A&Eâ€™s plans to promote its upcoming drama â€œThe Beastâ€ were disrupted Friday when its star Patrick Swayze checked into a hospital. Swayze, who has been battling pancreatic cancer, was scheduled to appear at the Television Critics Association’s press tour at the Universal Hilton when the network announced the actor had pneumonia. A&E President Robert DeBitetto said:
“Patrick has asked that I tell you that this morning he checked himself into the hospital for observation for pneumonia. Chemotherapy can take its toll on the immune system, and illnesses are a part of that. Patrick wishes me to tell you that he’s very sorry he cannot attend, but plans to get back to promoting ‘The Beast’ soon.”
Patrick plays a tough FBI veteran named Charles Barker on the show. The showâ€™s panel session continued without the star, with producers telling stories of working with Swayze and detailing how his cancer has impacted- and, more often, NOT impacted the production.
Producers of the show said they learned Patrick had cancer only four hours after hearing that A&E picked up the series. Patrick’s cancer meant the production had to move forward without the usual insurance coverage.
“Typical cast insurance was not available in this case,” DeBitetto said. â€œWe knew the risks we were taking. They kept us informed about this treatment; we had very honest conversations with his physician. We were looking at very finite period of time when the production would have to be done. We decided to go forward and are pleased we did.”
Creator and executive producer William Rotko added that:
“When we found out he had cancer we went to his house. We’ve been working on the TV show for a year, and have your own interests and families, and to find out your star has a very serious cancer … we were down to his pool, and he’s not a man who sheds a lot of tears, and when he saw how emotional I was … he came up and said, ‘Itâ€™s going to be OK, Iâ€™m going to be OK.’ And I went home to my wife and — heâ€™s got cancer and heâ€™s telling me it’s going to be OK. And that carries through the show.”
Out of shooting 12 episodes after the pilot, the actor missed only a single day of work, producers said. “You forget sometimes Patrick is going through treatment for cancer,” Rotko said. “It brings us closer together as a tight-knit group. It makes you stop and think before you say you have a tummy ache.”
Rotko recalls first meeting the actor to discuss the role: “His face immediately leapt toward us. It’s changed. Not by surgery — heâ€™s gotten older and more gritty. And we thought it was a wonderful opportunity for him to do a departure … and for us because heâ€™s a big movie star who was so passionate about the material. Itâ€™s been a terrific experience working with him.”
Director Michael Dinner said if the show receives a pickup for a second season, the production would be ready to start shooting as soon as March to accommodate the actor’s schedule. Asked if the first season’s story line sets up Patrick to continue playing the role, or if he could be replaced as the show progresses, producers were adamant that Patrick is central to “The Beast.”
“We’re taking our cues from Patrick,” showrunner John Romano said. “The only rough conversations I have with Patrick is him asking, ‘Are you writing me down? Are you having me climbing fewer walls than usual?’ He is giving us every signal that he is continuing to show up. [‘CSI’ is] not our model. I’ve never seen a part written with more commitment. All of our thinking is about Barker as played by Patrick Swayze vs. the Beast.”
Pneumonia is a very scary thing when a cancer patient is involved. Our prayers go out for Patrick and his lovely wife Lisa, whose long marriage is a rarity in Hollywood.
“The Beast” premieres Jan. 15 at 10 p.m. on A&E.