Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall Preview: CBS' Made in Jersey

Made in Jersey stars British import Janet Montgomery

Last season, her second working on the Los Angeles writing staff of Franklin & Bash, the cable drama about two wisecracking men, Dana Calvo realized she had something a little softer to say.

A lifelong fan of female-focused shows like Sex and the City, Calvo says she enjoyed watching that show’s fabulous foursome frolic around Manhattan, “and yet I always felt, ‘Wait, where’s the family?’  So I decided to write a show about a young woman and her life in full – friends, family and work.  I know it’s not really cool to say, but I wanted to write about a family that is warm and loving and wholesome.”

Drawing on memories of Christmases spent with her Italian-American extended family, the Moorestown, NJ native created the comedic drama Made in Jersey and its heroine Martina Garretti, whose life and career straddle both sides of the Hudson River.  A lawyer like Calvo’s own sister, Martina crosses between her homespun life in the Garden State and her new job as a first-year associate at a prestigious New York law firm.  Right away, just as in Working Girl – one of Calvo’s inspirations – Martina catches the attention of the firm’s founder, Donovan Stark (Kyle MacLachlan) with her unique body of knowledge.

Calvo knew that making Made in Jersey work would depend on finding just the right leading lady to convey Martina’s combination of street and book smarts.  “I had a dream that we were going to cast a Jersey girl right off a turnip truck, and her real story would mirror Martina Garretti’s,” Calvo remembers with a laugh.  Instead, after considering more than 100 candidates, producers consulted with their casting director in the UK.  There, in a video audition, was 26-year-old British actress Janet Montgomery.  As Calvo explains, “I saw the tape, and knew right away ‘That’s her!’”

New Jersey has been heating up for more than a decade, from the time of The Sopranos to today’s current spate of reality shows featuring big hair and even bigger drama.  And that’s lucky for an English girl who needs to learn how to tawk.  Montgomery says she’d never previously spent any Jerseylicious time with the state’s Real Housewives – but once she started her research, “those shows are totally addictive.  I watched a lot of them – and then I was told not to, because we don’t want our show to be that over-the-top.  Still, I feel they gave me a good idea of what Martina would have grown up around.”

Montgomery worked with a dialect coach, and says that once she stepped out of her trailer in Martina’s considerable coif and jangly charm bracelet, she was able to find the character’s voice, which she says “now is second nature.  I deliberately started big, but reined it back in to something that, while it’s obviously a working-class accent, shows that she’s also an educated lawyer.”  The actress says she loves that Made in Jersey is a unique hybrid of law procedural and family drama – and so does CBS, so much so that after viewing the original pilot, the impressed network requested the addition of a few more scenes with Martina’s mom (Donna Murphy) and the rest of the garrulous Garrettis.

“Family is really important to knowing who Martina is,” Montgomery explains, adding that her own working-class upbringing as the daughter of a postal worker has given her a particular appreciation for the character.  “I don’t have anyone else in my family working in this industry.  And so this character whose lives at work and at home are so different, and who has a family who are very supportive and yet don’t fully understand her job – it’s been so much like my own life, it’s really amazing.”

Made In Jersey
Premieres Friday, September 28
9 PM Eastern / 8 PM Central

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fall Preview: CBS' Elementary

Elementary stars Lucy Liu and
Jonny Lee Miller

When producer Carl Beverly first posed the idea to Rob Doherty of transplanting Sherlock Holmes to present-day New York, the writer’s response was Elementary.

“I daresay Sherlock is the most popular character in literary pop culture from the last 100 years,” enthuses 
Doherty; perhaps that’s why there have been so many prior filmic depictions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s prototypical detective.  Doherty says it was “one of the wonderful little details that Doyle crafted a very long time ago” that became the key to Elementary, his new CBS series adaptation starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.  The 19th Century Holmes was famously addicted to opiates, “and that’s the way I’ve always looked at him, as an addict,” the writer explains – and not just to drugs.  “He’s driven by and very much addicted to what he does for a living.  He enjoys unfolding the origami of a crime, matching wits with someone who thinks he’s smart enough to get away with something horrible, and bringing that person to justice.”

