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MCMAHON RETURNS TO 'CHARMED' FOR SPECIAL EPISODE

There's an unlovely part of the human psyche that likes to think that anybody good-looking, charismatic and charming must secretly be a jerk. No one is perfect, but despite the fact that Australian-born Julian McMahon fulfills the above criteria, it's hard to find co-workers willing to speak ill of him.

Told this, McMahon just laughs and says, "You've got to dig a little more."

McMahon, now the star of FX's hit drama "Nip/Tuck," returns to the WB Network's "Charmed" at 8 tonight to reprise the role of Cole, the half-human/half-demon ex-husband of Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), the middle sister in the show's trio of good-witch Halliwell siblings.

After Cole joined the show in its third season as a supposedly human district attorney, his and Phoebe's romance went through cataclysmic ups and downs, culminating in Cole being vanquished in the 100th episode.

In tonight's 150th episode, "The Seven Year Witch," eldest sister Piper (Holly Marie Combs), dying from a demon thorn, meets Cole in a cosmic void between life and death. Piper's own marriage to Leo (Brian Krause), a supernatural Avatar, hangs in the balance. Cole, wanting to restore Phoebe's faith in love, is determined to shepherd Piper through whatever she needs to do to save her life and her love.

The episode is very important to "Charmed," which at this writing was still waiting for word of renewal, so the producers are hoping McMahon can supply a badly needed bump in the ratings.

"It was fantastic to see Julian on the set again," says Jim Conway, co-executive producer of "Charmed." "He just brings an energy and a magic, both for the crew, which adores him, and to the material, because his character is fantastic -- diabolical and charming and funny."

"I keep telling people," Combs says, "he's coming to give me hell, which I appreciate very much. We're very happy to see him. He adds an energy to the set that's just unlike anybody else."

Fresh off filming for the upcoming feature "Fantastic Four," in which he plays Dr. Doom, McMahon says, "I gotta be honest with you. I was honored in a way that they called me up and said, 'Do you want to go back?' I'd been thinking about it for some strange reason."

It's not as if he was all that far away. Last summer, after filming for all of its run in the San Fernando Valley, "Charmed" moved for its seventh season to the Paramount lot in Hollywood. At that time, McMahon was just a few stages away, working on "Nip/Tuck" as Miami plastic surgeon Christian Troy. During breaks, McMahon dropped in on his old pals.

Considering Cole's evil past, McMahon likes the idea that he's lecturing Piper on love. "He does, which is beautifully ironic, but it's very true for the character."

McMahon and Combs shot their scenes in one marathon day, actually the day after the show held its 150th episode/DVD party at Paramount on Feb. 1.

"We did everything together for about 20 hours," McMahon says. "The 150th is a big episode for them, so it's got to be a big issue at stake. What bigger issue than love? It was really quite a profound episode for the show, like the 50th was, and like the 100th was, these landmark moments.

"For me, it was just a kick getting back there and seeing all those guys. I loved that character, and just to get to fiddle around in his shoes again was a time-warping experience, and a great one.

"I guess my life has gotten a little busier since 'Charmed,' but I still feel like the same person. 'Charmed,' for me, was a very integral and valued time in my life, both personally and professionally. To me, it's like going home."

Conway worked on the 1992-93 series "Bodies of Evidence," which was one of the last shows George Clooney did before he broke out on "ER." Conway sees some similarities between McMahon and Clooney, and hopes he sees more.

"George was one of the greatest guys ever, charming and wonderful to everybody. He's like Julian in that way. He's become wonderfully successful, and it hasn't changed him. Julian's got the goods (for movie stardom), just like George has. Julian's got the acting ability and the charisma that's so important."

"Fantastic Four" marks McMahon's first big-budget movie, in which he co-stars with fellow FX star Michael Chiklis ("The Shield"), who plays the Thing. McMahon is now busy trying to figure out how to fill his time after the next season of "Nip/Tuck" finishes filming.

"Things are going good," he says. "I'm at that precipice of a career place in which there's some movies that I really want that they don't want me for, and movies that they want me for that I don't really want, and then there's some in the middle."