Monday, December 9, 2013

Californication's Final Fling

RIP Californication.  Showtime just announced that this upcoming, 7th season of the David Duchovny-led half-hour, premiering in April 2014, will be the show's last.  Read the official announcement here:


To Conclude Its Remarkable Run with 12 Episodes –
Season Seven Premieres in April 2014

Photo: Jordin Althaus/SHOWTIME

SHOWTIME viewers will take one last romp with Hank Moody when the hit comedy series’ seventh season premieres in April 2014 (date TBD), it was announced today by David Nevins, President of Entertainment, Showtime Networks Inc. The final 12 episodes will neatly wrap up our unforgettable time following Hank (David Duchovny), Karen (Natascha McElhone), Becca (Madeleine Martin), Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy (Pamela Adlon) in their audacious comic mis-adventures and sexcapades. “With its unique blend of lyricism and excess, CALIFORNICATION has been one of our groundbreaking signature series,” said David Nevins. “We will always be indebted to Tom Kapinos for leading the creative charge on this memorable comedy, and to David Duchovny for making us root for an unapologetic hedonist like Hank Moody. Tom has carefully planned the final chapter of Hank’s journey and has brought it to a beautiful and satisfying conclusion for new and long-time fans alike.” Created and executive produced by Tom Kapinos, CALIFORNICATION stars David Duchovny (also an executive producer) in his Golden Globe®-winning role as the hedonistic writer who fights to balance the demands of his insatiable libido, unpredictable career, ex-girlfriend/muse Karen and beloved daughter Becca. He’s aided (and sometimes abetted) by best friend/agent Charlie and Charlie’s bawdy wife Marcy. Over the course of its run, the series has been honored withmany accolades, including five Emmy® nominations and two wins, six Golden Globe nominations and one win, and a Screen Actors Guild® Award nomination. CALIFORNICATION had its highest-rated season ever with season six last year averaging 2.9 million weekly viewers across platforms.  An incredibly consistent performer for the network, the series grew steadily over its six seasons on the air, and last year saw a growth of over 20 percent On Demand as well. From his debut in August 2007, Hank Moody quickly became everyone’s favorite unflinchingly honest, self-destructive lothario who bowed at the altar of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. The final season will find him joining the writer’s room as his never-released film “Santa Monica Cop” now becomes a television series of the same name. He’s riled frequently by his boss, the show’s old-school executive producer Rick Rath (guest star Michael Imperioli), and his fellow writing team members, including Goldie (guest star Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Alonzo (co-star Alonzo Bodden). But he’s thrown by the reemergence of old friend Julia (guest star Heather Graham), whose arrival causes chaos in Hank’s already hectic life, and with his on-off relationship with Karen (McElhone). Meanwhile, Charlie (Handler) and Marcy (Adlon) grapple with the aftermath of their reunion and an enticing offer from her ex-husband, Stu Beggs (guest star Stephen Tobolowsky). Rob Lowe, Brandon T. Jackson, Oliver Cooper and Mercedes Masohn will also guest star.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Exclusive Interview with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason

In 1986, just as writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason was preparing the pilot for her classic CBS sitcom Designing Women, her mother, Claudia, contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.  Soon after, Designing Women became one of the first network shows to tackle the topic of AIDS in its landmark 1987 episode “Killing All the Right People,” for which Bloodworth-Thomason was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.

As Linda explains, the experience of watching her mother and her fellow hospital patients being treated with scorn stayed with her, and has been one of the reasons she feels bonded to the often similarly ostracized gay community.  Now, she hopes that her latest project, the documentary Bridegroom [see yesterday's post, below] will focus attention on same-sex marriage and equal rights via a beautiful, though tragic, real-life love story.

After years of dreaming of meeting this iconic TV writer, I finally got the chance last week to sit down with Linda, and with her passion for the LGBT community and equality – not to mention her wit – the lady did not disappoint.

Frank and me with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
at the Los Angeles premiere of Bridegroom, October 15, 2013

Must-Hear TV:  You must have had, in the past 20 years, thousands of people, particularly gay men, come up to you and gush about Designing Women.

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason:  There have been a lot who say that the show affected them – especially Dixie.  Her strength gave them strength.  Recently I was at an event at a design showhouse.  A young man, 28 years old, came up to me and said, “I’ve been wanting to run into you, and tell you that I was an only child of very religious parents in a small town in Kansas.  I had never been able to tell them that I’m gay.  But they loved Designing Women, and the night you did that show [about AIDS], when Dixie told that bigoted woman off and said ‘You’re going to have to move your car, Imogene,’ I found a strength I’d never felt before.”