Yes, this new Holmes does have a literal addiction to deal with, too.  Having just returned from rehab – a vanishing he explained to his local police contact, Captain Toby Gregson (Aidan Quinn), as a holiday in his native London – the hyper-observant detective “was previously used to being so ahead of everyone, and oozed confidence,” Doherty says.  “Now he’s left rattled, concerned that he may not be what he used to.  I liked the idea of a person like him feeling a little bit of doubt for the first time.”

That’s where Lucy Liu’s Dr. Joan Watson comes in.  As a former surgeon haunted by her role in the death of a patient, Watson has now gone into business as a sober companion, hired by Holmes’ concerned dad to keep him in line.  That means accompanying him everywhere, where the new duo finds that “as a doctor, obviously she has many skills in forensic science,” Miller says.  “So Holmes begins to realize that she’s not just a companion, but she’s very useful.”

It was Doherty’s innovation both to alter this Watson’s occupation and to make Watson for the first time a female, who, he says, “has much of the empathy Holmes is missing.  In that way, she completes him.”  As the writer praises, Liu brings her innate strength to Watson, who needs to be able to stand up to this quirky and demanding Holmes. But it’s also their characters’ more vulnerable moments that both Miller and Liu say attracted them to Elementary.  Watson, Liu says, “is not going in with her ‘sober companion’ coat on.  I like that she’s trying to bring a certain sense of humanity and understanding to her client.”

Miller adds that “one of the things that struck me, reading [Doyle’s] books, is how colorful and funny the characters are.”  Doherty fully intends to weave that same wit into Elementary, which is why he is excited that Miller’s embodiment of Holmes exhibits “a warmth, intelligence, and a fantastic sense of humor.”

But perhaps the most important quality that both Miller and Liu are bringing to their new show is  appreciation.  In filming Elementary’s pilot, “the first time I heard Jonny say ‘Watson!’ it was a thrill to be creating that, to be part of history,” Liu reveals.  The British-born Miller feels it, too.  “There’s a reason why the Holmes stories keep being retold and redone,” he theorizes.  “People play Hamlet a lot, and always want to play Shakespeare.  Good stories and good characters come back.” 

Premieres Thursday, September 27
10 PM Eastern / 9 PM Central

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall Preview: CBS' Vegas

Vegas stars (l-r) Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis

This past spring, after actor Michael Chiklis met with Ralph Lamb, the real-life inspiration for Chiklis and Dennis Quaid’s new western drama Vegas, “I walked away from lunch, called my wife, and said, ‘Wow! We have stories for years!”

In the mid 2000s, the MGM movie studio had commissioned a big-screen bio based on Lamb, a fourth-generation rancher who served as Las Vegas’ Sheriff from 1960 to 1978, the period in which the soon-to-be gambling and entertainment mecca was rising from empty desert.  The studio turned to author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, who had already depicted the period in his 1995 film Casino.  But even as the writer’s first outline was delivered, everyone involved realized that with Lamb’s wealth of amazing stories, his life would make a great ongoing series instead.

“It’s kind of what I call the low-hanging fruit of Sheriff Lamb,” says Greg Walker, who, after Pileggi then turned the idea into television, was brought on board as the showrunner of Vegas.  “Every story Lamb tells, you just realize it’s a no-brainer.  They’re filled with such rich detail.  With such vivid characters, you can’t help but think about how his world could come to life on screen.”

Reading Pileggi’s pilot, “I got to page five, and was hooked,” Walker remembers.  “As soon as the DC-6 flew over Lamb’s cattle, I was in.  I loved the clash between the modern world and the Old West.”  Quaid, too, cites that first script as what lured him to play the colorful sheriff in this, his first television series.  Vegas pits Quaid’s Lamb against Chiklis’ Vincent Savino, a Chicago gangster and savvy businessman with designs on the budding gaming empire.  “It’s a story about how all that power corrupts on both sides,” says Quaid.  “Because the lines in Vegas were hazy back then.  It was a different set of rules.”

