Last Tuesday night, TV viewers rendered their verdict on Fox's The Jury: Guilty — of a lukewarm series debut. Only 4 million tuned in to the courtroom drama's two-hour premiere, which lagged behind the NBA finals on ABC, Last Comic Standing on NBC and WB's Summerland. For producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana — the men behind HBO's Oz and NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street — that had to hurt.
"We didn't expect to start out extremely well," Levinson tells TV Guide Online. "I don't think anybody thought that. The only unknown was the fact that the NBA finals ran smack into us. That's not something you can anticipate in advance. We're gonna have them [this] week, too! It impacted on us."
It also doesn't help that Jury lacks recognizable stars who might draw viewers to tune in. Levinson, who plays a judge, is the cast's biggest name! "Then we're in trouble," he laughs, adding, "We went with actors who weren't well known right away. It wasn't necessary to the nature of the show. If you think about it, CSI really didn't have anybody that people knew, initially. TV creates its own stars."
Still, The Jury's not above stunt casting. "We'll do a boxing-crime show," Levinson previews, "and Lennox Lewis takes the stand." Plus, the boys from Oz have tapped their old cast for the June 29 episode, entitled "Last Rites." The jury panel will be populated by Oz alums George Morfogen, Eamonn Walker, J.K. Simmons, Jon Seda, Betty Buckley, Scott Winters, Mums, Stephanie Pope, Carlo Alban, Elain Graham, Natascia A. Diaz and Jenna Lamia. The ex-jailbirds don't play their Oz characters, but appropriately enough, they do deliberate over a murder that happened in prison.
As for Levinson — who's given himself small parts in Rain Man, High Anxiety and Quiz Show — he won't play Judge Horatio Hawthorne in every episode. Other judges — like Homicide alum Andre Braugher — will step in sometimes. "I don't particularly like acting," Levinson admits. "When you're an actor, you've gotta deal with me. You're focused on one part; my mind drifts to the overall thing, rather than just me. I was going to use [film director] Sidney Lumet [as the judge in the pilot], but he had an accident and injured himself on the day prior to shooting. So I stepped in as a last-minute fill-in."
The Jury airs Tuesdays at 9 pm/ET on Fox.