It makes me so sad that there are so many young gay people, particularly young gay men, who think that they have no right to their own life, who have to ask permission to be who they are.  Most of us never would think, “I need to go get permission to be who I am and love who I love.” It’s such an outrageous concept, and that’s what we want to end.  That’s the point of Bridegroom.

MHTV:  You first met Tom and Shane at a wedding, where they, too, told you they loved Designing Women.  Yet they obviously made a particular impression on you, because years later when you heard about Tom’s death, you wanted to get involved.  There’s some magic to this story, how they stayed with you, it seems.

LBT:  I think the magic was them.  I don’t think Shane was that familiar with Designing Women.  Shane is younger than Tom, and Shane wasn’t trying to be an actor -- even though he said he was, it wasn’t really a burning desire with him.  Tom was more familiar with the show, and Tom sat right next to me.  They were both charming and unforgettable.  As a couple they were really captivating.  And that night, when I drove home with my husband, I said, “Those boys, that’s the real deal.  I hope they will get married someday.”  Later, I heard that Tom fell off the roof, which I thought was devastating.  And then I saw Shane’s YouTube video [about being shunned and threatened by Tom’s family], and I got really really angry, because I’d had the experience of losing my mom in ’86.

It was an experience with this kind of prejudice and ignorance.  When my mother got AIDS, nobody knew how to deal with the disease, and so [hospital workers] would throw the medicine in buckets and kick it into the room.  Everybody was in a Hazmat suit, and we were just treated horribly.  I had never known what it would be like to be rejected and ostracized.  We couldn’t even find a funeral home to take my mom when she died.  During that period, 17 young men died on my mother’s floor.  Game shows played while young men died alone. 

MHTV:  That’s such a chillingly mundane detail, but it shows how for people working there, it was just another Tuesday.  And as you said, they didn’t really care as these certain patients were dying.

LBT:  I think they were glad to see them go.  But there was one angel doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Galpin, who had been the head of infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai and who happened to take on these cases of AIDS.  And by now he’s treated thousands.  There was nobody there for the patients but him to hold their hands.  Late at night [with my mother], I would often feel so depressed, but then I would hear this tap tap tap coming down the hall.  Dr. Galpin was in an iron lung as a young man, and he’s still on crutches or in a wheelchair.  He’d already been there in the morning, but every night, he’d come back, because he didn’t want anyone to be alone.

I was starting to think that that was a unique experience in my life, and that things are better now, 27 years later.  But then I started seeing what Shane was experiencing.  I saw that video, and I thought, “Can this really be true?”  I realized nothing has changed.  Hatred is passed down just like love in generations, and now we are a generation later, and things really haven’t changed that much in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.

MHTV:  It has in some, and I think by bringing attention to some issues as you did with Designing Women, you should take credit for having helped.

LBT:  A tiny bit.  I don’t want to paint a bleak picture, but a lot of people stay mired in ignorance and intellectual infancy.  [They hew to] things that were written thousands of years ago, before science.  And things that were never written – for example, there’s nothing about homosexuality in the Bible.  They cling to this, rather than admit that God gave you a Bible and God gave you a brain.  Use it.  If the Bible came from God, why doesn’t science come from God?  Now you have an opportunity to take the good things from the Bible and from science and come to a really informed, loving solution for all human beings.

So I felt it kind of was a full-circle thing for me, 27 years later, to get involved with [the struggle for equality] again.  When my mother was in the hospital, one day I overheard a woman say, “If you ask me, this disease has one thing going for it, it’s killing all the right people.”  That made me so angry, I wrote that episode [and quoted the remark], and Dixie Carter told that woman off on television.

MHTV:  I was 18 at that moment, and it meant a lot to see someone stand up to ignorance like that.

LBT:  I never felt like my response in that show was satisfying, though.  I never felt like it had been on a big-enough scale.  It was targeting one woman for one comment, and I knew there was a bigger picture.  But I never did see a vehicle through which to do something.  Then Shane’s story came along, and I thought, “This is it.”  Then I found out Tom’s name was Bridegroom.  I had never known that, but it just seemed like a sign.  I said, “I’m in!”

