Friday, August 28, 2009

Mad Men yourself

Hey, everybody! If you're a huge fan like me of AMC's signature series, why not Mad Men yourself? Here I am, pitching a new '60s sitcom. It's Get Smart meets The Munsters by way of Green Acres. Guaranteed 100 episodes, 40 share (this is the 3-network days of the '60s, remember?)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Night Among the Ladies of L.A.

Tonight I was lucky enough to have to make some tough choices about what to do in L.A. I had originally planned to attend a taping of Jenna Elfman's new CBS sitcom Accidentally On Purpose.

But then, I ran into the showrunner for Lifetime's Rita Rocks, now filming episodes for its upcoming second season. That show's taping, he tipped me off, would feature guest star Swoosie Kurtz. I hatched a plan to attend both tapings, since their soundstages are right near each other on CBS' Radford lot. I'd slip back and forth between the two shows, and compare which had better craft service catering.

But ultimately, due to a snafu with the audience list at Rita Rocks, I ended up spending all my time on the Radford lot at Accidentally on Purpose. The show was created by former Knots Landing actress and now prolific sitcom writer Claudia Lonow, based on a memoir by San Francisco-based writer Mary Pols about getting knocked up after a one-night stand. And it's quite fun, relying heavily on Elfman's quirky charm as lead character Billie and some really great supporting players like Lennon Parham as Billie's sister. The episode taped tonight will air as the show's 4th, and features Elfman's character padded as to look slightly visibly pregnant. Of course the irony is that co-star Ashley Jensen is actually pregnant, but spent this episode hiding her much larger belly unconvincingly behind a file folder, a shopping bag, etc.

But although I was enjoying Accidentally on Purpose, I couldn't stick around to see how this particular episode works out, so I'll just have to catch it on TV this fall. Because tonight here in
L.A., the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a program that was too good to resist (and I'd have to turn in my gay card if I even tried.)

I've been obsessed with the 1959 Lana Turner-Juanita Moore-John Gavin film Imitation of Life for as long as I can remember. For a while there in the '90s, it was on cable seemingly every day, and I must have watched it 20 times. Well tonight, in honor of the Douglas Sirk film's 50th anniversary, the Academy screened a restored print -- and presented a talk-back panel afterwards with the 86-year-old Moore, who played black housekeeper Annie, and Susan Kohner, aka Annie's white-looking mixed-race daughter Sara Jane. Both actresses were nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for their roles.

The incredible Moore, who got a long standing ovation on her entrance and applause for every sentence she said, talked about being chosen for the film by producer Ross Hunter despite the studio's insistence on a bigger star name like Pearl Bailey, Ethel Waters or Mahalia Jackson (who still does appear in one of the film's most famous moments, singing Gospel at Annie's funeral.) And even more revealing, Moore recounted how when Lana Turner was enduring her daughter Cheryl Crane's trial for murdering gangster Johnny Stompanato, she would come in to work every morning crying, and asking her co-star for advice -- while calling her by her character's name, Annie.

After the panel, which was hosted by Kohner's son, film producer Paul Weitz, and film critic Stephen Farber, the crowd descended on the two actresses, overwhelming them for autographs. Among the crowd, I spotted a few famous faces, like Everybody Loves Raymond's Doris Roberts, and a favorite of Frank's, David Hedison from the '60s series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And here's an exclusive: I overheard Roberts being asked to return September 25, when the Academy will be hosting a similar evening for the 30th anniversary of the film The Rose. Bette Midler, who will be on a break from her show in Las Vegas, will be there. And if the night is anywhere near as fabulous as tonight, so should you! (For the Academy's event and ticket info, click here.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is Ted a Mad Man?

This morning in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of stopping by the set of Better Off Ted, aka "the best new show you may not yet be watching." For a few hours, I was happy to step into a lab deep within the bowels of the Veridian Corporation, where Phil and Lem -- aka the hysterically funny Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett -- fretted over a small cosmetic change in their premises which I can't tell you about.

From Victor Fresco, the creator of the cancelled-too-soon Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Better Off Ted films at the LA Center Studios on the edge of downtown, a complex I'd frankly never heard of before visiting the set of Mad Men there last year during the Television Critics' Convention. Turns out, CBS' Numb3rs is shot there, too, as will be The Station, the new comedy pilot for FOX from producer Ben Stiller .

But here's the fun bit of trivia I discovered today: while the lab and other sets like Ted's apartment are constructed on soundstages, Veridian's main office setup, cubicles and all, is filmed on a converted, formerly real office floor within the complex (which houses not just TV and film productions depicting corporate types but real corporate types as well, in fields like advertising. )

Mad Men's offices are also constructed on a floor within the same building. So watch Better Off Ted, then watch Mad Men, and then compare. Apart from the cosmetic changes in set dressing, the two office floors will look eerily similar. They have the same bones, because the Veridian Dynamics of the 21st Century and the Sterling-Cooper ad agency of the 1960s are located mere floors away from each other.

Better Off Ted debuted with a short run this past spring, and then returned to air 7 new episodes over the summer. Unfortunately for Ted, not a single broadcast network show in any genre -- comedy, drama or even reality -- which aired this summer got any kind of decent ratings. So I hope when Ted returns to ABC as a replacement for midseason (or earlier, depending upon the health of the network's other shows), execs will show some patience
for this so-far undiscovered, but worth discovering, gem.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Bea Arthur Residence for LGBT Youth

In November of 2005, Golden Girls star Bea Arthur staged a special, one-night only version of her earlier 2002 one-woman Broadway show as a benefit for New York's Ali Forney Center. Bea was always a friend of the gay community, and that night, worked to raise $40,000 for the construction of housing for homeless gay and transgender youth. (I got to meet Bea backstage that night, which I later wrote about in The Q Guide to The Golden Girls. See photo at right.)

