HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Emmy-winning actor James Garner is returning to live-action series television for the first time in nearly 20 years, signing up for a recurring role on the CBS medical drama "Chicago Hope."
Garner will join the cast of "Hope" this spring, appearing in the final four episodes of the show's sixth season. He'll play a strong-willed multimillionaire who takes over as the new owner of Chicago Hope Hospital.
In addition, series producers confirm that Alan Rosenberg ("Civil Wars," "L.A. Law"), who has made several appearances this season as attorney Stuart Brickman, is joining the show as a regular.
As for Garner, he has tentatively agreed to return in the fall if the initial episodes go well -- and if the show gets picked up for a seventh season.
"It's a honeymoon period to see if we want to get married," said "Hope" executive producer Michael Pressman.
Garner, who won an Emmy in 1977 for his lead role in "The Rockford Files," said "Chicago Hope" deals with issues he enjoys exploring as an actor.
"The show deals with the human condition and issues of right and wrong. It's the kind of thing I like to do," Garner said. "It is entertainment that leaves you thinking."
While Garner's last major series role was in the 1981 NBC oater "Bret Maverick," his audience appeal has not diminished. His appearance with Julie Andrews in the CBS TV movie "One Special Night" averaged 25.9 million viewers last November -- the network's most-watched picture so far this season.
"Hope" creator David E. Kelley, who has taken a more active role in the running of the show this season, began talking to Garner last year about the possibility of working on one of his shows.
"It's not every day that you get to work with an actor like James, who's not only popular, but brings a humanity to every role he plays," Kelley said. "It's a privilege to have him on our show."
Since moving to Thursdays at 9 p.m. this fall, "Hope" has been a solid performer for CBS. Last season, the series was ranked No. 61 among all primetime shows, but by October of this year was breaking into the Nielsen top 20. The show has suffered somewhat since ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" moved into the timeslot.
In addition to his trademark role on "The Rockford Files," Garner is known for his starring roles in the shows "Maverick" and "Nichols." His slew of feature credits include "My Fellow Americans," "The Great Escape" and an Oscar-nominated role in "Murphy's Romance."