At the end of "I'll Fly Away," Kathryn Harrold, the actress who played lawyer Christina LeKatzis, just, well, flew away.

"It was left up in the air," said the actress. "My character got on an elevator with a couple of FBI guys and that was the last you saw of her."

That was not the last we saw of Harrold, however. No sooner had NBC announced it was canceling its acclaimed series then she moved on to HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" starring Garry Shandling. Harrold plays Francine, Sanders's ex-wife and latest girlfriend.

Harrold said the off-beat ensemble show on the pay-cable service (Wednesday at 10 p.m.) was the perfect segue to the emotional withdrawal she felt at the end of "I'll Fly Away."

Acting in the civil rights-oriented series was so intense, Harrold said, that when it was canceled, letting go was very difficult for both cast and crew. Harrold left the set early.

"We all started to leave little by little, and it was really sad. I cried. We were all really, really close -- and the crew was great -- since we were all down in Atlanta together. I said to Sam {Waterston}, 'It's like I'm going to the guillotine. You guys are back in the Bastille, and you're all thinking, 'Isn't that sad? She's going to the guillotine, but we're probably not going to go.' But you will," she told him.

"He called me up after we wrapped and said, 'You were right.' It was really sad. He said he cried; Regina {Taylor} cried. It was so hard for all of us."

Fans of the defunct show would agree, as it has won several awards since its cancellation. Most recently, the show was honored with a Humanitas Prize for its success in conveying Judeo-Christian values. In May, on the American Television Awards telecast, "I'll Fly Away" won for best dramatic series, best lead actress (for Taylor as Lilly Turner) and best lead actor (Waterston). Those awards are decided by a poll of viewers, whose votes indicated that they missed this show.

Harrold wondered when she would again get to play a character like the smart, independent lawyer who became the romantic interest of Waterston's Forrest Bedford.

"When am I'm going to be on a show that's this well written -- and how do I go back to the other stuff?" she lamented. "Here's what my wish is: I wish they would make a miniseries or a movie-of-the-week of 'I'll Fly Away.' That would be perfect."

Harrold has gotten her wish.

The Public Broadcasting System recently announced that it will produce a 90-minute movie of the series, told in flashback style as Lilly Turner at age 63 tells her 12-year-old grandson about the birth of the civil rights movement. The movie will air Oct. 11, followed by a run of all 39 original episodes on consecutive Mondays at 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, Harrold is busy playing Francine in "The Larry Sanders Show." Francine is talk-show host Sanders's first wife, who returns to rekindle their romance after his latest wife leaves him. The scathing satire of late-night talk shows is drawing praise from critics and fans alike.

With "I'll Fly Away," that's two high-caliber shows for Harrold, a native of southwestern Virginia and a part-time resident of Washington.

In her early 40s, the elegant actress paused in her "Sanders" production schedule for her monthly romantic rendezvous here with love-interest Lawrence O'Donnell.

"He's the chief of staff of the {Senate} Finance Committee for Sen. {Daniel Patrick} Moynihan," she said. "It's so sad because I have no idea what he's talking about -- I feel like I'm now married to a math teacher. Every once in a while he comes back with a 'Boy, are you going to have to pay taxes!' because actors make money erratically."

Harrold and O'Donnell were introduced several years ago by a mutual friend in New York, and now share a tiny studio apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue near the National Gallery of Art. They try to share one week out of every four. "He just works all the time, and I'm hardly ever here, so it works well," she said, referring to their cozy living quarters.

The omnipresent politics and a conventional dress code here remind Harrold how different Washington is from California.

"I feel like a harlot when I come here because the women dress so conservatively," she commented. Washington men do too, she said, although "Lawrence is the exception: He has long hair and a Harley Davidson."

If she misses him when she's away, she can often watch him on one of his occasional appearances on C-SPAN.

This trip also allowed her enough time to visit her parents on their farm in Tazewell, Va., in the Appalachians. The extra week off in the "Sanders" production schedule allowed the writers to catch up, she explained. "It's a really great show, and they want it to be good, so they'd rather take some time off to work on the script to make it perfect."

The switch from the serious role of lawyer LeKatzis, romantic interest to Waterston's character, to Francine the journalist on Shandling's wry satire was an easy one for Harrold.

"It was like actor's therapy for me. It was exactly what I wanted. 'I'll Fly Away' was so great and I loved it," but she admitted that her role on the Southern drama was an exhausting one. "I wanted to get away from the character and away from that heavy seriousness."