“In Vegas, you have two men who are thrust into the spotlight of being kings,” Walker explains.  “One who wants it, in Savino, and one who’s reluctant, in Lamb.”  With the face-off between the two men and their allies – including on Lamb’s side, his younger brother Jack (Jason O’Mara) and the town’s Assistant District Attorney Katherine O’Connell (Carrie Ann Moss) – as its underlying construct, “we created a hybrid procedural and character-based drama,” Walker says.  “The show has the adrenaline and satisfaction of solving a mystery, but at the same time, there are multiple characters’ stories getting more and more complicated, with greed, envy and desire whirling around this world of crime.”

With Vegas’ 1960 setting, Lamb and his deputies won’t be enforcing the law using fingerprints or computers or cell phones like in that other Vegas-set mystery, CSI.  “He is also not a guy who’s going to put a gun in people’s faces week to week,” Walker says. “He’s going to solve things with his own hands, man-to-man.”  That type of character, the showrunner says, “is something Dennis is uniquely equipped to play.  There are very few men who have that kind of stillness, that raw, masculine power.  We just don’t build them like that anymore.”

Vegas’ pilot was shot, coincidentally, in the small town of Las Vegas, NM, where an old commercial row, last updated in the early 20th Century, could be gussied up with props and CGI neon to look like the Fremont Street of ‘60s Sin City; the series will build it all from the ground up in Santa Clarita, CA.  Undoubtedly, today’s audience will be paying close attention to all that period detail, because we’re so intrigued by the town’s formative years.

“We’re all interested in how Vegas became Vegas.  Today it’s a fantasy world where you can get anything you want, and to watch how that was made is very captivating,” Walker notes.  Like Lamb, the town itself is a natural for a Hollywood treatment, its story comprising two cinematic archetypes, the cowboy and the mobster.  “These are two worlds that we’re very familiar with, but we haven’t ever seen them together.  When they collide, there’s something very electric.”

Premieres Tuesday, September 25
10 PM Eastern / 9 Central

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Preview: CBS' Partners

Partners stars (l-r):
Brandon Routh, Michael Urie,
David Krumholtz, Sophia Bush

By David Kohan’s estimation, he and Max Mutchnick have been friends for over 35 years, and writing partners for more than 20.  Such a multi-purpose relationship can have its challenges, but Kohan and Mutchnick’s has yielded impressive results; in 1998, drawing on Max’s own real-life experiences, the creative duo brought us TV’s first gay leading man in the landmark sitcom Will & Grace.

Now, much like that long-running hit was the first to capture the age-old relationship between a gay man and his devoted best galpal, the writers’ new, equally autobiographical comedy Partners corners the market on friendship between two men of differing sexual orientations.

Of course, as Kohan notes, their real-life relationship – and thus the one between their Partners alter egos Louis (Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie) and Joe (Numb3rs’ David Krumholtz) – can be muddied by much more than just that one superficial distinction.  “The fact is, our sensibilities about everything are really different.” True to stereotype, Kohan admits, he loves sports, whereas Mutchnick’s tastes run more towards clothes and design.  But their true spark comes more from differences in temperament.  “Max has never met a boundary that he didn’t want to smash, and I deal with my resentment passive-aggressively.  It makes for an interesting contrast.  And so the fact that one of us is straight and one is gay is part of our deal, but it’s not the essential factor.”

As the writer explains, he and Mutchnick were motivated to turn the mirror on themselves in recent years, as they have suddenly found themselves seriously romantically involved with other people.  “For us, it raised a lot of questions about what makes for a great partnership,” Kohan says.  “Where are the pressures?  What are the best forms of communication?  What are the lies that we tell each other?  What are the truths that we tell each other?  And where do the conflicts arise?”  In parsing all of this out in their own real lives, “we realized this seemed like a rich, fertile area for comedy.”

