A&E: Swayze remains central to 'The Beast'

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A&E's plans to promote its drama "The Beast" were disrupted when star Patrick Swayze checked into a hospital hours before he was scheduled to appear at the TCA press tour.

Swayze is battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

"Patrick has asked that I tell you that this morning he checked himself into the hospital for observation for pneumonia," A&E president and GM Robert DeBitetto said Friday. "Chemotherapy can take its toll on the immune system, and illnesses are a part of that."

On "Beast," which premieres Thursday, Swayze plays tough FBI veteran Charles Barker. The show's panel session went on without him, with producers telling stories of working with the actor and detailing how his cancer has affected — and more often not affected — the production.

Producers said they learned Swayze had cancer only four hours after hearing that A&E had picked up their show to series. The production moved forward without the usual insurance coverage.

"Typical cast insurance was not available in this case," DeBitetto said. "We knew the risks we were taking. We decided to go forward and are pleased we did."

Added creator and executive producer William Rotko, "When we found out he had cancer, we went to his house. He's not a man who sheds a lot of tears, and when he saw how emotional I was … he came up and said, 'It's going to be OK, I'm going to be OK.' "

Out of shooting 12 episodes after the pilot, the actor missed only one 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."

After the panel, pilot director Michael Dinner said if the show receives a pickup, the production would be ready to start shooting a second season as soon as March to accommodate the actor's schedule.

Asked if the first season's story line sets up Swayze to continue playing the role, or if he could be replaced as the show progresses like actors on ensemble crime shows like "CSI," producers were adamant that Swayze 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?' ('CSI' is) not our model. All of our thinking is about Barker as played by Patrick Swayze vs. the Beast." (partialdiff)
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