Now, after the beloved actress' death this past April, The Ali Forney Center will be naming its first purchased residence (up until now the charity has worked solely with rented space) in honor of Bea. The Center will make the formal announcement at a memorial service being held for Bea on September 14 at New York's Majestic Theater.

See the press release below for additional details.


August 18 | 365gay Newswire

The Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth, will formally announce it’s plan to name a residence for LGBT youth in honor of Bea Arthur at her memorial service on September 14th at the Majestic Theater in New York City. The Ali Forney Center is working with a group of Bea’s close friends and colleagues to plan the memorial service.

“Bea Arthur was tremendously kind and generous to the Ali Forney Center,” says Carl Siciliano, Founder and Executive Director. “The caring and concern that Bea expressed for our kids meant the world to us, and we are thrilled to be able to give honor to her memory in this way.”

In November of 2005, Bea flew to New York City from her home in Los Angeles in order to give a special benefit performance of her one-woman show. The performance raised over $40,000 for the Ali Forney Center.

In an interview for Next Magazine Bea explained her decision to offer her support. “I’m very, very involved in charities involving youth and the plight of foster children. But these kids at the Ali Forney Center are literally dumped by their families because of the fact that they are lesbian, gay, or transgender – this organization really is saving lives.” Bea continued to offer her support, both as a donor and as an advocate. In one of her very last interviews, published in the New York Blade in May 2008, Bea spoke with pride of having done the benefit for the Ali Forney Center, and indicated that she would do anything to help gay kids disowned by their parents.

The Ali Forney Center currently offers eight residential sites in New York City to provide shelter and housing to homeless LGBT youth, all of which it rents. The Oak Foundation has recently provided the Ali Forney Center with generous financial support in order to purchase housing sites. The Ali Forney Center is committed to naming its first purchased site the Bea Arthur Residence for LGBT Youth.

“Before Bea became involved with us, we only had two sites, and could only shelter 12 kids.” says Siciliano. “We were struggling to respond to an epidemic of homelessness that was not very well understood, even in the LGBT community. Bea’s support and advocacy really helped raise awareness in our community. Bea Arthur played a crucial part in our efforts to expand our capacity to respond to the hundreds of LGBT youths who come to us for help. She feels very much like a patron saint!”

The Ali Forney Center is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth.AFC currently provides eight residential sites offering emergency shelter and longer-term housing, and additionally provides two drop-in centers, which offer medical care, mental health treatment, HIV prevention, testing and treatment, housing and benefit assistance, and job training and placement services. The mission of the Ali Forney Center is to help homeless LGBT youth be safe and become independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood. Ali Forney was a queer youth who was murdered on the streets in 1997, when there was no safe shelter for LGBT youth in NYC.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sherri comes to Lifetime October 5

Last Friday in New York City, I attended the taping of the first regular episode (after the pilot) of Lifetime's new sitcom Sherri, starring The View's Sherri Shepherd.

I first came to be a fan of Shepherd's during her days on ABC's Less Than Perfect, and in her guest roles as Robert's police partner on Everybody Loves Raymond. She's a naturally funny comic actress, and brings that same charm to Sherri, which is based loosely on her own earlier life as an aspiring actress/paralegal who divorces and reenters the dating scene after finding out that her husband has impregnated another young woman.

Lifetime is obviously high on the show, and here's how you can tell: they've built the show an expensive new studio right in the heart of Manhattan. The show's warmup comic that night bragged that this is the only sitcom to have taped in Manhattan -- well, maybe he meant in recent years, because Spin City taped at Chelsea Piers, and then there was Kate & Allie at the Ed Sullivan Theater back in the '80s. But he's mostly right: on the rare occasion that we New Yorkers do get a hometown-produced comedy, those shows tend to film out in the wilds of Queens, a long subway shlep from Manhattan.

But for Sherri, Lifetime has combined the former studios of Maury Povich's and Sally Jesse Raphael's talk shows -- by knocking out a wall -- and created the rare Manhattan space large enough to house standing proscenium sets and a live audience. Tucked away in the former ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across from Penn Station, hopefully this studio will be a gift to us New York writers for generations to come, even beyond Sherri's days on the air.

And so back to Sherri -- the show is well written and quite fun, surrounding Shepherd herself with a funny cast of coworkers, including one I loved in her role as a white homegirl on Whoopi, Elizabeth Regen. And since Lifetime seems to be a bit more patient than the broadcast networks to let its shows build, I would expect that Sherri won't have much trouble building a following from among the network's female audience, to which it has such built-in appeal.

The episode I saw had a fun guest star, Kym Whitley, whom I loved in the film Deliver Us From Eva. And the pilot featured an appearance by Tichina Arnold, late of Everybody Hates Chris and whom I just saw stealing the show as Evillene in the recent Broadway production of The Wiz.

Sherri will premiere on Monday, October 5 at 7 PM, leading into Lifetime's returning successful sitcom Rita Rocks. The two shows will air every night from Monday to Friday of that week, and will then move into their regular Tuesday 10-11 PM block.

And October 5 will be a big day for Shepherd, by the way -- her book Permission Slips: Every Woman's Guide to Giving Herself a Break also comes out that day, from Grand Central Publishing.