In all, Partners depicts the dynamics of three relationships -- not just between New York architectural design firm partners Louis and Joe, but also those of Louis and his nurse boyfriend Wyatt (Brandon Routh) and of Joe and his now-fiancĂ©e Ali (Sophia Bush) – and shows how the multiple couplings both cross-pollenate and complicate.  As meddlesome Louis, “I get to be Max Mutchnick,” enthuses Urie.  The part, he was pleased to discover, “comes with a lot of inspiration, because these two guys, in their real-life dynamic together, are so entertaining.”

“It’ll be interesting to mine their relationship further as the show goes forward, because they put on a show,” Krumholtz agrees.  “Max and David don’t know it -- or maybe they do -- but their working relationship is very out there for everyone to see, and it’s hilarious.  It’s really just a matter of capturing it on paper, and there’s a lot more there.  I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface with them yet.”

Indeed, Kohan says the nicest surprise so far for him has been to witness how Urie and Krumholtz effortlessly come off as bickering old friends.  But neither actor is surprised by the instant chemistry.  “Any great bromance I’ve ever had is with someone who makes me laugh,” Urie says.  And, Krumholtz adds, “We have the same head for funny.”

Premieres Monday, September 24
8:30 PM Eastern / 7:30 PM Central

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The New Normal Continues a Fine Tradition

Actor Eddie Barbanell appears in
tonight's episode of The New Normal,
"Baby Clothes,"
9:30 PM Eastern on NBC
In their new fall series The New Normal, writers Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler have already created two groundbreaking characters for primetime TV, gay wannabe dads.  Now, with tonight's airing of the series' third episode, the writers will be continuing another pioneering tradition which Murphy has long followed with his acclaimed shows:  providing work and visibility for the disabled community by featuring actor(s) with Down Syndrome.

Back in July at the TV Critics' Association convention in Beverly Hills, I asked Murphy what had inspired him to write a guest-starring spot for actor Blair Williamson on his long-running FX drama Nip/Tuck -- and then to continue to create regular roles for actors with DS on his later shows Glee and American Horror Story.   "It certainly made sense [to include characters with DS] for Glee.  And it made sense when we were [planning] American Horror Story," Murphy explained.  "People ask me that all the time, if I have [Down Syndrome] in my life or if I know somebody.  No, but I've always just been very moved by the stories that I've heard, and I like writing those characters."

Murphy may be responsible for much of the current trend (which of course famously may have begun with actor Chris Burke's role as Corky on the 1989-93 ABC series Life Goes On), but other producers have tapped into Hollywood's community of actors with DS as well; this past February, Entertainment Weekly profiled prominent actors within the community, including Glee's Lauren Potter, The Secret Life of the American Teenager's Luke Zimmerman, and American Horror Story's Jamie Brewer.

The founder of a group called Down Syndrome in Arts & Media (DSiAM), Blair Williamson's mother Gail works with about 200 aspiring actors nationwide, all while advocating to bring attention to the issues which can particularly affect individuals with DS.  Recently, DSiAM was involved in bringing three Glee actresses together for a photo shoot, both to honor that show's commitment to DS and to bring attention to a health problem to which those with Down Syndrome are prone.
Three generations of Glee girls:  (l-r):
Lauren Potter, 22; Jordyn Orr, 8 months; Robin Trocki, 55
Photo by Shandon Youngclaus of Amazing Headshots

Individuals with DS have a high incidence of developing Alzheimer's disease; it's believed this is because an indicator for the disease is located on the triplicate 21st chromosome responsible for DS.  Until the death of her character, Sue Sylvester's older sister Jean, actress Robin Trocki appeared on five episodes of Glee.  Now at 55, Robin is exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease, and her family is coming forward with her story in order to raise funding for medical research.

In Glee's first episode this season, there was no mention of Sue Sylvester's new baby having DS, but a beautiful close-up of her new daughter Robin -- named in honor of Robin Trocki -- made it apparent that the baby, played by 8-month-old Jordyn Orr, has the syndrome.  And so the photo shoot, featuring Glee's three generations of gals with DS -- Trocki, little Jordyn, and 22-year-old Lauren Potter, aka the deliciously devilish Cheerio/Sue Sylvester henchman Becky Jackson -- was planned, as Gail Williamson explains, "for Robin to meet Jordyn Orr while she still has memory of her work on Glee."

