Friday, November 13, 2015

Undateable: Je Suis Paris

From the start of this, its third season, NBC's sitcom Undateable has aired live every Friday night -- until tonight.

At 4:45 PM Pacific time -- just 15 minutes before the first of two live telecasts was to be performed for the Eastern time zone -- Undateable opted to cancel tonight's live show in deference to the terrorist attack on Paris.

With several of the networks scrambling to cover the breaking situation -- such as ABC's 20/20, which will devote its hour to coverage -- it's likely that NBC would have pre-empted at least one of the Undateable performances anyway.  But as an emotional Bill Lawrence, the show's executive producer, explained to a disappointed yet understanding crowd, tonight it didn't feel right for the cast or producers to go live with the show's trademark brand of silliness.

At the producers' request, musical guest Joshua Radin did perform for the crowd, albeit a different, more mournful song than he'd planned.  Barring anything unforeseen, Undateable will be back live next Friday -- probably with the same episode we would have seen tonight.  Bravo to Bill Lawrence, Randall Winston (he's the producer you'll see placing the "Je Suis Paris" sign in the video below), Chris D'Elia, who addresses the crowd here, and the cast and crew of Undateable for this classy move, in tribute to the victims of this senseless violence.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Another Undateable Duo

Undateable's Ron Funches (l) and David Fynn
According to his posts on Twitter, on tonight's live episode of Undateable -- the second installment of Undateable's all-live third season on NBC -- actor David Fynn, who plays gay British bartender Brett, will be periscoping live from within a scene.  It's one of the many ways Undateable is reinventing the live broadcast, and folding viewers into the experience via a variety of social media.

Last week, just in advance of the show's season premiere, I sat down with David and co-star Ron Funches, whose character Shelly has a way of imbuing even the most edgy of remarks with his trademark cuddliness and likeability.  I talked with the two about everything from Ron's weight loss -- 75 pounds since last season! -- and their biggest fears about what could happen live, tonight at 8PM Eastern (rebroadcast for other time zones) tonight on NBC.

Must-Hear TV:  Ron, you look a little different from last year.  How did you do it?

Ron Funches:  Just working out.  Exercises with a trainer.  And I hate it.

MHTV:  How is the show going to explain Shelly's new appearance?

RF:  I don’t think they’re going to have to.  I lost 75 pounds, but I’m magically still fat!  So it works!  I think they’ll just let it go.

MHTV:  Come on, with all the live stuff that could happen on the show?  Last year, Chris D'Elia's Danny commented on Brent Morin's character Justin's weight.  So you think they’re just going to let it go for Shelly?

RF:  That would be fine!  Great, bring it up, get me more dates!

MHTV:  When you were told you were going to do live shows all year, were you intimidated?

David Fynn:  No.  I think this is a cast that embraces pressure like that.  The four boys come from standup backgrounds, Bridgit [Mendler] is a live performer, and I’ve done theater and stuff.  I think if any cast is going to embrace live TV, I think it’s going to be us.  I think we kind of get off on the adrenaline of it as well.  Like on our tape nights, when things were kind of coming out a bit crazy and the improv was going a bit crazy, you could really feel that energy from the audience.  And I think to have that in a live scenario suits our cast very well.

MHTV:  What’s your worst nightmare of what could happen?

DF:  Cursing, for sure.

RF:  Cursing is the worst nightmare.  But also, because the show will be doing some things where they unexpectedly put the camera on other [audience] people, what if that person curses?  That’s my worst nightmare, where it’s someone out of our control.

DF:  I guess dropping a line would be pretty bad.  But someone would save you, though.  You’d be fine.

MHTV:  You’re all skilled enough in working without a net that you can cover for each other.

DF:  Sure.  And because we rehearse quite a lot now, we know the story so well that if a line goes, the most important thing is that you’re tuned into the story, so someone will bail you out.

MHTV:  Do you have a dream guest star you’d like this season?

RF:  I like The Rock.  The Rock would come here, and be like, "Oh man, I’m not feeling confident. Shelly, teach me how to be so cool!"  That would be great.

DF:  I’d like Ricky Gervais

MHTV:  He could play your dad!

DF:  That would be amazing!  And he’s lovely, too.  I think he’d embrace it.  Let’s get Ricky Gervais!

