Friday, August 10, 2012

Annie Potts Talks Turkey about GCB and Chick-Fil-A

Annie Potts as Gigi Stopper in the woefully short-lived GCB.
By the time in 1986 when Annie Potts showed up on the small screen in the role for which she will always be best remembered, Designing Women's Mary Jo Shively, I'd already loved her for years.  Anyone who came of age in the '80s may remember Potts' brilliant best-friend role in 1986' Pretty in Pink, or her wacky Ghostbusters receptionist Janine in both the original 1984 film and its 1989 sequel.

After Designing Women ended in '93, Potts went on to many more TV roles; the Kentucky native was awfully convincing to me as the Italian-American chef Dana Palladino, when she replaced Susan Dey as the female lead in the final two seasons of CBS' underrated sitcom Love & War.  Later, Potts headlined Lifetime's 1998-2002 series Any Day Now, and has also had regular or recurring roles on Huff, Joan of Arcadia, Men in Trees and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

But of all Potts' roles, it was GCB about which I was most excited in recent years, bringing her back to the Southern milieu in which we all know she particularly shines.  I was shocked in May when ABC announced the show's cancellation -- surely the network could have given this fun romp of a show more of a chance to grow.

With the at that point soon-to-be GCB star Annie Potts
at the TCA convention in Pasadena, CA
January 2012
This past January, as GCB was about to make its debut, I had met Potts at the Television Critics of America conference in Pasadena, and took the photo, at right; both of us were full of hope that GCB would be ABC's next big soapy hit.  Cut to last week, at the TCA Summer conference in Beverly Hills, when I again spoke with Potts at a luncheon given by the Hallmark Channel, where the actress will be appearing in the TV movie The Music Teacher later this year.  It's always a pleasure talking with her, because of the way she answers questions; she speaks slowly, every word clearly being carefully chosen.  And so when Annie Potts speculates about the reasons behind GCB's premature demise, and about being a Southerner in the age of Chick-Fil-A, I'm that much more excited to listen.  Our interview, below:

Must Hear TV:  There’s a campaign out there to save GCB, if you’ve seen it on Facebook and Twitter.  Do you think it’ll have any effect?

I know.  But I believe if it was going to have any effect, then it would have had an effect already, regrettably.  Really regrettably.  Ah, GCB, RIP!  Bummer.

MHTV:  What do you think happened?

I think a lot of different things.  I think our ratings could have been a little better.  But you know they hardly give anything a chance.  I think if they’d given us a little time, we could have done better.  I think in the end, there were some advertising problems, because big advertisers had had some complaints.  If they get 10 emails going, “We don’t think you should be advertising during that…”  People got all flustered about what they thought we were, without seeing what we were doing.

MHTV:  Where were these people when the novel Good Christian Bitches [on which the show was based] came out?  It had the word “Bitches” in the title, and GCB didn’t even have that.

Yes, but I think it was implied.   There are some who were associated with it who felt like if we’d just named it something else, like “Homemade Sin” or something, that people wouldn’t have gotten their feathers ruffled from the get-go.  And that maybe we could have [lasted.]

MHTV:  It’s a shame people could be so closed-minded.  Not even seeing a show, yet three initials gets them riled up.

We could have named it “WTF,” and really pissed people off!

MHTV:  I wonder if that would have pissed Christians off as much as the idea that they think they’re being made fun of, with “GCB.”

I don’t know.  My Christian friends welcomed it, because I think everybody likes to smoke out hypocrisy when they can.  It’s like, “Hello, do you see how you’re saying one thing and doing another?”  So I felt that there was a lot of support in the Christian community.  But it only takes a few.

If you haven't heard, Chick-fil-A has
long supported hate groups like
the National Organization for Marriage
which advocate against gay rights.
Please don't patronize Chick-fil-A!
MHTV:  Speaking of Christians and the South, we happen to be in this moment right now where there’s a culture war going on, and Chick-fil-A has gotten itself embroiled.  You’re a Southerner, and you have obviously worked with gay people in Hollywood.  Do you have an opinion about this controversy?

Yes, I know about it.  I think maybe the problem is people having opinions on it.  I think if whoever is the head of Chick-fil-A had not espoused a bigoted opinion – it’s like, what does anybody care who people love?  They should be more interested in that they love.  Isn’t that what everybody’s supposed to be doing, and not be judgmental about who?  But, see, I’m judging him saying that.

MHTV:   I’m judging him too.  Because even if he’s entitled to his opinion, he’s supporting suppression of my rights with money we might be spending on his chicken sandwiches.

Yes, well I won’t eat there.  That’s all.  I grew up in a little town, and if somebody did something you didn’t like, my daddy would just say “We don’t trade there anymore.”  And I’d say, “We’ve been going to that gas station for 15 years!”  And he’d say, “We don’t trade there anymore.”  So I would say to Chick-fil-A, if people want to change things, then you just say, “We don’t trade there anymore.”

Of course, with the power of the media now, that’s essentially the same thing kind of closed GCB down.  People saying, “We’re not going to trade there.  We’re not going to tune into that show.”  Well fine, you don’t tune into the show.  And just keep it to yourself.

MHTV:  I thought it was a loving portrayal of Texans.  Yes, it pointed out hypocrisy, but I think everybody knows that that’s an element of Texas and of Big Religion.   I didn’t think it made particular fun of them.

I don’t think so either.   I know that it was not the intent of our creator, and our writers, who were almost all Christian.  Church every Sunday Christians.

MHTV:  This means we have another opportunity to bring you back to network television.  Do you have anything in your sights?

I’m trying to develop something right now.  But that is a long row to hoe always.  I love doing series television.  I’m a real workhorse in that way.  I love the work.  The work is hard, and the hours are long, but it’s what I’ve done for most of my adult life, and that’s what I like to do.

MHTV:  TV more than film at this point?  There are so many films fans love you in, too.

I think there are more opportunities for me in television.  Most movies are made for 14-year-old boys.

MHTV:  You’d have to be the long-suffering mom in film at this point.

I am a long-suffering mother.  So I would be happy to play that role.  But I think the roles are just better, with a little more complexity, in TV.

MHTV:  What kind of character would you like to play next?  A Southern woman again, or do you want to mix it up?

I always like to mix it up.  Although I think on television, there is some evidence that the kind of closer you are to the character you’re playing, the more successful you are.  And playing Southerners is something I really like to do.  I know them well, and I like to do that because I feel like sometimes Southerners aren’t portrayed as if they are complex characters.  And I always beg to differ on that.  And also, when you are playing a Southerner, you can say the most awful things and get away with it!

MHTV:  As long as it’s followed with “Bless your heart,” right?

That’s right.  So there are benefits to that, especially on TV.