"Researchers are hopeful that they will have a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s before Lauren Potter reaches the age for symptoms," Williamson says hopefully.  "And just think of what kind of medical intervention they may have by the time Jordyn Orr reaches adulthood."

left-to-right:  Lauren Potter, Jordyn Orr, Gail Williamson, Robin Trocki
Photo by Shandon Youngclaus of Amazing Headshots
(For those in the Los Angeles area:  this Thursday, September 20 at 7 PM, Gail and Blair Williamson, along with Potter, Brewer, Zimmerman and other actors with DS will be appearing for a SAG/AFTRA-sponsored panel discussion, "Ready and Able:  Working Actors with Down Syndrome."  Click here for more info.)

A Still-Golden Anniversary: 20 Years Since Debut of Failed Spinoff Golden Palace

For seven seasons, The Golden Girls brought groundbreaking comedy to the small screen, and made icons of its four leading ladies.  Then in 1992, three of the Girls packed up the house on Miami’s Richmond Street, and moved to the beach – and to CBS.

The Cast of Golden Palace (1992-93).
  Back:  Cheech Marin as chef Chuy Castillos;
Don Cheadle as desk clerk Roland Wilson;
Billy L. Sullivan as Oliver Webb;
Front:  Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Estelle Getty
With schoolteacher Dorothy Zbornak now married and living in Atlanta – after actress Bea Arthur had opted out of The Golden Girls, thus ending the series – her roommates Blanche and Rose moved to Golden Palace, making the odd, life-changing decision to invest their savings in the show’s titular hotel.  Stranger still, Dorothy had even left her by now nearly nonagenarian mother Sophia behind; soon, after some financial miscalculations, the three women found themselves putting in backbreaking hours of cooking and cleaning as the Art Deco District’s most unlikely hoteliers.

Producer Tony Thomas remembers the decision to take the three remaining Girls in such a new direction.  “You don’t replace Bea – it would have been ridiculous to have someone try,” he explains.  Thomas says that he and fellow producers, Golden Girls creator Susan Harris and her husband Paul Witt, “have always liked the idea of doing a show about life in a hotel.  There’s something appealing about a core cast in such a transient setting.”

“We wanted to show these woman as still vital and active,” Witt adds.  “So taking over a small hotel would put them in contact on a regular basis with interesting people, and keep them active as they learned to do something different.  We couldn’t do ‘Golden Girls Redux’ or ‘Golden Girls Continued.’  We had to make it different and hopefully comfortable.”

The Old College Try

The cast of Golden Palace boasted not only three sitcom heavyweights in Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, but also comedy legend Cheech Marin, and future House of Lies star Don Cheadle as the hotel’s desk clerk, Roland Wilson.  And like the Girls before it, Palace also boasted some of today’s hottest comedy writing talents among its staff. 

But writer Mitchell Hurwitz, who would later create CBS’ sitcom The Ellen Show before finding fame with Arrested Development, remembers his colleagues’ unease with the Palace premise from the start.  “People really related to The Golden Girls.  The husband leaves, which was something a lot of women had gone through in that generation,” he notes.  But with Golden Palace, “now we were asking the audience to relate to having to run and manage a hotel, and clean the rooms yourself.  It was an interesting premise, which created a lot of opportunities for comedy, but it wasn’t what people came to The Golden Girls for.”

In the 2006 interview I conducted, via the Archive of American Television, with McClanahan, who died in 2010, she also remembered the difficulties in transferring her character Blanche to the new seaside setting.  “We gave it the good old college try, but [Golden Palace] wasn’t the right thing to do.  It took the center out of the characters as they had been established – particularly Blanche.  She had to become a businesswoman, and run a hotel.  How did she learn how to do that?  Where did that come from?  It required more out of the Blanche character than ever before, and I found it very hard to find the way to play it.”  Presenting the Girls without their popular fourth friend Dorothy, McClanahan recalled, “really was like walking without one shoe.”