RF:  Let’s make Ricky Gervais MY dad!

MHTV:  He might be one of those people who could drop the F-bomb.  He’s a little unpredictable.  Maybe he’s the one who’d get the show fined by the FCC!

DF:  And he’d love it as well!

MHTV:  Do you think comedies like Undateable have a specific advantage in addressing stories about race and class, as compared to TV dramas?

RF:  Yes, of course!  The advantage is, you get to tell jokes.  Or more exactly, you can say exactly what you mean, and people will think it’s a joke.  And those are usually the best jokes, when you’re really just saying what you truly believe, but because it’s an uncomfortable truth, people are going to laugh at their reaction.  When you’re doing it in a drama, you have a tendency to be whiny or preachy.  But when you’re using humor, you can diffuse the situation and make light of it, and be very honest without people really holding you to it.

MHTV:  Do you guys have in the back of your heads some lines that you would throw out there in a nervous moment, or just to mess with your costars?  Are you banking stuff to play with in the scenes?

RF:  No, because I feel like that’s cheating.  That’s taking away the live atmosphere.  What will happen is when we’re live, because we’re very funny people we’ll play the situation.  And if something comes up, we’ll say it.

DF:  I think we all had moments in the [live season 2] finale that we improv’d something.  I think the first [East Coast broadcast] was a little tighter on the script, and the second show [for the West Coast] everyone was a little bit more loose.  I felt like in the first show people were spotting opportunities, but not taking them as much as in the second.  And then in the second, people were  having little gos and still improvising.  So I still think that spontaneous thing will still be there this season.

MHTV:  What are this seasons's character arcs for Shelly and Brett.  Will Brett get a boyfriend?

DF:  It’s already talked about that I’m possibly seeing a guy, so hopefully we’ll bring him in at some point.

MHTV:  Do you know who they’ll cast?

DF:  I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Anthony Hopkins.  [laughs]

MHTV:  Or, another possible dad!

DF:  Yeah!  My dad actually looks like Anthony Hopkins a bit.

RF:  I know a specific thing but I can’t talk about it.  But I can say that Shelly’s going to have some trials in his life that he’ll have to deal with, coming up.  And we’ll get to watch him deal with them.

MHTV:  Any special ladies?

RF:  I hope so.  I hope so in the show, and in my real life.

MHTV:  What kind of social media things will you be doing to tie into the live performances?

RF:  Every day at 4:30, we’re all going to be doing periscope.  We’ll all have our own individual shows: David will be doing some actor challenges, and I will be doing a thing called Funches’ Favorites, which is basically a lifestyle magazine about being a modern man, just showing you the things that I love.  And then we’ll be live tweeting during the shows.  We’ll be all over social media.

DF:  During scenes, if we’re not speaking, we’ll be on our phones, tweeting.  We’ve been told to do it during scenes.

MHTV:  Just to make it harder, to have more things to juggle!  Are we going to meet any of your family members?  We were joking about your possible dads.

RF:  I haven’t heard anything yet.  I know we’ve been talking about my cousin, who’s meth-addicted.  So hopefully he’ll show up!

Airs LIVE for the East Coast, Friday October 16 at 8PM,
Replayed from live broadcast in other time zones

Friday, October 9, 2015

Live from Warner Brothers Studios, it's Undateable on Friday nights

After scoring big buzz and good ratings with its first live episode back in May, NBC's hip sitcom Undateable returns tonight at 8 PM for the first of an entire season of episodes performed live.

It seems like it might be hard to top last season's stunt, which featured cameos from showrunner Bill Lawrence's stable of actors from his past shows, including Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Neil Flynn and his wife Christa Miller, as well as Minnie Driver, Kate Walsh, Victoria Justice, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Scott Foley and Ed Sheeran.

But as they discussed with me below earlier this week, Bill and his fellow showrunner/Undateable creator Adam Sztykiel have many surprises and tricks in store for us -- from the opening credits onward, Bill teases, so pay attention! -- as well as innovative new ways to enhance the live experience for today's multi-media, multi-tasking viewer.

Must-Hear TV:  The latest news from NBC explains that tonight's special one-hour season premiere will air live on both the East and West coasts, as was the episode back in May -- but then the rest of season 1 will be performed live only once.  What's the thinking behind the decision?