MHTV:  It seems that often great good comes from tragedy or evil.  That woman’s evil comment about “Killing the Right People” led to a TV episode that shed light on the disease.  And Tom’s death – look at all the good that’s coming from people hearing his story.

LBT:  The Designing Women episode was a little story with an ugly woman who represented an ugly idea, and we answered that.  But it was just the prelude to something bigger.  And the something bigger is, now we have the internet, and now we have a movie.  Designing Women won’t be on Netflix, and won’t be available in over 154 countries, but Bridegroom can be.  We can get this into the Middle East.  It’s going to be in South America, where there’s a lot of prejudice against homosexuals.  And I feel if we can get enough attention worldwide, it could even end up in Russia.

And the reason I’m excited about that is that it’s not just another gay story, but it’s the love story that I think can tip people.  I know most people in my little hometown who are against homosexuals or same-sex marriage think that every gay man is that man with the jumper cables on his nipples, wearing a thong in the Gay Pride parade.  And God bless that guy, he has the right to do that, but they’re scared of him.  But I think they’ll see in Bridegroom, “Oh, this is a love that I wish I had in my life.  I see now that not only is this as good as what heterosexuals have, this is something we should all strive for.” [In this movie] you fall for Tom and Shane. They’re great emissaries for love.

MHTV:  So much of this story seems preordained, that it was meant to be, in a way.  Tom’s name is Bridegroom.  He and Shane had captured all this footage of themselves, not knowing it would be used in a documentary after Tom’s death.  I hate to say it, because it’s horrible about losing Tom, but it almost seems it was meant to be.

LBT:  It does seem like it was meant to be.  I might have seen the YouTube video, but if I hadn’t already met Shane, I don’t think I would have called him.  We had so many instances in the film where it seemed like Tom was kind of with us.  Where things seemed like they weren’t going to work out, and then they did.

For example, Tom had sung only a couple of Christmas songs.  He’s dead, and he will never sing another Christmas song, and I really wanted a Christmas song for the film to juxtapose with the description of Tom’s father getting a shotgun out and trying to kill him.  But you will never find anybody in this business who is going to just give you a Christmas song – these songs are enough to generate huge trust funds for the writers' families forever, because they’re all over the world.  And often [the heirs] feel they can’t risk their Christmas song being associated with a gay love story.  But we had [the recording of Tom singing] “The Christmas Song,” which Mel Tormé wrote.  My editing people laughed at us, and our lawyers said, “Come on, they won’t let anybody use this song.”  So I called Tracy Tormé.  He’s not gay, but he went to every member of his family and to his lawyers.  Then he called me and said, “My dad was friends with Nat King Cole.  My dad believed in tolerance.  I’m going against all the lawyers’ advice, and you can have this song.”  He had seen Shane’s YouTube video, and because Tom was part of that, it felt like Tom had come through.  I’m not a very mystical person, but I feel that Tom is involved in this, no question.

MHTV:  The final reveal of Tom’s last name, Bridegroom, hits hard, because it wraps it all up.  You get that sense of preordination, of irony.

LBT:  It’s kind of Shakespearean.  [In that shot, you see Tom’s headstone, and] there’s so much symbolism in it.  [His parents] had chosen this concrete, impenetrable monument to their son.  And I was blown away when I saw they had placed spots for themselves on either side of him, so that no one will ever go there.  That’s just astonishing to me, that they think that’s the monument to their son.

We had invited [Tom’s family] to participate [in the film], and also Shane and I agreed at the very start that we didn’t want to demonize them, because they loved their son.  And when people are behaving badly, you don’t need to say anything.  All you had to do is shine the light on them.  They hung themselves.

I had wanted a different ending for them, because being Southern, I believe in redemption.  Through a conduit, I told them Tom is gone, and we cannot bring him back.  But there’s an ending we haven’t written yet for this movie.  Shane’s going to be at the cemetery in Indiana.  We’ll be there filming on this date.  And you, Norman, have never met your son’s greatest love.  You can honor your son now.  You can start an evolutionary process that will give hope to all the other parents who are on the same journey.  You can have a huge impact now, and make Tom’s and your life meaningful.  Come out to the cemetery, and extend your hand.  That was my fantasy, but it didn’t happen.