Premiering on September 18, 1992 as part of CBS’ new two-hour comedy block, Golden Palace won its 8 PM time slot for its first few weeks.  But soon, the entire night began to sink in the ratings.  For every rare case like Frasier, which would premiere the next fall and would last eleven seasons, there is an AfterM*A*S*H, or a Joey.  And Golden Palace would soon prove to belong to the latter category of sequel series.

Golden Palace was ill-conceived from the start,” says another former writer, Marc Cherry, who went on to create CBS’ sitcoms The Five Mrs. Buchanans and Some of My Best Friends before his iconic Desperate Housewives (and now, Lifetime's eagerly anticipated new series Devious Maids.)  “Old ladies just don’t go around buying hotels.”

Still, Cherry says, “Golden Palace is no [tacky ‘80s syndicated sitcom] Small Wonder.  There are moments of the show that are actually quite good.”  One particularly touching episode, he agrees, featured Ned Beatty as Blanche’s heretofore unmentioned, mentally challenged brother.  In another, lifelong animal activist Betty White was able to highlight the sad plight of greyhounds discarded by Florida racetracks.  In a two-part episode, Arthur’s Dorothy returned to visit her old friends in their new setting, bringing with her an hour’s worth of that old Golden magic.  And throughout its 24-episode run, Golden Palace sported cameos from the biggest stars of yesteryear, like George Burns, Eddie Albert, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, and gave early breaks not just to Cheadle, but other future comedy stars like Jack Black, Margaret Cho and Bill Engvall.

“With a little more time, I think we could have gotten [Golden Palace] to be very good – but we didn’t get there,” Witt remembers.  In the spring of 1993, Palace was cancelled after its freshman season,  along with the entire Friday comedy block.

Although Cherry says that he worried at the time that the sub-par Golden Palace would end up tarnishing the memory of its parent series, many fans have come to see the show as the Girls’ de facto eighth season.  Unlike Girls, Palace is not available on DVD – but it caused a sensation in the mid 2000’s when Lifetime briefly tacked its episodes onto the end of its regular Golden Girls run.

Marin, who went on to star in CBS’ shows Nash Bridges and Rob, remembers an additional Palace legacy.  Conscious of Miami as a rich ethnic and racial melting pot, the show’s producers had hired the Mexican-American actor to play the hotel’s Cuban chef Chuy Castillos; Marin says he used to refer to himself and Cheadle, surrounded by older white ladies, as “the Afro-Cuban section of the Lawrence Welk band.”

Marin says his greatest memory of Golden Palace was working with co-star Getty – but not in any moment that showed up on screen.  “She taught me to make a great matzoh ball, and boy, it just makes them nice and fluffy,” the 66-year-old actor remembers.  “I make great matzoh ball soup to this day, for which I’m eternally grateful – as are my children.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet The New Normal

It’s going to be a tough season for the comedy department at NBC, with two of its most beloved (if not highly-rated) hits, bowing out.  After 30 Rock calls it quits after 13 episodes this fall, and The Office at the end of the year, the network once known as the home of “Must-See” comedy will need to find some laughs, fast.

The cast of The New Normal, left to right:
Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King,
Bebe Wood, Ellen Barkin, Nene Leakes
NBC does seem to be pinning its hopes on one new comedy.  From Ryan Murphy, the out gay creator of Glee and American Horror Story, and out lesbian writer Ali Adler, The New Normal is a politically incorrect yet warm look at a gay male couple and the (literally) surrogate family they build in an attempt to have a baby.

Just this week, it seemed like another sign of NBC’s faith in The New Normal when the network announced a special preview of the show’s pilot this coming Monday, September 10 at 10 PM/9 PM Central; they’re hoping to get the show sampled by the viewers of its lead-in that night, the season premiere of The Voice.  The very next night, September 11, The New Normal will settle into its regular timeslot, of Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30 Central.