Bill Lawrence:  [The decision to air live once versus twice] will depend on the night and what we feel like.  It doesn’t cost that much extra money to do it twice.  [For the show's crew] part of the appeal of doing a live show on Friday nights is maybe seeing your kids at 6:30. But we promised the network that anytime we’re doing an hour-long special like this first one, we’ll do it [live for] both East coast and West coast. Just because then we can fool along with the medium and have the bands do different songs, and have our guests do different things, like Ed Sheeran and all those people did last time.

MHTV:  There was such a difference between the two live episodes last time.  You could really see the difference between the two feeds, and how loose you were for the west coast, knowing you had it in the can once.

BL:   Also, we’re west coast guys.  So with the west coast show, we were like, "No one’s watching this!  So let’s be idiots and see if we can get ourselves thrown off of television!"  But I think we’ll try to do it a bunch more than just the first time.  We just have to be careful about what we’re allowed to say and not say [language-wise on live TV].  But I’ll say it, yeah, we’re going to do more than one of this season's episodes live on both coasts for sure.

MHTV:  What can you tell us about [tonight's] season premiere?

BL:  Last year, when it was just a one-off live episode, we made it kind of like a variety show, just “Hey, it’s the night of 1000 stars!” and Ed Sheeran is singing, and the cast is going to wink at the camera 9,000 times.  So [for this season] Adam and I had to come up with an idea of how to bridge that gap where we can still tell stories, but kind of acknowledge that the show is live.

So what we’ve been trying to sell to the network – we’ll see if they buy into it or not – is a live experience.  Which means that the show for us is a weeklong thing.  Every day at 4:30 [Pacific time] we put out live content.  Viewers have access to all the cast members, to the bands that are here, to everybody who is coming by and doing stuff for the show.  That leads up to the show, and then even during the show, there’s the opportunity for live interaction.

Chris D’Elia very proudly last year said he was the first actor ever to live tweet a show whilst he was simultaneously acting on it.  So one thing we're doing is passing out phone numbers for real cell phones; so that if the phone rings, it will be an actual fan at home calling [in to the scene].  We'll be Periscoping in the downtime during commercial breaks.  If any actor is typing on a phone, it’s not fake the way characters drink coffee on normal shows; he or she is probably interacting with someone who’s watching.  It’s like last year, where someone tweeted to Chris, "No way!  You’re not talking to me while I’m watching this!" And he was like, "I totally am!  I’ll touch my head right now!"  That type of immersive experience will hopefully be fun for people.

MHTV:  That’s real showmanship for the 21st Century.

BL:  We’re trying hard.

MHTV:  It sounds exhausting.

BL:  It is exhausting.  You’ve got to make current event jokes, and you still have to make a show that people give a crap about, that has emotional depth.  Adam always says one thing, that I truly believe, about why we’re doing it live...

Adam Sztykiel:  Whether it’s the perfect show or an epic disaster, it’s still going to be more interesting than routine half-hour TV.  There’s so much on TV now that you have to do something to separate yourself from everybody.  So I look forward to those handful of episodes where the wheels come off a little bit.

BL:  I don’t know if our network does, but we embrace the potential for disaster.  We saw it almost happen last time in the west coast feed.  Scott Foley was getting dangerously close to us getting fined.

MHTV:  The scene that looked like it was going to turn into a possible blowjob?

BL:  Yes, because he was riffing.

AS:  Bill was literally inches behind the camera line, leaning in, about to jump in front of the camera.

BL:  The second I knew we were going to lose money, I was going to put my head in and say “We’re going to keep moving!”  I have my SAG card. I would have walked in like, "Hey, Justin!  Hey, Danny!  It’s your neighbor from this fake door over here!  We’ve got to keep this thing moving!"

MHTV:  I’m SO hoping that happens this season.

BL:  Part of the fun of this show is that these actors and actresses are adept enough and quick enough on their feet that they can handle this stuff.  You can’t fabricate it.  You can’t ask a performer to fake a spontaneous moment.  And so one of the things that they’re all up for, if you go back and look at [last season's] live show, and we’ll be doing it in every episode, is we'll give certain performers lines that the other performers don’t know are coming at certain spots in the scene.  The cameramen are ready to handle it.  So like last year, Brent Morin didn’t know Ed Sheeran was going to kiss him.  Brent Morin had no idea that when they were fighting, that in one take, Chris was going to say, “Oh yeah?  Well you’ve gained a lot of weight since this show started!”  Chris didn’t know that Scott Foley was going to make him get on his knees and do all that stuff.  We want to watch to see what happens and hope that the people don’t have panic attacks.

