'Kojak' Has a New Ving to It

This is NOT your father's "Kojak." (search)

As played by the commanding Ving Rhames (search) in the new USA series (which premieres Friday night at 9 p.m. EST), Kojak is a cop who plays by his own rules.

Kojak twists the laws so a criminal behind bars can be reunited with his kids.

Kojak turns a blind eye to vigilante justice, but feels troubled by his decision.

He has a chaste romantic relationship, isn't ashamed to cry on the shoulder of his best friend (played by Chazz Palminteri (search)) and — in what may well be a TV first — discretely makes the sign of the cross when leaving a gruesome crime scene.

Is it any surprise to find out that Rhames — who led a hard-scrabble childhood with an absent father — felt destined to put his stamp on this role?

Unfailingly polite, Rhames doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Although "Kojak" hasn't debuted yet, he already seems bored by the inevitable questions about the lollipop (still there), the hat (sometimes) and the catch phrase (tweaked for a new millennium). That same seriousness extends to his faith.

"I think quite a bit of organized religion has become big business," says Rhames. "Jesus Christ never sold the word of God. He never gave a sermon and then said, 'For $8.99, you can buy the CD.'

"I try to base my life on the principles of Christ. I try to raise my family on the principles of Christ. I don't know if that makes me religious.

"I'm a God-fearing man and I know the only reason why I am here going from poverty to where I am now is God has His hand on my life. I tell people, I didn't choose acting; God chose me to act."

So expect Kojak to be principled but complicated, a good man making hard decisions in a world where prostitutes can be murdered, and no one cares. Expect a man who can be scary questioning a criminal but a big softie around kids — just like Rhames.

"All I want and all I even ask of people in Hollywood is look, just be honest with me. Please don't lie to me. Whatever the situation is, be honest with me. I think a lot of that part of my personality will come out in this Kojak," he says.

"He is a man who cares about the death of hookers, the death of anyone. But he's also a guy who does something that one has to question: Does the ends justify the means? He's very imperfect."

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Click on the video box to see Ving Rhames on FOX.