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Sweeps time winds up with TV's 2 hit shows facing off tonight
Regular season ends with 'American Idol' and 'Lost' trying to beat out each other.
On the final night of the TV season, two TV giants will collide. "Lost" and "American Idol" go head to head tonight on ABC and Fox, respectively, marking the end of the "sweeps" ratings period, the last day when networks are desperate for viewers.

Both season finales air from 8-10 p.m., so viewers may want to warm up their VCR's.

Fox has "American Idol," TV's ratings leader. ABC has "Lost," TV's second-strongest new show, right behind "Desperate Housewives."

Both shows are big with young viewers. And Terry O'Quinn seems delighted to be there.

O'Quinn, 52, was cast as John Locke in "Lost" with no idea where it was going. "I took it on faith," he says. "J.J. told me I'd be more important as time goes on."

That's producer J.J. Abrams, who has also run "Felicity" and "Alias," which airs its season finale after "Lost." He told the truth.

Locke started the season quietly as the tough, bald enigma. Since then, he's been doubted, battled and shot. Think of him as one of TV's great survivors.

All of this is a huge leap for O'Quinn, who often gets cast as authority figures.

In movies (theatrical or television), he's been a judge, six doctors, two majors, a colonel and a general. In TV series, he was a colonel in "NCIS," generals in "The West Wing" and "Harsh Realm," and admirals in "JAG" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." He was an assistant FBI director in "Alias."

Some were big roles. In "Harsh Realm," he harshly ran an alternate universe. Others, such as his "West Wing" general, were mild.

"It wasn't a riveting character," O'Quinn says. "It didn't have a lot of personality."

In those situations, he doesn't push the role. He underplays it until the script calls for more.

That has served him well in "Alias." With no idea where the character was going from script to script, he waited.

"Coming from where I come from, part of my approach is to just do it," O'Quinn says. "If there's not a lot there, I'm not going to read something into it."

Where he comes from is Newberry in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It has 1,873 people, large vistas and small opportunities.

"It was fun when you were a kid," he says. "The older you got, the more you realized there was more out there."

At home, he was the seventh of 11 Quinn kids. (He later added the "O'" because there was another actor named Terry Quinn.) At school, he was always noticed.

Like other Newberry kids, he savored sports. "We lived and breathed basketball," says Mike Foley, a friend and classmate. "He was good. He was a starter his junior and senior years."

He was athletic but not the tough guy of myth. Contrary to Internet reports, O'Quinn says, he never has boxed or been a bodyguard or won a black belt in karate.

Instead, he liked to sing, play the guitar and act. "I had a performing gene, I guess."

Now comes a role that seems to fit. Locke is the all-knowing guy who seems to master the "Lost" island. He's also an outsider.

"Oddly enough, my life here has been very Lockian," O'Quinn says.

The younger actors live closer to the set, which is shot on location in Hawaii. O'Quinn and his wife have a home on Hawaii's north shore, which is farther away.

The timing was perfect, O'Quinn says of his decision to take the role. Their sons, ages 23 and 21, are on their own now.

He and his wife sold their home on the East coast and bought one in Hawaii.

"It's pretty laid-back here," O'Quinn says by phone from Hawaii. "The effect it has on you is amazing."

His wife suggested that Locke wouldn't have any alcohol on the island. O'Quinn quit drinking and has done a lot of walking and swimming.

"Consequently, I've lost 20 pounds," he says. "That's sort of Lockian, too."

© 05/2005, Mike Hughes/