MHTV:  I actually think this ending does the world more good.  If everything seemed wrapped up in a happy bow, people could leave the theater and think—

LBT:  “That’s taken care of.”  This is the realistic ending, because people like Norman and Martha Bridegroom aren’t going to change.  But hate can die out, if the next generation is willing to change.  And Tom’s sister, I think, shows hope.  She might not take that step in her father’s lifetime, but I think she might take it in her own, and I feel sure that her children will have a different legacy.  So there’s hope for all of us.  And I feel that Tom and Shane are a part of [that hope].  They did it without knowing what they did.  It’s great that just their loving each other could have such a reverberating result. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

See Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's "Bridegroom"

This Sunday, October 27 at 10 PM ET, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network will present the television premiere of a powerful new documentary, Bridegroom.  It’s the story of an impossibly handsome young couple in Los Angeles who were also perfectly, almost impossibly so, in love.  Tom Bridegroom was an aspiring actor and talented musician who had relocated from rural Indiana; Shane Bitney Crone a sometime actor and filmmaker from rural Montana.  The ambitious duo traveled the world together, documenting their adventures in video series they posted to the web.  They had big plans.

But their time together was cut tragically short in 2011 when at age 29, Tom was killed in a freak accident, falling four stories off the roof of a friend’s apartment building.  The film arising from the couple’s devastating story – of pain and loss, of hurt and forgiveness, of homophobia and yet also family bonding – is sure to make you cry throughout.  (And it doesn’t hurt that Bridegroom was assembled largely from Tom and Shane’s own homemade footage by executive producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, of Designing Women fame, who is certainly a pro at evoking laughs and tears.)  In their attempt to whitewash Tom’s entire post-college life, and thus hopefully erase the sin of his gayness, the Bridegroom family banned Shane and in fact all of the couple’s Los Angeles friends from attending their son’s Indiana funeral.  The immediate family has had no contact since Tom’s death with either Shane or with the filmmakers who sought their comment.

Bridegroom first screened at the TriBeCa film festival earlier this year, where it won the Best Documentary prize, and also this summer at Outfest, where it also won an award for Outstanding Documentary Feature.  Last week, the film had its Los Angeles premiere.  And the following afternoon, I had the chance to sit down with both Shane and Linda, to talk about the project’s genesis and more importantly, its impact.

Must-Hear TV:   I can’t imagine what your feelings are, seeing this completed film about your life and love.  I know you’re a producer of Bridegroom -- how many times have you seen it so far?

Shane Bitney Crone:  I’ve probably seen it 50 times now.

MHTV:  Does it ever not evoke a visceral response in you?

SBC:  It can be very intense, going from festival to festival with it.  Lately, I’ve just waited outside the theater.  I don’t necessarily sit there the entire time, because it is emotional for me.  Sometimes it’s good for me just to step outside and take a break.

MHTV:  But you know when everyone leaves the theater, they’ll be crying.  And for audiences, in a way, getting to meet you offers them consolation after having cried through the film.  I know that getting to express my feelings to you made me feel better.  But is that hard for you to relive every time?

SBC:  That’s one thing that a lot of people ask me.  “Isn’t it hard to continue telling this story?  Do you think that it’s good for you?”  But meeting people and sharing this story has been healing, and has helped me in so many ways.  There’s so much positive coming from it that it makes it not depressing, and it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.  It’s great to have support on my facebook and social networks, to hear from people that way, but meeting people face to face has definitely been one of the best parts of all of this.  I’ve met some incredible people, and heard some amazing stories.

MHTV:  People must want to pour their own stories out to you, people who had either supportive or unsupportive families.  What have been the most amazing stories you’ve heard, where people have said, “This changed my life?”

SBC:  I never realized before that what I’ve gone through has happened to so many people.  I didn’t realize thousands of couples have gone through horrible experiences.  So for me, it wasn’t until after I posted the YouTube video [called "It Could Happen To You," which sparked Bloodworth-Thomason’s interest in making a film, and a kickstarter campaign to finance it] that I realized that.  So in a way, as much as this is my story, or my film or Linda’s film, it’s really not.  It’s the people’s film, because it represents so many.  I’ve heard from teenagers who said that the story has prevented them from taking their own lives.  Just to hear things like that, it just makes you feel so grateful that it’s connecting with them on such a deep level.

And then to hear at some festivals from some really big men who come up to me and say, “I’m a straight man.  Someone dragged me here and I didn’t know what to expect.  I had never understood or supported marriage equality – and now I’m sorry.”  When I hear things like that, wow!  It makes me think that this isn’t about me.  It’s so much bigger than me.  And if sharing my story is having that effect, then that’s what I have to do, keep sharing.