Enter comic-actor Garry Shandling, who met Harrold when he was guest host of "The Tonight Show" and she was the guest.

With Shandling's show, Harrold said, "It's comedy but it's comedy based in reality. So it's not sitcom acting where you think, 'No one acts like that. Why are the people talking so loud and so quickly?' "

Shandling recruits a live audience to tape the talk-show segments within his show. So if those guest interviews look real, they should. In the second season, Sanders's interviewees for the show-within-a-show include celebrities Suzanne Somers, Hugh Hefner, Bruno Kirby, Helen Hunt, Dana Delany and Teri Garr. They chat as Johnny Carson and David Letterman would and as Shandling has as pinch-hit host of the "Tonight Show."

"Some of it's scripted, some of it's not," said Harrold.

"Sanders" also stars Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor and Shandling's real-life girlfriend, Linda Doucett, who plays Darlene, one of Sanders's assistants. (The other is Beverly, played by Penny Johnson). The cast is enjoying the show's great reviews, she said, and HBO is ecstatic, "but we don't know what's going to happen with Garry Shandling." Shandling continues to be a hot commodity, reportedly having turned down the opportunity to replace Letterman on NBC. And CBS is said to want him for a talk show for its 12:35 a.m. slot after Letterman arrives Aug. 30.

Together with the earlier "It's Garry Shandling's Show," the two Shandling shows together have won 10 CableACEs (as yet no Emmys), and the newer show is a favorite of critics. So the fate of "Sanders" is up to Shandling, who halted production of his earlier series when he thought it was time.

Harrold was overdue for a hit -- or two, as it happened. She had had misses with the short-lived series "Capitol News," NBC's "Bronx Zoo," and ABC's "MacGruder and Loud," then landed a part in Arnold Schwarzenegger's feature film "Raw Deal."

Then along came "I'll Fly Away," followed by "Larry Sanders." She said she would have done both series if "I'll Fly Away" had continued production.

"I was hoping I'd be able to juggle both of these shows, a comedy and a serious thing to do that I really loved. It would've been perfect," she said. "That's my goal now, not to concentrate on money or fame but just to please myself with my work."

Harrold said finding quality parts is especially difficult for an actress approaching middle age. "There are so few good parts for women, and so few good parts for women who aren't in their twenties. It gets harder because fewer parts are written, and the competition is tremendous -- there are so many good actresses," she said. "'I'll Fly Away' is certainly the best thing I've done. And it's one of the best things that's been done {for television}."

Changing the entertainment industry will be hard to come by, she believes. "The problem is that there's a real lack of imagination when it comes to women from their mid-thirties on. And it's really too bad because there are so many of us, and so many of us have a sort of 'rebirth' at that time," she said. "You're struggling and you don't know what's going on all through your twenties, but once you get into your mid- or late thirties, you start to really discover stuff. But there's this real lack of imagination that has to do with this stupid myth that we all grow up with -- marrying and living happily ever after. We somehow cannot get out of that ridiculous myth."

Her role on "I'll Fly Away" did not fall into that domain. The role of the beautiful Southern lawyer with grit and intelligence appealed to Harrold. Likewise the witty journalist Francine in "Shandling."

With her family in Virginia and a sister in Maryland, Harrold is considering spending more of her time here, away from California. But she said she will wait until the economy improves before selling her New York apartment, where she and O'Donnell spend occasional weekends.

Meanwhile, in addition to news of the PBS movie, she still has a deal with Lorimar to make a television movie of her choosing.

"When they were making my deal with 'I'll Fly Away,' that was part of it," she said. "So now I'm looking at projects. I've always wanted to do something about the Appalachian mountains where I grew up. I think there are really good stories there."

She loves the books by author Lee Smith, who is from the area where Harrold grew up. "I had really wanted to play a Southern woman, because I'm from the South and no one ever really saw me that way. But Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek get all the Southern parts. So 'I'll Fly Away' was great and I'd like to continue. It's in my bones."

She said people often see her as a professional type, and has played many lawyers and doctors.

"I'd just like to continue working. It'd be great to grow old and continue to play interesting women, but we have to change the whole outlook in this country."

She finds the plastic surgery phenomenon frightening. "We're almost forced to mutilate ourselves because people want an ideal. But you'll see a man like Sean Connery, who's in his sixties, coupled with actresses in their mid-thirties," she pointed out. "If you put the woman of comparable age with him, people would think, 'Oh, she's so old.' But look at your parents: My parents both look old, and they should."