by Kate O'Hare

Sci-fi by way of "Moonlighting" on "Now and Again"

"Now and Again," (Fridays at 9 p.m. ET opn CBS) began last month with an elderly Asian man quietly spreading death and destruction on a Tokyo train and at a Paris airport, while a middle-aged, overweight insurance salesman dies and wakes up to find his brain has been hijacked by a secret government project. It's inspired by - are you ready? - "Dawson's Creek."

Executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron ("Moonlighting") says he noticed his teenage daughter watching shows like "Dawson's Creek" and the "Scream" movies.

"I realized that, in her life…it must seem as if nobody much over the age of 25 or 26 experienced ardor or passion or romance," says Caron. "And I thought, 'This is kind of a shame. I wonder if there's a way of doing a show that suggests that doesn't all end in your mid-20s, that you can be middle-aged or close to it and still have all those feelings, that life, the whole business of life, is a celebration of that.' "

Caron also borrowed from the 1958 film "Damn Yankees," in which the Devil grants an aging baseball fan his wish to be the star of the team. "He becomes Tab Hunter," says Caron. "He becomes this great athlete, and he realizes that what he really wants is to be back home with his wife."

Those twin ideas come together in "Now and Again," in which Michael Wiseman trades in his portly body (played by John Goodman) for a chiseled, young one (played by Eric Close). Initially delighted, Wiseman soon begins to miss his loving wife, Lisa (Margaret Colin), and even his surly daughter (Heather Matarazzo).

Michael's new life is administered by Dr. Morris (Dennis Haysbert) and it quickly becomes a grind of medical tests, exercise, carefully monitored meals (with carefully monitored stops in the bathroom afterward), and no contact with his old life on pain of death for all involved.

"My vision of Theo," says Haysbert, "is a man who ... You know, I'm still working on it, because I'm trying to figure out, what must he have sacrificed in his life to become the scientist that he became, to be able to build a man and command those kind of resources?

" This guy would have to have a fierce intelligence. He's definitely quirky, and he can sing. He'll burst into song at any moment. He's very proud of his creation. Made in America, baby, made in America."

" He'll just have to understand that I'm not going to let that happen," says Haysbert. " I'm the boss, and he can't do it. Although I think I really do love this creation of mine -- because I made him, and I love his brain, I really like the person I chose to put in there, he's a good guy - but I'm also in the government, and I cannot let that technology out. I hate to keep threatening him, but threaten I must."

But threats won't keep Michael from trying. " It's difficult for him because he didn't ask for this," says Close. " There's a line in the pilot where he says, 'I'd like my death back, please.' At this point, he doesn't really feel like there's anything he has hope

"Then he gets to see Lisa, he sees her, and once he sees his wife, he has this renewed hope. Now he has something to live

"Wouldn't it be interesting," says Caron, "if you do a romance where the woman was the older person, and suddenly there's
this beautiful boy flitting around that she doesn't quite understand why? That amused me."

Talking on a cell phone as he is driven through Manhattan, Close says, "That's why I'm going to the subway tonight. I'm going to be chasing him through the tunnels of the subway here in Manhattan. " We had all of Wall Street lit up the other night, and I was swinging on this cable from a flagpole and flying across the fronts of the New York Stock Exchange. It's awesome."

September 28, 1999