This Eagle has landed his own TV series

August 03, 1993|By Mark Dawidziak | Mark Dawidziak,Knight-Ridder News Service

When Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles, was making his first music videos in the early '80s, the directors said he had a camera-friendly face. Had he ever thought of acting?

"The directors made mention that they thought the camera liked me and, if I wanted to pursue it, that might be something I could do," Mr. Frey told critics in Los Angeles recently. "I just filed it in the back of my mind as a nice compliment. But when the opportunity came along to do 'Miami Vice,' I jumped at it. I thought it was going to be a good time."

Mr. Frey, you might recall, had just completed a video version of his "Smuggler's Blues." Michael Mann, producer of NBC's "Miami Vice," saw it, loved it and decided to base an episode of his series on it.

"Smuggler's Blues," like most of Mr. Frey's songs, was extremely visual.

"Fortunately, for me," he says, "I became a songwriter before MTV. As a result, being visual was, as far I was concerned, the first and most important aspect of lyric writing.

"You can look at the list of Eagles' songs from 'Take It Easy' to 'Hotel California,' and, in the first four lines, we put you someplace. 'On a dark deserted highway.' 'I'm running down the road trying to loosen my load.'

"Openings of songs are very important, and one of the rules of songwriting is to start with a picture. So I've always considered myself to be a visual songwriter."

The images of "Smuggler's Blues" made it a natural for video, and both versions impressed Mr. Mann.

"There's an episode here," he told Mr. Frey. "You can act in it. You'll be fine."

The co-author of such hits for the now-disbanded Eagles as "Desperado," "New Kid in Town" and "Life in the Fast Lane" followed that debut with seven episodes of the CBS series "Wiseguy" and a star turn in the 1986 theater film "Let's Get Harry."

And now Mr. Frey is the new kid in town on the CBS fall lineup. He stars in "South of Sunset," a drama series about former studio security chief Cody McMahon, who is trying to make ends meet as a Los Angeles private investigator.

Mr. Cody is assisted by a brash adventurer from the South-Central neighborhood (18-year-old stand-up comedian Aries Spears) and an aspiring actress (Maria Pitillo). The blend of comedy, action and drama will get the 9 p.m. Wednesday slot.

"For me, I don't have a lot to prove in the music business," the 44-year-old singer-songwriter says. "I have a tremendous amount accomplish and many ways to improve myself in this sort of work. So this is an opportunity for me to work as an actor, get a lot of repetition in and, therefore, sort of learn as fast as I can."

Although Cody McMahon won't be singing during episodes, Mr. Frey has composed and recorded a theme song for "South of Sunset."

"For 'South of Sunset,' " Mr. Frey says, "I wrote a song that is slightly vague, because I think it has to be compatible with the show.

"It's really just a very hard-driving blues shuffle. The refrain of the song is just, 'When everybody else has turned you down, baby, you can call on me.' I'm the kind of guy that people call up and ask for help."

Many pop-music careers have been made by prime-time series (from David Cassidy to Joey Lawrence). And established pop stars have starred in variety series (from Sonny and Cher to Donny and Marie). Several rock stars have launched acting careers in theater films (from Elvis Presley to Janet Jackson), while others have been regulars or semi-regulars on network series (Sheena Easton on "Miami Vice"). It's difficult, though, to find another veteran rock star who jumped to prime time with top billing in an hour drama.

"This show is just a great opportunity for me to improve as an actor," he says, "to work with some talented people, to act everyday and to sleep at home at night instead of going on the road."

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