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

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Morning with Chuck Barris: No Gongs!

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Chuck Barris for an entire morning, as we conducted an interview about the TV game show impresario's life and career for the Archive of American Television.

In the interview, which will be available for viewing online sometime in the months ahead, the amiable Barris talked about his creation of three shows which changed the nature of the entire genre: The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show -- among others.

That last one, along with the $1.98 Beauty Show, was one of my earliest -- and trippiest -- TV memories. I hadn't known that Barris ended up hosting The Gong Show after its original host, Real People's John Barbour, left (he wanted the show to be more of a genuine talent show, rather than showcasing deliberately bad "talent.")

And yes, I did bring up Barris' claim, from his 1982 memoir Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, that at the same time as he was working on game shows, he was also traveling the world as a secret CIA assassin. And as for the veracity of the claim: I still don't know. Whatever Barris knows, he's not telling. Which either makes him my most eccentric interviewee yet -- which is saying something, compared to a few of the others! -- or a pretty good CIA guy, good at keeping quiet.

The interview, at New York's Parker Meridien hotel, went right up to the present day, including his 7th book, just released June 1 by Simon & Schuster: Della: a Memoir of My Daughter. Barris' only child Della died in 1998 at age 36, of a drug overdose. I haven't read the book yet, but from the very frank and moving things Barris had to say about his beloved daughter during our time together, I can imagine it's very moving.

The interviews work chronologically, and so this new book was the last project we discussed. In a way, it was a tough way to end our time together, which had included a lot of laughs as Chuck looked back at some of the wackiest moments from his shows -- yes, we discussed the "In the butt, Bob" Newlywed moment.

But heck, I was just happy I didn't get the Gong!

Just Sayin'...

It was nice that the Tonys remembered some of my favorite performers in this year's In Memoriam segment, like Dixie Carter, and Lena Horne, and Lynn Redgrave, and Rue McClanahan.

It would have been even nicer if they'd spelled Rue's name correctly...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

That Guy! Denis O'Hare

TV Squad's fun interview with a friend, an amazing actor who already has a Tony for Take Me Out and who's now really about to get his due in terms of name recognition starting tonight, with the debut of season 3 of True Blood. Click here: That Guy! Denis O'Hare

Friday, June 11, 2010

Larry the Whale on Ellen

This isn't TV breaking news, but I just had to share.

The fact that such beautiful animal species continue to shepherd us -- despite how we abuse them and our planet -- is proof enough to me that there is a God.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Reminiscences about Rue

For my remembrances of meeting Rue McClanahan, check out this piece, which I wrote for Memories of Rue McClanahan and 'The Golden Girls' as Gay Icons

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Heart Betty, and Hot in Cleveland

2010 has been the year of Betty White. And now that we've lost her fellow Golden Girl Rue McClanahan, we need to show Betty the love more than ever. That's why I was glad to see a batch of new goodies available on Facebook, care of Betty's new TVLand sitcom Hot in Cleveland, which debuts on June 16.
Click here for your very own Betty button -- and a bunch of other Cleveland-related stuff!

RIP Rue McClanahan 1934-2010

This is too much. For those of us raised on TV in the '80s, it seems like our small screens are collapsing in on us. First in the past 2 years, we lose Golden Girls Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur. Then, a few months back, a shock when Designing Women's Dixie Carter passed away. Last week, there was Diff'rent Strokes' Gary Coleman, at only age 42. And today, I was so sad to hear about the passing of the beloved Rue McClanahan.

Back in 2006, I had the honor of interviewing Rue, Bea and Betty White in their respective homes, as I did research for my book The Q Guide to The Golden Girls. None of the ladies disappointed -- they were all as fun and vibrant as you'd ever hope -- and the days I spent with them have become fodder for some stories I've even told on stage as of late.

My interviews with Bea and Betty were audio only -- but with Rue, I lucked out, and was able to combine forces with the Archive of American Television. The result is an hours-long, up-close-and-personal portrait of the lady, covering everything from birth through her late career (off camera, Rue hinted that she was talking about doing a new series, which ended up being Del Shores' wonderful Sordid Lives.)

Here's the link to Part 1 of Rue's interview. I just rewatched it, and was struck all over again how charming and funny she was. We'll always love you, Rue!