Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cleveland Rewrites Miami, and "Americain," History

This week, if you've tuned in to The View, or The Joy Behar Show, or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or... hell, if you've been conscious, you've probably seen one of the ladies of TVLand's promising new original sitcom, Hot In Cleveland, out on the talk show circuit.

The show, TVLand's first original comedy, has an impressive pedigree: it was created by Suzanne Martin, who once worked on Frasier, and executive produced by Sean Hayes, whom we all love from one of my favorite comedies ever, Will & Grace. And its cast hails from long-running shows we all have loved: Valerie Bertinelli from One Day at a Time, Wendie Malick from Dream On and Just Shoot Me, and Jane Leeves, also from Frasier.

But there are other, less obvious sitcom antecedents for Hot In Cleveland, which today received a quite positive review from the hard-to-impress New York Times. Think about it: four women "of a certain age," living together -- Betty White among them. Yes, although the ladies of Cleveland may at first seem younger than Betty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty were in 1985, this just could be this generation's Golden Girls.

Fans have been asking for decades different versions of the question: why are there no comedies like The Golden Girls anymore? Why no comedies about older women? Why no decent network programming on a Saturday night? Why can't they just remake The Golden Girls? Hell, why can't the networks seem to launch very many quality comedies at all anymore? (It's telling that it's taking a cable network to take a chance with these 4 gals in their 40s and beyond.)

I've seen parts of the pilot episode, and the four Cleveland gals are sassy like the Girls -- and Betty is in as fine shape as ever. Yes, of course, they seem much younger and hotter than the Girls ever were -- and that's kind of the generational point. When The Golden Girls launched in 1985, its oldest actress, Betty, was 63, and its youngest, Rue, was not yet 51. And the show featured a character, Sophia, who was in her 80s, even if the actress playing her, Estelle, was in real life much younger.

Demographically, Hot in Cleveland isn't much different. Wendie will turn 60 this December. Its youngest star, Jane, is 49. (Valerie just turned 50.) And it also features a character in her 80s, this time played by a real-life 88-year-old dynamo, Betty.

I think that if Hot in Cleveland is a hit, some day academics will compare it to The Golden Girls, and talk about the shows together show "disenfranchised" women in two different generations. Back then, the Girls were considered old, and banded together to save on expenses, and to guarantee healthcare as they aged. The Hot in Cleveland girls are, in the pilot, women who struggle to stay young in competitive L.A., but by any other city's standard -- namely, Cleveland's -- are still beautiful and desirable. And so, when the four ladies have an emergency stopover in that Ohio city, instead of continuing on their Paris getaway, they decided to stay where they feel desired. Isn't that the 21st Century take on the same theme?

By the way, as long as I'm going on about antecedents, I think it's interesting to note that back in 1993, Valerie Bertinelli headlined another, now-forgotten sitcom, Cafe Americain -- in which her character Holly, also seemingly lost in life, heads for Paris. In that show, there was no airline stopover; Holly made it to Paris, worked in the titular expatriate cafe, and found a love interest in writer Marcel (Maurice Godin.)

So in my trivia-filled mind, I kind of consider Hot in Cleveland to be that show's sequel series, allowing Valerie to find love this time closer to home where we want her. (But Hot in Cleveland writers: I wouldn't mind a cameo from Sofia Milos as model Fabiana Borreli, or the fabulous Jodi Long as the deposed dictator's wife, Madame Ybarra. N'est-ce pas?)

Hot in Cleveland
debuts tonight, June 16
10 PM Eastern/Pacific
TV Land

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