Tuesday, April 13th

Guillaume sports renewed strength
By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Robert Guillaume has just returned from another grueling session with his physical therapist.

Walking slowly with a cane, the Sports Night co-star says he's feeling as good as could be expected. "I'm getting a little stronger," he says in an interview at his home. "One begins to regain strength, but there are lingering effects of the stroke."

Guillaume, 71, a two-time Emmy winner for his role as Benson on ABC's Soap and the Benson spinoff, suffered a mild stroke at ABC's Sports Night in January. He was rushed to the hospital, spent some weeks in rehabilitation and has been home since early March. His left side was affected, and he says it could take a year to return to his former self.

Two weeks ago on Sports Night (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT), Isaac Jaffee (Guillaume), the boss on a cable sports news program, had a stroke off screen. The actor returned to the set March 30 to film a scene for the season finale of Sports Night, which airs May 4.

Getting back to work "was wonderful," Guillaume says. Adding the stroke to the show "relieved me of much of the anxiety of trying to appear normal."

"I've always accepted challenges in life, but I was up against something here which I didn't know anything about," he says. "I didn't even know I was having a stroke when it happened, or what the effects were going to be."

Guillaume plans to focus on therapy during his summer hiatus and be back for the show's second season. His stroke will continue to be part of the story.

"We're waiting to see how much Robert will be able to do," producer Rob Scheidlinger says. "We're willing to take Robert at whatever portion we get. The closer to 100% is what's best for Sports Night."

Sports Night has turned into a critical favorite that has brought a lot of attention to the actor. He says in kind that Isaac is "the best character I've ever played... the most legitimate."

Benson, the butler and cook for the rich Tate family, was initially a "gimmick, in that the black guy was smarter than everybody else." Isaac, however, "is the kind of part every actor would love. He's a very talented man."

And with writer Aaron Sorkin (The American President) supplying Isaac's dialogue, "I don't have to agonize over what I have to say. Aaron's one of the best writers in the business."

Though well liked by critics, Sports Night has been ratings-challenged this season. But the show's outlook has brightened now that time-slot winner Will & Grace has moved to Thursdays. ABC made a show of support by renewing the series early, and Guillaume is certain viewers will find Sports Night.

"The show moves very fast, like lightning; it's not your typical TV fare. But it should be, and hopefully Aaron will set a new standard."

Thanks to Caroline for this transcription.