NEW YORK -- Heading into its home stretch, A&E's drama "TheBeast" will resolve several questions that have doggedfreewheeling FBI agent Charles Barker all season.
But other questions loom -- much larger questions about theseries and its ailing star, Patrick Swayze.
The future of "The Beast" and Swayze's continued participationremain unclear, according to A&E President Bob DeBitetto, who'swaiting to see how the season's final two episodes score. Airing at10 p.m. EDT Thursdays, the series concludes its season April 23.
Since premiering in January, "The Beast" has logged an averageweekly audience of 1.3 million viewers, "which gets us to secondbase," DeBitetto said. "We're kinda used to hitting triples here,or better."
But neither ratings nor A&E's declared pride in the series candictate whether "The Beast" will get a second-season pickup. Theoverriding question mark, of course, is Swayze's fight againstpancreatic cancer.
"As has been the case from day one, it is all about Patrick --in a lot of ways," said DeBitetto. "It is about his condition,and when and whether he would be up for another grueling productionschedule."
Swayze was unavailable for comment.
Swayze went public with his diagnosis a year ago. Then he threwhimself into shooting "The Beast" on location in Chicago in therigorous role of Barker, who's a rough-and-tumble undercover agentteamed up with rookie Ellis Dove (played by Travis Fimmel).
Swayze's illness had no discernible effect on his grittyportrayal.
Even so, the series arrived on a wave of publicity tied toSwayze's dim prognosis, including accounts that he was near death.These reports were further fueled when he missed a scheduled pressappearance after checking himself into a Los Angeles hospital forpneumonia.
In a televised interview with Barbara Walters about that time,he acknowledged that most patients with advanced pancreatic cancerface grim odds.
"I'd say five years is pretty wishful thinking," Swayze toldher. "Two years seems likely if you're going to believestatistics."
DeBitetto hailed Swayze for having "the gumption to take on ashow like this while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy."
"He has already, in a lot of ways, beaten the odds," saidDeBitetto.
Known for such films as "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing," the56-year-old Swayze is "a beloved actor who has made movies thatmattered to people's lives," said DeBitetto, who acknowledged thatthe future of "The Beast" need not necessarily be tied toSwayze's involvement. His character could be written out of theseries, which could take a different turn with Dove and, perhaps,new characters.
Backup provisions like this were being discussed throughout thefirst season's shooting, DeBitetto said.
"Everybody had their eyes wide open that, after a few episodes,Patrick just might not be up for continuing: What do you do then?Fortunately, we didn't have to face that."