much like him: "He was a single guy, a man's man who liked to have some drinks, chase some skirts - was a big stretch for me," he laughs.

Kaler, the youngest of six in an Irish-Catholic family, claims he was spoiled rotten. "I got good grades. I was always the smart-ass funny guy. I was the jack-of-all-trades. I played sports but also hung out with the band guys, so I was a chameleon even then. It kept me from getting beat up."

He never did dramatics in high school or college, and attended Boston University on an ROTC scholarship. After the service, when he hit the beach in San Diego, he picked the bar where he wanted to bartend. They weren't hiring, but Kaler came back every day for 27 days until he was hired.

While he was there he attended a commercial acting class and landed a Sea World commercial. "All I did was watch Shamu jump, and that was it. But I made a boatload of money off it, and I immediately thought, `This is going to be the easiest profession ever.' But I didn't get another job for a year."

His best known commercial was for the Discover Card. Kaler played a poor schmuck who keeps experiencing horrible dinner dates. "Check please," was the catch word.

While he was in San Diego he roomed with dedicated actor John David Lenz. "I'd wake up on a Saturday morning having bartended and been out drinking, and he'd be playing `Henry V' and quoting the movie with Laurence Olivier. And he ended up dying. He got shot. He was in a play, walking to his car, a random shooting by a 15-year-old girl," he says.

"So I had to come home to the apartment and pack up his stuff, sell his car and had to help his parents take all his stuff out of the house. And then we all went back to Kansas for the funeral. I think after that I was, `Man, I've got to get busy living. It's all going to end.'"

Kaler, 43, worked successfully in improv and after two more years of bartending he packed up his Volkswagen Rabbit and headed for Los Angeles, where he managed to cop some memorable roles. He played Chandler's co-worker whom they try to fix up with Jennifer Aniston on "Friends." He was also the jerk in Will's office on "Will and Grace." More parts started rolling in. Kaler even shot a pilot with George Clooney that was not picked up.

When the role of Callahan came along, Kaler auditioned five times. By now he was a seasoned pro. "It's a really brutal business you have to get numb to it," he says. "I've gone to so many auditions where people were just, `No!' If you harbored it and held on to it, it would eat you alive," he says.

Fresh from a five-year relationship, Kaler is dating someone now but says it's not serious, though he would like to marry someday. "My parents were married for 56 years. When they said `till death do you part.' they meant it."

In the off-season Kaler hits the road with his hour-long standup act. It's addicting, he thinks. "Standup is a drug, and when you first start, you bomb. But, man, there's nothing better than when you say something and somebody starts laughing. Some shows are battles because you get drunks in the crowd and you wonder, `Should I throw them out? If I leave them alone will they shut up?' That's half the fun. If you screw up standup you don't get to do it again, it just eats it and lays there."

In spite of his successes, Kaler never gave up his night job. "Finally the owner called and said, `Dude, you haven't worked in nine months, do you still work here?' I said, `No, I guess I don't.' You're always terrified," he shrugs. "You never know."

___

The gracious Joshua Jackson will find himself in a new drama on Fox this fall called "Fringe," premiering Aug. 26. He plays a member of a trio who uncovers a deep mystery involving several extraordinary events. They soon see that they may be part of a strange and unnerving pattern. One of the executive producers on the show is J.J. Abrams of "Lost" fame, so you get the idea. Young actors come and go, but Jackson is one of those who deserves the fame he earned on "Dawson's Creek."

"Before I was really aware what I was doing I was making some good decisions," he says. "The good decisions were in my business life, to keep the same people I had from the very beginning. So the people who were supporting me before I was worth anything to them, or was successful, were still the people that were there with me afterward. Nothing changed, it just shifted into a different gear."

___

One of the new shows ABC has lined up for the fall is "Life on Mars," another British rip-off about a police detective who suffers a car crash and suddenly finds himself back in the good old days of 1973, still foiling law breakers. Time-shifting policemen is a favorite theme on TV.

NBC's "Life" has its hero return to the job in a new era after serving a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit. Last season's sadly neglected "New Amsterdam" on Fox featured an everlasting cop (transported from the days when New York was New Amsterdam) destined to roam the Earth until he finds his one true love.

And some may remember the hilarious "Buddy Faro" in which Dennis Farina played a private eye who had disappeared in 1978 and suddenly reappears 20 years later in polyester leisure suits. Though "Buddy" was critically heralded, CBS canceled the show when it was barely three months old.

"I loved `Buddy Faro,'" recalls Farina. "And I'll be mad for the rest of my life that they never ever gave it a real shake. That really upset me, but be that as it may, it's not my decision. But I think when you get a character like that it's kind of hard to screw up a good hamburger."

___

Dick Wolf, executive producer of all the "Law & Order" incarnations, is probably the most successful producer in television. He's managed to keep the mother ship, "Law & Order," on the air for 18 years. But he remembers when he received a call from NBC's president of Entertainment Warren Littlefield back in the fourth season. "Warren called up and said, `You've got to put women in the show.' And I said, `Well, I just can't add characters. That means I'd have to make some changes.' He said, `Exactly.'

That was when Wolf added S. Epatha Merkerson and Jill Hennessy to the cast. But it also meant he had to let two of the male cast members go: Richard Brooks and Dann Florek, who now plays the captain on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

"I remember when I called Dann. I said, `Look, you know, this is a very difficult call. You're the guy who's first there every day. You always know your lines. You never bump into the furniture. You're fired.'

"It was terrible. It was the worst call of my professional career. At the same time, we got inordinately lucky. Obviously, Jill has gone on to not only do a great job on `Law & Order,' but be the star of her own show ("Crossing Jordan.") Epatha has been there for 14 years."

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