(Of course, you don’t have to wait until Monday to see the New Normal pilot:  you can watch it right here.)

Back in July, at the semi-annual convention for TV critics in Beverly Hills, I sat down with the show’s male leads, The Hangover’s Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells, who made a huge splash with Broadway’s Book of Mormon and recently appeared on HBO’s Girls, to talk all about what it means to be Normal.

Must-Hear TV:  As we head into a presidential election where one of the divisive issues is gay rights, what attracted you to this show, with its unavoidable gay storyline and themes?

Justin Bartha:  The main thing was quality.  The quality of the script, and the quality of the people involved.  The show is relevant.  It seems timely and seems necessary, and it is hilarious.  Everything attracted me to this show.

Andrew Rannells:  I definitely echo that sentiment.  Also, I think that Ryan Murphy’s brand of comedy, the way that he handles topical material – in this case, this homosexual couple, that was very appealing to me.  As a homosexual, that I get to be a part of something like that is very exciting.  So there was a long list of reasons why this seemed to be a great thing to get involved in. And the show has definitely held up to all of those expectations as we’ve developed it.

with The New Normal's Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha
at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA
July 2012

MHTV:  You both have theater backgrounds – Andrew in Book of Mormon, and Justin, I saw you in 2010 in Lend Me a Tenor.  When you test for a TV pilot, you have to agree to sign away 7 years of your life if it gets picked up, which might not leave much time for Broadway.  This must have been some helluva script – enough to make you want to do TV?

JB:  It’s a similar answer to the first question – it’s all about quality.  For me, everything I was reading just wasn’t that interesting.  And it didn’t seem to matter.  This show seems to matter, and it’s something to be proud of.  And if I could be proud of something for seven years, I’m down with that.

AR:  Absolutely.  I think that television offers an interesting opportunity.  If you’re lucky enough to have some longevity, you get to cover a multitude of issues.  I think that Ryan and Ali Adler definitely are the people to do that.  To bring topical humor to a half-hour format is very exciting.

MHTV:  It’s amazing that we still have to talk about this in 2012, but is there ever any concern for either of you as an actor about playing a gay character?

JB:  Andrew and I both come at this question from very interesting perspectives.  Because I’m a straight man and he’s a gay man.  Both have a little bit of a stigma playing gay characters, or being “out” in a sense.  You, Andrew, obviously have more at stake, because it’s your personal life attached.

MHTV:  But you do, too, Justin, because people might be eager to nitpick the way a straight actor chooses to “play gay.”  Or maybe they think the actor himself must be secretly gay.

JB:  For me personally, I thrive off of those things.  I don’t give a shit what people think about me.  I think if everyone thinks I’m gay, I’m flattered.  And if people are so small-minded that they can’t see past sexuality in creativity, then I don’t want to work for them anyway.

So it’s as simple as that.  It is unfortunate that there hasn’t been portrayal of a homosexual couple in a realistic sense – and when I say that, I mean showing affection, and showing what real couples go through.  And I think Andrew and I, Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, always wanted to show that.  Because there are some great shows that have been groundbreaking with gay characters, but I’ve never really seen a realistic portrayal of what goes on behind closed doors with interesting topics.

MHTV:  Like Will on Will & Grace had to be timid at first about kissing.  Will you guys?

JB:  I put my tongue in his mouth, and I will continue to put my tongue in his mouth, and I don’t care.

MHTV:  Andrew, any concern about playing a gay character?

AR:  No.  I'm excited to play a gay character who was this fully developed and fleshed out.  I think I would be a fool to not jump at the chance.  And then particularly as a homosexual… it speaks a lot to Will & Grace and I just mentioned Jim J. Bullock to someone before –

JB:  Oh, Jim J. Bullock.  I’m a big fan!

AR:  All of that happened on the rocky path to where we are right now.  And I’m very fortunate that I get to benefit from all of that hard work, personally and professionally.  That I get to be out and not penalized in any way, and to be offered this role, is amazing.

The New Normal
Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30 Central
Beginning September 11