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

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