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CHANDLER FINDS CHICAGO IS HIS KIND OF TOWN FOR ROLES
By Allan Johnson

It looks as if nothing has changed for Kyle Chandler, formerly of CBS' "Early Edition"-- except so much has.

He's sitting on a couch on a soundstage at Chicago Studio City on the city's West Side, his home away from home for more than five years. He's waiting between scenes looking very much in character as "Early" hero Gary Hobson: a turtleneck and jeans, with a few days' worth of stubble on his face.

He's even reading a certain tabloid Chicago newspaper.

The thing is, Chandler isn't waiting to film a scene of his series about Hobson, a man who gets the next day's issue of that same tabloid a day in advance, allowing him to alter the future. He's waiting to tape a scene for the new ABC situation comedy "What About Joan," starring Chicago's Joan Cusack.

In fact, the series is shot one soundstage away from where Chandler made "Edition." Many who worked on his show are performing the same tasks on Cusack's series, too.

Chandler has, in effect, become a working actor in Chicago, but one with the good fortune of going from one network series to another while barely missing a beat.

"It's very much like I had a hiatus and that was it," Chandler says. "Except that this is a completely different format."

Chandler was born in Buffalo, but grew up in north suburban Lake Forest, moving with his family to Georgia when he was 11 years old.

"The longer I'm in Chicago, the longer I have a job," says Chandler, who lives on Chicago's North Side with his wife and daughter.

It looks as if Chandler may have a job here for a little while longer.

"What About Joan" (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., WLS-Ch. 7) had a promising debut last week, averaging almost 15 million viewers and beating NBC's "Three Sisters."

In addition to being ABC's most-watched mid-season premiere in three years, the comedy had more people tuning in than its lead-in, "Dharma & Greg."

Chandler, 35, is no doubt enjoying the initial success of the romantic comedy, where he plays the banker boyfriend of Cusack's high school teacher. "You've got [executive producer] Jim Brooks and everyone he surrounds himself with," Chandler notes, "and you're working with Joan as well. She's one of the greats, as far as I'm concerned."

"Early Edition" completed its fourth season on CBS last year, and Chandler was only off for a few months before he got the call for "Joan." As far as he is concerned, working on "Early Edition" was a good learning experience, but it was enough.

"Now that it's done, it was a lot of work, it was a lot of work," says Chandler, who spent the last season as a producer and also directed an episode.

"Four years is a long time doing that," he explains. "A regular day, you can get up at 6 [a.m.] to be at work around 8 [a.m.] and you start working. You wouldn't go home until dark. And then Friday nights, you shoot, so you got a day and a half on weekends. It was really hard work. It was also a lot of fun. It was great training."

Chandler is now getting some new training on "Joan," his first sitcom after years of movies such as "Homecoming" and "Tour of Duty" and TV movies including "Home Fires Burning" and "Unconquered."

"This is a completely different monster. It's fun, though. I've liked every process and everything I've done in this industry so far, and this is no difference.

"When you're doing the drama, you work on the material and everything, and you get out there and you do it, and you do it over and over and over, on film. Here, everything's very fast. It's like `Flight of the Bumblebee's' always playing in your head."

Chandler feels as though he's in the theater because of the live studio audience, which he calls "the calvary" because they serve as the barometer for what jokes work.

But Chandler admits he has a lot to learn:

"The first day we were shooting, I have a scene where I was standing offstage before I walked onto the set," he says. "And I said to the director, `Where do I stand, the audience is going to see me here?' And he's like, `What?' I was almost talking to him like he was an idiot. . . .

"He's like, `Kyle, it's a TV show, we're shooting it.' I'm like, oh, yeah!'"

Good show: In all, it has been a decent mid-season for ABC. In addition to the performance of "What About Joan," the new Damon Wayans comedy "My Wife and Kids" premiered as the No. 1 show in its Wednesday 7 p.m. time slot last week, with an average of 13.7 million viewers.

As a result, the network, as it did last week, is showing two episodes back-to-back Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m. on Ch. 7.

Meanwhile, the third new ABC comedy, "The Job" starring Denis Leary, lost only 1 percent of its audience from the week before last Wednesday, attracting 9.7 million viewers. However, it's going to have to do as least as good as "Joan" and "Kids" if it expects to have a chance of returning next season on comedy-starved ABC.