MHTV:  "People" meaning the network censors, or your cast?

BL:  Cast.  I mean, look at Bianca [Kajlich].  If she starts laughing, she can’t contain herself.  So I truly hope that happens this year, because everyone will try to dive in and save the scene.  But watching that train wreck, we equate it to Saturday Night Live.  I love when Jimmy Fallon used to kind of screw up.  I wouldn't have liked if he did it in every single sketch.  But when it happened once in a while and was real and organic, it made me feel like I was part of watching something cool.

MHTV:  Will we see any of the character interactions changing, like Justin and Candace, or “Lursky?”

BL:  "Lursky," I like it!  The season premiere picks up where the last season ended.  We’re really tracking Justin and Candace, and Leslie and Bursky.  Because that’s what I think a hangout sitcom is.  We’re trying to find the way that you can bridge this weird kind of live show that knows it’s live, in which there’s a live opening credits every week with cast members up, interacting with the audience, into a show that you actually watch, trying to buy into the characters.  We think we’re pulling it off.

MHTV:  Is there an eye on replays of the show or syndication when you’re doing it live?  It’s fun now, in the moment, but does that affect how fun it is 10 years from now in repeats?

BL:  If we weren't thinking about [the show's later life], we wouldn’t care as much about telling ultimately stories that still hold up as sitcom episodes.  So I think one of the things we’re proud of this year is, if you took the live winks out, the stories hold up just as when I wrote on Friends or did Spin City.  They’re classic sitcom stories, hopefully with a fresh spin because of the way we’re shooting them.

MHTV:  How do you plan on testing the audience this season in terms of pushing the boundaries of comedy, to leave the audience gasping but at the same time tuning in every week?

BL:  The reason we wanted to do this is, if you see any of these standups live, they’re all very dangerous.  They do things that make you uncomfortable in your stomach.  Rick Glassman as a standup got compared at [Montreal's annual comedy festival] Just For Laughs to Andy Kaufman, because he makes the audience so uncomfortable.  And I think really good comedy is dangerous.  We’re on a network, and we’re almost constantly in battles and policing ourselves upstairs in the writers’ room – can we really do this?  And I think that, as people get into it, we can get a little more risky.  We had a politically charged joke last night that we were talking to Ron [Funches] about.  We couldn’t decide if it would just take the audience out of it...

MHTV:  Was it politically divisive?

BL:  Justin was describing a reaction of Danny’s, saying, "I thought you turned quick, like you heard a gunshot.  But with a smile on your face, like a happy gunshot."  And then Shelly says, “Sounds like a Fox News headline:  'Annoying peaceful protest silenced by happy gunshots.'”  And that’s the type of stuff that those guys would do in their standup acts.  But we were like, "Yeah, is that something we want to do in the first episode, and have some people up there [in the live audience] if they like Fox News, being like, 'NOOOO!'”  So we’ll probably ease our way into [topics like that.]

MHTV:  Any guest stars you can tell us about coming up?  Any Detroit-specific elements?

AS:  Detroit – obviously we will always tag it as much as possible.  So Leslie’s job as someone who markets the city is going to be a big part of the show.  And of course Shelly living and loving everything Detroit, that’s going to be a big thing.  And then hopefully we'll have a few guest performers whom I won’t mention yet, who will have ties to the city, down the road.

BL:  We’re doing so much immersive stuff here, and our guest cast will be part of it.  Besides seeing the band in the show, they’ll finish their act, and then here afterwards we'll have kind of a VIP lounge where hopefully comics and other friends of the family will be there, not only participating, but tweeting.

This isn’t a traditional TV show in the sense that, in network television were I to call up Zach Braff like last time and say, “Hey, I want you to come be a guest star on my show,” they’d have to do contracts, and then he'd have to be on set all week, and shoot 4 days.  The reason we’re able to get a lot of guest stars is instead I can say, “Hey, if you come Friday between 4:15 and 5:20, and just hang out for an hour and five minutes, we can give you a really funny cameo on a live show, and you don’t have to rehearse at all during the week, and whatever happens happens.  I can’t pay you a lot, but in return we’re not going to use you to promote and sell the show.”

