Boxing is having a nice little run in the sun with Manny Pacquiao's emergence into the world's all-time top pugilist-politician and "The Fighter" doing solid business at the box office. FX, the cable network, is hoping the timing is right for its boxing-themed scripted drama, "Lights Out," which kicks off a 13-episode run on Tuesday, January 11th (10 p.m.).
The pilot was screened on Wednesday night at the Hudson Theater on West 44th St., and 13 episodes are in the can. The FX production crew rounded up a slice of the boxing Hall of Fame to drum up hype for the series, which stars Holt McCallany, who some might remember played Teddy Atlas in the 1995 TV movie "Tyson." He looks plausible playing ex-heavyweight champ Patrick "Lights" Leary, who takes a fierce pounding in his final bout and is convinced by his wife to exit the savage milieu. Money woes compel him to go against his better judgement, and take a collection gig offered by a gangster.
Threatened with a doctor's warning that he might show effects from brain damage soon, the New Jersey resident Leary also contemplates a return to the ring, with a purse of $10 million dangled in front of him, as his wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) and three daughters pray he doesn't lace 'em up again. Stacy Keach also seems at ease in this swirl of violence, tenderness and crises of identity, understandable considering one of his signature roles was that of descending pug Tully in the 1972 film "Fat City."
I'm curious to see Leary's arc play out, as we saw his tender side (and his tush!) in a fairly graphic sesh with wife Theresa in the second scene, as well as his tough side (when he demolishes a loudmouth boozehound in a bar, and grabs a wad of cash after the winner-take-all clash).
One can't help but root for the project to succeed, as clearly this has been a labor of love for McCallany. He'd spent about 10 years pitching a feature film about the Teddy Atlas story, which he wrote, and knocked on door after door to get it done. His agent then told him about "Lights Out" and the actor practically squeezed the life out of him, and screamed, "That's me!"
McCallany took up boxing at age 15, while living in Nebraska, and gave his brother, a Golden Gloves champ, some good sparring. He picked up more tips on technique, and insight into the wiring of the fighter when he shadowed Atlas while Teddy was training heavyweight champion Michael Moorer and contender Shannon Briggs in the mid 90s. He told ESPNNewYork.com that he tried to make the fight scenes authentic. "I dropped one guy with a body shot," he said, "and then that guy broke some elses' nose."
It looked like the fight-game luminaries who showed up for the red carpet stroll and screening -- including Hall of Famers Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, and Lennox Lewis, as well as current heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko (with galpal Hayden Panettiere), "The Fighter"'s Micky Ward and Gerry Cooney -- weren't scoffing at the fight scenes.
McCallany got a big hug from his NYC neighbor Dr. Judy (Kuriansky), the sex-relationships expert. "I knew he was going to be a superstar!" she said, "when I'd see him out at 3 a.m.!" Turns out they are neighbors; McCallany told me he was out "taking out the garbage" at that time of night. Uh-huh. She thought the sex scene was well conceived. "He was making love in a beautiful way," she said, before recommending her "Complete Idiot's Guide to Tantric Sex" when I told her I was married since 2005.
Park Slope resident Yuri Foreman and his wife, filmmaker Leyla Leidecker, were in attendance. Both gave the pilot a thumbs up. Foreman has been out after knee surgery, but will glove up probably in March, maybe against Pawel Wolak.
Ex-middleweight champion Iran Barkley was in the house. He's been homeless, and is hoping his luck will change. A man who runs a boxing gym in New Orleans has been in contact with Barkley, who took the title from Tommy Hearns in 1988, and The Blade is considering a move to N.O.
Michael Woods is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com and ESPN The Magazine and editor of TheSweetScience.com.