MHTV:  I hate to suggest that there was a benefit from Tom’s death, but at least his death has brought about this change, to open people’s eyes and their hearts, and to save lives.  At least his death wasn’t in vain.

Shane Bitney Crone
SBC:  The year after Tom passed away, I spent so much time just trying to make sense of it, and I couldn’t.  When I posted the YouTube video, it was the first moment when I felt that something good came from it.  And then that also helped me to understand better who I am, and helped me stand up for what I believe in.  And to not be so ashamed of being who I am.

MHTV:  It seems like this whole experience has galvanized your family, too, around you.  They were always supportive, but now they really have your back.

SBC:  My mom is an amazing mom.  It’s funny, because on facebook, she posts everything that I’m doing, everything that’s happening.  People text me and say, “You know your mom is so proud,” and that makes me feel so good.  I’m happy that people get to see my family, and see how important it is for families to support each other.  It’s interesting, because my family and Tom’s family, they’re really not that different. 

MHTV:  As we see in the film, they started in the same place, anyway.  Conservative, rural, Republican…

SBC:  Exactly.  It’s such a powerful part of the film, to show how important it is for parents to love their children unconditionally.

MHTV:   What a contrast between them.  One family says “We don’t understand this, but we’re going to try to accept it,” and the other goes backward, stagnating and threatening violence.  What made the families react so differently?

SBC:  Someone asked me this morning, “Why do you think your mom is so accepting and so supportive?” I was trying to come up with the reason, but I don’t necessarily have an answer as to why my family is like that.  I’m just lucky that they are who they are, and that they have the hearts that they do.

MHTV:  Are they religious people, your family?  The film has pictures of both you and Tom and your families in churches growing up.

SBC:  Kind of, but not too much.  We went to church growing up, a Lutheran church.  But we weren’t like Tom’s family, who talked about the Bible every morning at the table.  They’re very religious.  Maybe religion has a lot to do with it, but at the same time, I don’t necessarily know what can cause people to decide to be more accepting.

MHTV:  This film will.  I defy anyone, even if he or she doesn’t stand up for gay marriage, to see a film depicting the death of this beautiful young man, and the end of this loving relationship, and not cry.  You’re not human if you’re not moved by it.

SBC:  But I don’t really know how we’ll reach the people we want to reach.  I have a feeling it’s going to be a situation where people who are struggling with being gay can ask someone to watch the film.  I hope that that way, we can reach the people we need to.

MHTV:  Could the film be a tool for coming out?  Send it to your parents and say, “Watch this, then we’ll talk.”

SBC:  Yes.  Growing up, I wish there had been something like that for me, to help me say, “This is me.  I need you to love me unconditionally.”  Of course there are shows now like Glee and Modern Family, which do help a lot of people.  But at the time, I didn’t really have any shows like that.  It just goes to show how much film and television can influence people.

MHTV:  You and Tom were both really into film and television from the beginning of your relationship.

SBC:  I had convinced my family I’d wanted to move to LA to be an actor, but I quickly realized it was more that I just wanted to get here.  I really just wanted to be in a city where I could be me.  But if growing up I’d said, “I want to move to LA,” they’d ask why – so at least acting was a reason I could give.  But Tom and I did film a lot of our life together, and planned a lot of projects.  We did talk about making a documentary, but I never imagined this would be the documentary we would make.

MHTV:  You and Tom first met Linda Bloodworth-Thomason at a wedding – and as she remembers, you said you were big Designing Women fans, as are lots of gay men.  I know she meets thousands of them, in fact – but you guys made such an impression on Linda that she remembered you years later, when she saw your video on YouTube.  Do you know how that happened?

SBC:  I’m not really sure exactly, other than that we had conversation with Linda about how we so desperately wanted to get married someday when it was legal – but also, when we were ready.  Because there was a short window when we could have gotten married [in California], but we also didn’t want to go down to the courthouse just because everyone was doing it at that moment.  We wanted it to be special and spontaneous like it is for other people.  But to think, though, about meeting Linda that night, and then four years later meeting with her to talk about making a documentary about Tom – it’s kind of surreal.

MHTV:  We know from the film what Tom’s mother did and didn’t do, and his father.  But Tom also had siblings.  Did you have a relationship with any of them?  I’m wondering why they didn’t stand up for you, or for what was right.

