BONES. 8 tonight, Channel 29.
TRY TO AVOID using the p-word around David Boreanaz.
That would be p, as in "procedural."
Sure, from a distance, what's going on in Fox's "Bones" - the unearthing of bodies, many of them in ghastly condition, and the subsequent solving of the crimes that put them in such sad shape - might look not unlike what's going on any of CBS' "CSIs."
But for Boreanaz and co-star Emily Deschanel, the model for "Bones" should be "Moonlighting," the '80s romp in which crime-solving mostly took a back seat to the sexually charged cross-talk between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd.
"For us . . . it was never about a procedural show," Boreanaz said earlier this month during a Fox party in Pasadena, Calif.
"I think it's cute, it's fun and you just don't see that on television in procedurals, in hour dramas. It's great to be part of that," said the Malvern Prep grad, who made his own acting bones playing a vampire with a soul - and occasionally a sardonic wit - first in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and later as the star of the spinoff "Angel."
Now, as FBI agent Seeley Booth in "Bones," he's discovered that romantic comedy's more than a Monday-through-Friday job.
Weekends find Boreanaz and Deschanel putting in two to four more hours of work together with acting coach Ivana Chubbuck, said the actor, the son of WPVI (Channel 6) weatherguy Dave Roberts and his wife, Patti.
Chubbuck, he said, "allows us to take these ideas into scenes and find those improvisational moments and find what drives each other crazy, whether it's a song or a gesture or a movement - it's just while we're somehow dealing with the case. Because it's not about the case for me."
Working together, said Deschanel, "we've become . . . so attuned to working with each other and kind of honed that. I hate to say that - that sounds silly - but it's become more fluid or something."
Their interactions "become like a shorthand, in a way, and the characters become stronger and stronger. The characters get closer together. David and I are more and more used to working with each other, and the rest of the cast members," Deschanel said.
While Boreanaz's character, a hard-charging agent with intimacy issues, doesn't exactly break new ground in television, Deschanel's Dr. Temperance Brennan, a brilliant scientist with extremely limited social skills, probably does. At least for women.
So clueless is Brennan when it comes to the way most humans interact that Boreanaz's Booth has been forced to become a sort of guide to the world outside Brennan's laboratory.
When asked if Brennan might not actually have Asperger syndrome - a condition many doctors consider a form of high-functioning autism - Deschanel nodded.
"Hart Hanson, the creator of the show, and I discuss, you know, that my character almost has Asperger syndrome, and, you know, if maybe if it was a film, that I maybe specifically would have Asperger's," she said.
"If you look at the character of Zack, [a Brennan subordinate who's] played by Eric Millegan, he almost definitely has Asperger syndrome," she added.
"I think it's fascinating to have a character who's brilliant in one area and clueless" in others, Deschanel said.
"And it's so sweet that she's trying to learn about things. You know, I talked to a psychologist who specializes in people with Asperger's and she said she's worked with kids who start at 12 years old not being able to understand, you know, a social interaction almost at all and then are now in college and can have relationships that are almost more in touch than a lot of kids their age, because they work so much in therapy and work so hard," she said.
When they're not digging up the dead bodies, look for Booth and Brennan to be digging a little deeper into their own psyches this season.
"Booth goes into therapy," Deschanel said, adding that British actor Stephen Fry - the former comedy partner of "House's" Hugh Laurie - is playing the therapist.
"We end up in therapy together. My character's always said she hates psychology, but you'll see - she finds a way to understand it," she said.
Fry, said Boreanaz happily, is "crazy."
"I didn't know exactly who Stephen Fry was when I started and everybody was a bit like, 'Wow, you don't know who Stephen Fry is,' [but] . . . he's going to bring something really unique and credible to the show, and we're very excited to have him." *