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Utah angel may turn in her wings

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PASADENA, Calif. — Maybe seven years of being an angel is enough. At least for Roma Downey, whose contract to star in the made-in-Utah TV series "Touched by an Angel" expires at the end of this coming season.

"I don't know," Downey said when asked if she'd be interested in doing an eighth year or beyond of the hit show. "I think we'll get through this year and see where we are."

Her role as the angel Monica in "Touched" has made Downey a star. And she's not complaining about how much she makes. (Reportedly, she's pulling in something north of six figures for each episode.)

And being the star of a show that's still in the top 10 of the ratings every week who is about to become TV's equivalent of a free agent would seem to be an extremely advantageous position from which to bargain. But, according to the actress, there's more to it than that.

"Listen, I love that. And on paper it all looks fabulous," Downey said. "But the daily reality is a 12- to 14-hour day. And I have a small child, and I don't get that time back."

She is the single mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Reilly, and the long workdays cut into her time as a mother.

"As much as I'd bring her to the set when she was a little baby, it seemed to be easier somehow," Downey said. "Now that she has her own agenda and her own social life, she's really not that interested in sitting in my trailer anymore."

And, certainly, as unenthusiastic as she sounded about extending her contract, Downey wasn't ruling it out. Accommodations could be made in terms of her schedule — in addition to the financial package that's sure to be offered to her. And this would not be the first time an actor has begun negotiating publicly.

(Although it must be said that Downey was only responding to a question about how long she wanted to remain with the show; she didn't raise the issue of her contract herself.)

But her possible departure raises the question of whether the show could survive without her. CBS, which not only broadcasts "Touched by an Angel" but produces it through its in-house studio, doesn't want to entertain the possibility at all.

"We don't even want to deal with that issue," said CBS President Leslie Moonves. "We love Roma. We're sure she will be back. We know she will be. So we won't even address the possibility of that thing happening."

All of this is pretty amazing when you consider that "Touched" barely survived its first season on the air because of low ratings. Co-star Della Reese predicted from the outset that it would last 10 years, but she was pretty much alone.

Reese is even more convinced than ever about the show's future. "We'll be on forever," she said.

And still filming in Utah. "We're in Salt Lake to stay," said executive producer Martha Williamson.

Downey thinks "Touched by an Angel" could go on without her.

"I think the star of the show is God. Certainly it could," Downey said.

That's a thought echoed by Williamson. "I never discuss contracts. I never discuss casts," she said. "But I'll tell you one thing for sure — God ain't going anywhere."

And neither is "Touched by an Angel" if she has anything to say about it.

"It is so clear to us that this has become appointment viewing. That people have taken this into their hearts," Williamson said. "And from what I can gather from the audiences out there, we're going to make 'Gunsmoke' look like a passing fancy."

The show will air its 150th episode sometime in October, but she's not worried about running out of stories to tell. (Upcoming episodes include one that involves a tornado and another that features Richard Chamberlain playing two characters — one in the present day and another a 19th-century miner.)

"There's no end in sight because there's nothing that God isn't interested in," Williamson said. "So we'll never run out of stories."