THE PHILANTHROPIST. 10 p.m. tomorrow, Channel 10.

THERE ARE reasons to try to love "The Philanthropist," NBC's latest attempt to keep the lights on during the summer by airing shows it didn't want on the schedule last fall as much as, say, it wanted "Knight Rider."

For one, there's Tom Fontana. The "Oz" creator, who also helped bring us "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "St. Elsewhere," is a formidable talent.

In a recent piece that appeared on Huffington Post, he talked about being inspired by Hurricane Katrina to write the story, along with Charlie Corwin and Jim Juvonen, of a billionaire who decides he needs to do something to save the world beyond writing checks.

(Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Corwin, a "reality" show producer, pitched the idea to NBC, based on the real-world experiences of his friend, Bobby Sager, who's mentioned in the credits as inspiring the show. That story never even mentions Fontana.)

Then there's James Purefoy, who was delicious as Marc Antony in HBO's "Rome," and who heads a cast that includes Jesse L. Martin, Neve Campbell and "The Wire's" Michael Kenneth Williams, who plays a bodyguard.

Purefoy plays billionaire Teddy Rist, who's on business in Nigeria when Katrina-like flooding occurs. During the evacuation, he rescues a young boy, who disappears before he ever learns his name.

"I saved the kid, but in an odd way he saved me," he tells a skeptical bartender, who doesn't believe he is who he says he is when he stops for a drink, mid-adventure.

Nor is she buying anything else he's selling.

My problem?

I'm not really buying it, either. Starting with that line, a cliche that only works if we're supposed to think of the man who says it as a cliche.

Which apparently we're not, even when he's slicing through one layer of corrupt bureaucracy after another using charm and money while displaying a willingness to bed any woman who crosses his path.

If James Bond ran humanitarian missions, they'd probably go a bit like this.

Martin plays Teddy's seemingly uptight partner, Philip Maidstone, co-CEO of a company that's doing well enough to employ Philip's wife, Olivia (Campbell) - who seems to have a past with Teddy - to run the corporation's charity side.

Depending on how much time Teddy ends up spending away doing good, Martin and Campbell could find themselves in thankless jobs. Or, worse, enmeshed in an ugly J.R.-vs.-Bobby struggle.

And then there's Teddy's ex-wife, Julia (Krista Allen), with whom he lost a son, a device now used often enough in TV drama and popular fiction to feel more familiar than shocking. Which is shocking in itself.

Teddy's impulses are undeniably good ones, but tales of African corruption are nothing new and often cited as a cause of viewer fatigue. And though Teddy's expected to range far and wide, it remains to be seen whether "The Philanthropist," and its debonair title character, have anything new to do - or say - about the problems he'll encounter.

'The Cleaner' returns

"The Philanthropist" isn't the only drama out there with a real-life inspiration.

A&E's "The Cleaner," which begins its second season at 10 tonight, is loosely based on the work of Warren Boyd, who describes himself as an "extreme interventionist."

Benjamin Bratt stars as William Banks, a recovering addict whose day (and night) job basically involves ambushing other addicts, getting them detoxed and then into treatment.

Mostly, the work's even less glamorous than that sounds, which is probably why Whoopi Goldberg's been called in to guest-star tonight as someone from William's past.

Gary Cole plays another old friend, a news anchor who's relapsed after more than 20 years of sobriety, and who proves to be a wily opponent.

Next week's guest stars include Joe Don Baker and "Everybody Hates Chris' " Tyler James Williams.

Unless you're hooked on A&E's "reality" version of this show, "Intervention," William's workdays may blend into one another: chasing, restraining, reading the riot act.

Rinse, repeat.

It's his home life - or, this season, the lack thereof - that's intriguing about "The Cleaner."

Amy Price-Francis is William's wife, Melissa, from whom he's separated this season, a situation that seems to have reduced the growling between them considerably. They have a couple of kids (Brett DelBuono and Liliana Mumy) and yet there are good reasons - most, but maybe not all, tied to William - for the trouble they're in. Bratt and Price-Francis, though, have the kind of chemistry that makes me hope their characters will eventually work things out.

Even if it takes another season or two. *

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