SBC:  I think it has a lot to do with being in a small town, and the whole idea that blood is thicker than water, like my mom has always said.  Family is all you really have at the end of the day, and do you want to potentially risk losing your relationship with your parents?  I think maybe that’s not worth the risk sometimes, so I try to be understanding and respectful of that.  And there are [more distant] relatives of Tom’s who are supportive, who support me, and the film, and the relationship.

MHTV:  Does any of them have the name Bridegroom?
Tom Bridegroom
April 22, 1982 - May 7, 2011

SBC:  Yes, there are some Bridegrooms.

MHTV:  It is an unusual name.

SBC:  It is, and honestly I didn’t think about Tom’s last name too much until I met with Linda.  She said, “Shane, do you realize the irony in his last name?!”  And I realized, “You’re right, that’s pretty crazy.”

MHTV:  The way the film saves the double meaning of the word for the reveal in the last shot, it’s like a gut punch.  The irony hits you at that moment.

SBC:  In fact, some people thought that we [the filmmakers] put the name on the gravestone.  No!  It just makes me feel like maybe it was meant to be.

MHTV:  You still haven’t heard from any of the main Bridegroom family, though?

SBC:  I haven’t.  I don’t know if I ever will hear from his parents.  I want to send them the film, and hopefully they’ll watch it.  This could potentially be the opportunity for them to help a lot of people.  They could turn this around.  Even if they just said, “Look, we made some mistakes while struggling and trying to be okay with it.”  Because a lot of people are struggling with that.  People evolve and can change, and I think they could really make a difference if they wanted to.

MHTV:  You're still just 27.  Where do you want to go from here?

SBC:  I’m not sure what happens next.  All I know is I’m trying to be in the moment, and trust that everything will happen the way it’s supposed to.

MHTV:  In terms of career?  Are you a filmmaker?

SBC:  Maybe, if there’s something I’m really passionate about.  This has turned into my full-time job, just sharing this story.  I partnered with some organizations, like GLAAD and HRC.  I might do a speaking tour of campuses, and meet people.  It scares me – I don’t like the idea of public speaking.  But if it can help people, I feel like I can do it.

Bridegroom airs this Sunday, October 27, at 10 PM ET on OWN, and on the same date, will also be available on Netflix.

In addition, Shane Bitney Crone can be heard this Friday, October 25 at 1 PM Eastern / 10 AM Pacific on “The Frank DeCaro Show” on Sirius XM’s OutQ radio.

For more information, go to

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' The Millers

The Millers
Thursdays at 8:30 PM Eastern / 7:30 PM Central,
Premieres October 3

In 2000, then the father of young children in Los Angeles, Greg Garcia co-created CBS’ long-running couples-and-kids sitcom Yes, Dear.  A few years earlier, the Washington, DC area native had co-authored a comedy set in the nation’s capital.  Now, Garcia has made The Millers, about two generations of a family, simultaneously experiencing divorces.  But this time, he’s quick to point out that this one springs, for the most part, from his imagination.

In Garcia’s latest, Nathan Miller (Will Arnett), a recently divorced roving news reporter, is looking forward to the single life, although not necessarily to divulging his change in marital status to his visiting parents, controlling Carol (Margo Martindale) and absent-minded Tom (Beau Bridges.)  But Nathan needn’t have worried; because rather than being shocked, his parents, particularly Tom, are inspired.  When Mom and Dad then themselves split, Carol crashes with her boy, and begins an emotional breakdown that threatens to cramp his style.

“This is a fictional version of my family,” Garcia avows.  “But my parents are exactly like these two – they’ll kill me for saying that, but they are. They love each other, but give each other grief.”  Both Garcia and his parents are still happily married; so in creating this new sitcom clan, much in the tradition of CBS’ successful family comedies like Everybody Loves Raymond, “I wondered, ‘What would happen if I didn’t have children, and was divorced, and if my parents got divorced and had to live with me and my sister?’ [The sister, by the way, played here by the quirky, fun Jayma Mays.] So The Millers ended up being based on us as real characters, but in this fictional premise.”

Garcia has become an expert in nontraditional family dynamics, from the oddball Hickey brothers in his My Name Is Earl to the financially challenged clan at the center of Raising Hope.  With The Millers, the writer says he wanted to preserve that flavor of comedic dysfunction, while creating a more traditional type of comedy, complete with audience laughter.  “And to get that classic feel, of a Raymond or an All in the Family,” he explains, “you’ve got to get a great cast.”