That’s really our business model.  If last year's live episode had been normal episode of TV, and we'd had to pay everyone as a special guest star, that would have cost like $5 million.  You can’t do it, with that sheer amount of people on.  On the other hand:  "Hey, you feel like coming by and getting 3 free drinks and then walking out and doing something ridiculous?"  And then most people are like "Yeah, that sounds like it might be fun."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Julie Chen Talks Big Brother Strategy

Julie Chen is watching.  For 15 years, she's presided over CBS' Big Brother -- and this past June, on the eve of the debut of the show's 17th season, I sat down with Julie to get

Difficult People to Return

Although the summer season is getting ever-busier, with even broadcast networks debuting new limited-run dramas (CBS' Zoo, ABC's Astronaut Wives' Club, NBC's Aquarius, etc.) for each of the past few years.

For comedy, though, with the exception of this year's two NBC sitcoms Mr. Robinson and The Jerrod Carmichael Show, the only place to go is cable, for offerings like two of my faves this year, Comedy Central's Another Period, and the return of USA's Playing House.

And then there's my favorite new comedy of all, Hulu's Difficult People.  At the TV Critics' convention last month, I asked the show's creator/executive producer Julie Klausner and her co-star Billy Eichner if the show, with its gay man/straight woman duo, might be the new Will & Grace.  It turns out, that's kind of how they originally pitched the show -- with self-deprecating qualifications about how they're less attractive.

That day at TCA, though, Julie and Billy did distance themselves a bit from the 1998-2006 classic NBC sitcom -- because these days, it's so out of fashion to be compared to, God forbid, a multi-camera comedy.  But I do see the connection, and it's a positive one.  If you liked Will & Grace, you'll love Difficult People, which has similarly witty one-liners that will have you laughing out loud.  The show has garnered criticism that its lead characters are "unlikeable" -- but really, I see it as if not Will Truman and Grace Adler but instead their wackier sidekicks, Jack McFarland and Karen Walker, were unleashed on New York.  And even when Karen was upbraiding a waiter or picking on Grace's outfit, I always found her not only likeable, but loveable.

So invest some time in these Difficult People -- particularly because, as we found out today, the show will be returning for a ten-episode second season.  (And check out Julie's hilarious quote in the official NBC Universal press release below.)

Hit Amy Poehler-produced Comedy Starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner from Universal Cable Productions will return for Second Season on Hulu 

SANTA MONICA, CA – August 27, 2015 – Hulu Original Difficult People has been picked up for a second season, the company announced today. Season two will include a 10-episode order.  Following a critically acclaimed debut, the breakout comedy series from executive producers Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Dave Becky (Louie), Tony Hernandez of Jax Media and showrunner Scott King will return for a second season with creator, star and executive producer Julie Klausner and star Billy Eichner. The series is produced by Universal Cable Productions (UCP), a division of NBCUniversal.  

“We have been big fans of Difficult People from day one and are so happy to have Julie and Billy be part of the Hulu family. I cannot wait to see what a whole new season will bring and am pleased to bring more of their hilarious brand of comedy to fans,” said Craig Erwich, SVP, Head of Content, Hulu. 

"From our first meeting with Julie, Billy and Amy, to the spec pilot we shot with them, to Hulu's spectacular and ongoing commitment, this has been a dream of a show.  And I'm not just saying that because I'm afraid of them," said Jeff Wachtel, President, Universal Cable Productions and Chief Content Officer, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment.   

Difficult People hails from Julie Klausner (Billy on the Street) who stars alongside Emmy®-nominated Billy on the Street host Billy Eichner. As best friends living in New York City, their typical, irreverent behavior lands them in some very awkward situations. Klausner and King wrote all episodes of season one and will continue to serve as executive producers for the series. 

"I'm the luckiest girl in the world to be able to make more episodes of Difficult People,” said Klausner. “This must be what it feels like to win the lottery, have a fast metabolism or win an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny." 

