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Gladiator or mediator, resolving conflict is the objective

Two new cable series focus on characters who wage battles in very different arenas: Kate Reed (Sara Shahi) fights for justice in the legal system in the USA Network series "Fairly Legal," while Gannicus (Dustin Clare) wages his battle in a bloody forum as the new top gladiator in the Starz series "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena."

>The mediator

Once a lawyer at her family's firm, Kate Reed became so frustrated with the legal system that she becomes a mediator.

"In courts, on a regular law show, you have all this artifice around, and you have someone speaking for you and speaking instead of you. We just get right to the heart of it and do our little anti-law law show where you put two people in a room in conflict, send in Kate, and things happen," says series creator Michael Sardos.

Shahi, a Texas native, thinks she's the right person to play such a role.

"It's a knack I have," Shahi says. "I think it's more than being just a good listener. It's being able to be able to put yourself in someone else's position and help try to steer them in some direction.

"I am a person who likes people and getting to hear their stories. I'll be at a party and I'll ask someone 20 questions and they will ask me one."

She credits part of her outgoing personality to her days as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. She tried out for the squad as a way to get into acting.

"Someone suggested I try out for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders because they had been on 'Saturday Night Live' in 1995. I thought that would be my way to get into acting," Shahi says.

She wasn't on "SNL," but Robert Altman hired the cheerleaders to be extras in his film "Dr. T and the Women." The director told Shahi that she had talent and should move to L.A.

>The gladiator

The Starz Network faced a dilemma when Andy Whitfield, star of the series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," was forced to leave the show after being diagnosed with cancer.

Instead of immediately recasting the role, a prequel, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," was created and will follow the rise of Gannicus.

Dustin Clare, star of the new series, says that while the focus isn't Spartacus, his gladiator is just as compelling and complicated.

"Gannicus is a very self-destructive character," says Clare. "He's always trying to escape his reality, and he does that through abusing things like alcohol. There's a lot of contradictions in the character."

Playing Gannicus has been physically and mentally challenging for Clare. He has to handle the acting duties and daily training just to be in shape for the action scenes in the blood-and-sandals series.

"The physical aspect of the job was more demanding than I imagined," Clare says. "It's hard when you start filming because you have to get up in the morning and get in the gym. Then when you get home, you have to get in the pool."

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TELEVISION PREVIEWS

"Fairly Legal" 10 p.m. Thursday USA Network

"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" 10 p.m. Friday Starz Network

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