The second season of Difficult People comes to Hulu in collaboration with Universal Cable Productions. Amy Poehler’s Paper Kite Productions in conjunction with Dave Becky’s 3 Arts Entertainment and Jax Media will continue to produce the series.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Supergirl and the Four-Timers' Club

It's Supergirl!
Coming soon to CBS
So much has been made in seasons past of mega-successful TV producers who juggle multiple shows on the air, and all the moving parts that must entail.  The feat is made all the more impressive when you note how producers like Dick Wolf and Shonda Rhimes preside over programs that also happen to be among the best in their genres.

Super-successful Shonda Rhimes
Next season, both producers will probably keep their records in tact, with four definite shows for Wolf (granddaddy Law & Order:  SVU plus Chicago Fire and its now two spinoffs, Chicago P.D. and the new Chicago Medical) and probably four for Rhimes (the grandmommy Grey's Anatomy, plus mega-hot Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder and ABC's likely pickup of a new drama, The Catch.)
Prolific producer Dick Wolf

But while those producers have sold their wares all to one network (Wolf at NBC, Rhimes at ABC, and, let's not forget that before this season's finale of Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre had four shows at CBS), undoubtedly leveraging one's popularity to gain pickup for another, yet another megasuccessful producer has emerged, with shows all over the broadcast dial.

Four-timer (and counting) Greg Berlanti
As of Fall 2015, Greg Berlanti will also have at least four shows on the air, with the CW's Arrow and The Flash, NBC's recently picked up suspenser Blindspot, and now CBS' announcement that it has picked up Supergirl to series.  Will NBC break the tie by maintaining a fifth Berlanti series on its airwaves, the on-the-bubble Mysteries of Laura, next season?  We'll find out this coming Monday, May 11, when all things peacock will be revealed.

In the meanwhile, news is just coming out today about Supergirl as CBS' first new series pickup.  That the story broke today is already an impressive feat, considering how secretive CBS normally is about its upfront news; in fact, journalists have nicknamed the secrecy surrounding the network's last-minute programming war room each May "Les Moonves' Cone of Silence."  But with a producer like Berlanti who has clout, he can ask for an early deadline for the decision.

Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist in the title role of Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El, cousin of Superman; the show's pilot, written by Berlanti, Ali Adler and Andrew Kreisberg, starts with Kara at age 24, deciding to embrace her superhuman abilities and becoming a hero.  The impressive cast also contains Calista Flockhart, as Kara's tough boss, Cat Grant; Mehcad Brooks as love interest Jimmy Olsen; Chyler Leigh as Kara's doctor sister, Alex Danvers; David Harewood as supervillain Hank Henshaw aka Cyborg Superman; and Laura Benanti in a recurring role as Kara's birth mother, Alura Zor-El.  All that, plus the news that broke a few months back that this adaptation will bring back some faces familiar to Superman fans, with Helen Slater (big-screen Supergirl) and Dean Cain (Lois & Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman) cast in "secret roles."

No word yet from CBS as to whether the show will debut in Fall 2015, or "midseason" (even though CBS President Nina Tassler has officially banished that word), or in what time slot.  That news will come on Wednesday, May 13, as CBS rolls out its upfront presentation at New York's Carnegie Hall.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ed Sheeran tonight on Undateable LIVE

Well at least one of the cats is out of the bag, whether NBC wanted it that way or not.  (And it's a good one!)

As he announced today on Twitter, Ed Sheeran is among the high-wattage guests joining tonight's live episode of Undateable.  The Detroit-set sitcom is a great show you may not yet be watching -- so check it out tonight, live from 9-10 PM Eastern and Pacific.

randomly, i'm gonna be on tonight for my dude , should be fun, tune in. lots of fun to be had

Monday, May 4, 2015

In tribute to Ellen Albertini Dow, 1913-2015

Ellen Albertini Dow, then 85, performs
The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"
in the 1998 film The Wedding Singer
In the spring of 2006, as I was researching my book on The Golden Girls, I was lucky to get the chance to have lunch with Ellen Albertini Dow, a frequent guest star on the show but perhaps best known to the world as the "Rapping Granny" in Adam Sandler's 1998 film The Wedding Singer.

Ellen, who died earlier today at age 101, had an extraordinary life, from her beginnings as the daughter of immigrant Italian parents in Mt. Carmel, PA, through her Ivy League education at Cornell University, her long and loving marriage to fellow actor Eugene Dow, an early vocation in New York and Los Angeles as an esteemed acting teacher, and finally, beginning only in her 70s, a successful career in TV and film.

At 92, Ellen drove herself that day in her zippy little car to Cable's Restaurant in Woodland Hills, where she was clearly a regular presence and favorite customer.  We talked about The Golden Girls and so much more, and she shared with me the behind-the-scenes story of just how she came to perform the Wedding rap for which she'll always be beloved.

My husband Gene went with me to the auditions for The Wedding Singer, way up in Chatsworth, on a beautiful, sunny day.  I had already done Sister Act 1 and 2, and I study and read music.  Gene and I had prepared the song "'Til There Was You," and so when they asked me to sing I was ready.  I sang it without accompaniment, and they loved it.  They said, "We have to have you come back tomorrow and read with Adam Sandler."
Adam and the director Frank Coraci had gone to NYU together, and they were like two teenagers when they were together, laughing and cutting up.  They were funny, but actually they annoyed me when I was first there, because I was trying to concentrate on my song.  For a while at first, we would rehearse scenes, and I would always just be singing "'Til There Was You."  But then, one day, they said "We have an idea."
They hadn't thought of it at the beginning, but now they started wondering if it would be funny to have an older woman perform a rap song.  Well, I had never heard of rap!  I had no idea what it was.  I'm not sure, but I think I remember they gave me a cassette tape beforehand of this song, and set up a date to go to a sound studio on Santa Monica Boulevard to record it.  Well, thank God for Sister Act, and for Marc Shaiman, whom I adore,  because now I had experience in the sound booth.  
There I was with the headphones on, and they start playing "the hip, hip a hop, and you don't stop, a rock it."  Frank and Adam were there, going over it with me.  Well, rhythm isn't something that bothers me, because I've danced all my life.  So I asked the guys, "May I move to it?"  And once I got started, they couldn't believe it.  My husband was up in the booth, and he told me later they came over to him and said, "Can you believe this?  She's getting it right!"  My husband knew I would, and just acted really cool about it.    The next day, we did a table read of the script, and I hadn't realized that I'd amazed them.  But Adam Sandler announced to everyone, "Ellen got it!"  I remember everyone laughing and applauding.
When we shot the scene, I didn't want to lip synch.  So I performed the whole song again, even though I'd already recorded it.  There was something about these people, and about Adam who was so very very nice to me, that made me feel comfortable.  So even though this was a whole new thing for me, I asked them if I could do some little movements I'd worked out to go with certain lyrics.  And it just worked.
"Rapper's Delight" was so different for me, and I still don't know any other song of rap, or know anything about any other rapper.  But the song has stayed with me.  "And I'd like to say hello, to the black, the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow."  I still sing it often, if I need a little lift.

-- Ellen Albertini Dow, March 15, 2006 

Live and "Undateable," Tuesday night on NBC

The cast of Undateable, l-r:
 Ron Funches, Rick Glassman, Bridgit Mendler,
Brent Morin, Chris D'Elia, David Fynn, Bianca Kajlich
If you haven't yet caught on to Undateable, NBC's hip revitalization of the classic multi-camera sitcom, Tuesday, May 5 is your night.

The show's executive producer Bill Lawrence has long been an impresario when it comes to promoting his shows -- this is the guy who took his Cougar Town cast to bars across the USA, and his Undateable actors, most of whom are stand-ups, on a nationwide tour of comedy clubs.

Lawrence and the latter show's creator Adam Sztykiel have bent the sitcom form on-screen as well, allowing their Undateable actors to improv lines and physical bits, many of which end up in the episodes' final cuts.

Now, the innovations continue, as Undateable joins only a handful of sitcoms to broadcast live; the show is now in illustrious company, with such greats as 30 Rock, Will & Grace and Hot in Cleveland. (In a format similar to 30 Rock or W&G's live broadcasts, Undateable will air live at 9PM, in two separate versions for the East and West coasts.)

But Undateable's live episode is noteworthy in one other respect:  the show will be an hour long and therefore, as Lawrence and Sztykiel promise, full of surprises and special guests.

Undateable creator Adam Sztykiel (r)
with stars Ron Funches and Rick Glassman
Joining series regulars Brent Morin (Justin), Chris D'Elia (Danny), Bianca Kajlich (Leslie), Rick Glassman (Bursky), Ron Funches (Shelly), David Fynn (Brett) and Bridgit Mendler (Candace) will be a troupe of Lawrence loyalists -- such as his wife and Cougar Town star Christa Miller and Scrubs stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison --as well as Kate Walsh, Victoria Justice and even Dr. Drew Pinsky.  And then, mixing into this super-sized musical episode set during a musical competition in Detroit's Black Eyes Bar, there will be at least one surprise guest whom the network will tease only as a "super-popular Grammy Award-nominated musician."

Lawrence describes the live episode as "half scripted sitcom, half variety show." Though he compliments earlier shows on their own live installments, he notes that "this will not feel in the same vein as theirs did."

Undateable's regular tapings already have an anything-can-happen feel, he explains, with actors going off on long, unscripted tangents or even calling out audience members who think they can better perform a given bit.  The show's May 5 episode will have more of the same craziness.  "NBC, and [its president] Bob Greenblatt love live television -- they did The Sound of Music and Peter Pan.  And they love this cast.  But what they don't realize is, these are all people who take great pleasure in making each other fuck up.  When you critics aren't here, Chris D'Elia is taunting Brent, 'I'm going to make you laugh, make you forget your lines, and make you look like an idiot.'  So this is going to be torture, but I'm very excited about it."

Undateable EP Bill Lawrence
For Tuesday's episode, NBC has been wise to add a 6- to 8-second tape delay to the broadcast, to accommodate a cast quite fond of four-letter words.  But other than that concern, the network seems quite on board with the broadcast -- and by extension, all of Undateable, which after One Big Happy's season finale last week now stands as the sole comedy on NBC.  Both shows await news of their renewal or cancellation, which will be delivered at NBC's upfront presentation on May 11.  If the news coming out of New York's Radio City Music Hall that day is good, it'll be partially due to Lawrence and Sztykiel's careful cultivation of their audience, which they see as a necessity for comedies to survive on network TV these days.

"I don't know what to do to get noticed anymore," Lawrence says, "but I certainly do like trying to push the envelope [in promoting the shows]."  With Undateable's live episode, "people will either dig it, or think that it's insane.  But if I'm going to roll the dice with these clowns," he adds, gesturing towards his cast spread around the room, "I'd rather take a big shot than just do what people have done before."

Live episode Tuesday, May 5
9PM Eastern and Pacific

Monday, February 23, 2015

Life Goes On on Home & Family

Check out the latest reunion of a beloved TV clan:  on today's episode of The Hallmark Channel's fun, informal talk show Home & Family, it's the cast of Life Goes On, the groundbreaking 1989-93 ABC drama centered on the Thacher family, and particularly on their son Corky, living with Down Syndrome.

Life Goes On stars, L-R:
Kellie Martin, Chris Burke, Patti LuPone
For their interview on today's show, the actor who played Corky, Chris Burke, is reunited with his TV mother and sister Patti LuPone and Kellie Martin.  LuPone gets teary after not having seen Burke for years.  But for Burke and Martin this is not so much a reunion; because Chris currently lives in New York, where he works for the National Down Syndrome Society, he has been spending this visit to L.A. staying with Martin and her family.

If like me, you're a fan of the show, you'll love this reunion, with Chris revealing the process by which he won the role, Kellie pulling out an old pair of Becca's very '80s glasses, and the whole cast attempting a singalong of the show's theme song, The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di" -- but not quite remembering the words.

And for good measure, there's another classic TV star, Happy Days' Henry Winkler, on today's show as well, charming and funny as he discusses his series of Here's Hank books, wherein the hero, like Henry himself, has dyslexia.

On today's Home & Family, L-R:
Matt Iseman, Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns
Mark Steines, Patti LuPone, Kellie Martin, Chris Burke
Later in the show, there's a fun segment where Home & Family hosts Mark Steines, Matt Iseman and Brooke Burns (subbing for the vacationing Cristina Ferrare) play a game based on Happy Days trivia.  I won't tell you who wins -- but let's just say that, while Mr. Winkler makes sure to tell Patti LuPone early on how much he loved her in Evita, it soon becomes clear that Patti was too busy on Broadway in the '70s and '80s to have watched much TV.

"I watched you..." the former Fonz tells her, feigning insult.

Home & Family
The Hallmark Channel
Today, Monday Feb 23
10 AM Eastern / 9 AM Central