So Garcia personally recruited Arnett, and immediately thought of JB Smoove to play Ray, Nathan’s coworker and cameraman.  Martindale, who won an Emmy for her villainous role on Justified and more recently appeared in the dramas The Americans and Showtime’s upcoming Masters of Sex, here “does a comedy star turn that is pretty remarkable,” marvels CBS President Nina Tassler.  And the actress is happy for the change of pace.  With The Millers, “this is a joy I haven’t gotten to experience in a while,” Martindale says.  “I’m exercising an old muscle, and it’s coming back.”

When it came to casting Tom, Garcia reached out to Bridges, who had played the senior Mr. Hickey on Earl and was happy to work again with that show’s mastermind.  As Bridges prepared for The Millers, “I asked my wife at breakfast, ‘How would you describe this show?’” the actor reveals.  “And she said, ‘It’s just a typical American family.’ Because we all have challenges.  But underneath it all, there is a caring and a love in this show, and that comes from Greg Garcia.  He always writes comedy with a heart.”

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' We Are Men

We Are Men
Mondays at 8:30 Eastern / 7:30 Central
Premiering September 30

Because their new comedy We Are Men is about a foursome of recently divorced guy friends who share questionable counsel around their apartment complex’s outdoor pool, Must Hear TV asked each of the new Monday night comedy’s stars to summarize their show using just four words.

“We Are Divorced Men,” says Jerry O’Connell, jumping in proactively much as would his character Stuart, the Speedo-sporting OB/GYN, angry as he suffers through his second contentious nuptial breakup.

“Not Good at Committed Relationships,” adds Tony Shalhoub, whose Frank is a garmento and four-time groom who now lives happily between girlfriends, vowing never to marry again.

“Good Guys, Bad Ideas,” says Chris Nicholas Smith, who plays naïve Carter, the youngest and most recent addition to this cynical group, after he was dumped at the altar in mid-ceremony.

“Friendship, Love, Mistakes, Ridiculousness,” finishes Kal Penn, whose character Gil harbors hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife after he was caught having the world’s least satisfying affair.

About five years ago, at the time himself a new divorcé, “I was basically a little bit of all four of these guys,” remembers We Are Men’s creator Rob Greenberg.  After years as a producer of another marital-status-teasing comedy hit, How I Met Your Mother, Greenberg was inspired to write about his new phase of life after noting that “everybody handles divorce in different ways.  Some people are wounded, while others attack.  Some never want to get in another relationship, and others jump back in.  Some are philosophical, some blame their exes.  I realized divorce is a ripe area [for comedy] because of how people react to it.”

In We Are Men, the guys form a strong bond over the mutual failures of their marriages, which O’Connell says is what attracted him to the show.  “While divorce is in itself a negative situation, I think [Men] takes a positive spin on it, and says that there is life after divorce,” the actor explains.  “And that with the help and support of friends, you can get through what is an awful time.”

“These are guys who, a lot like your friends, make mistakes and do ridiculous things, but at the end of the day they’re there for each other,” Penn agrees.  When approached about We Are Men, “I thought it was a nice way of depicting friendship, and it’s also pretty real.”

TV has brought us such strong four-way friendships before, in shows like The Golden Girls and Designing Women.  But never before have we seen the male version, a show depicting what four such disparate men are truly like, and how they relate to each other, when no women are around.  As Greenberg theorizes, “There’s a particular feeling to being alone with your guy friends.  You can be more uncensored.”  That’s why, he says, these four Men are ready to join the Girls and Women among the ranks of classic TV comedies.  “I think Sex and the City is a good model for this show, too, but in reverse,” Greenberg explains.  “That show was about four characters’ love lives, work lives and family lives – but ultimately, it was about their friendship when they came together as a foursome.”

Prepare For Your Date in Court

Amid all the clutter of last week's fall debuts, there was one debut you might not yet have caught, but might want to take note of:  the new syndicated half-hour daily courtroom show Paternity Court, and particularly its impressive judge, Lauren Lake.

Originally from Detroit, Lake was already an accomplished TV talking head -- you might have caught her on The View, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, etc. etc. etc -- by the time she co-founded the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network to foster positive portrayals of women.  She's been
featured all over the newsstand, in articles in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Essence and Jet, and in 2009 wrote a book, Girl! Let Me Tell You, to empower single women to strive for what they deserve.

All this to say that while some people seem to get afternoon shows just by virtue of being a celebrity mom -- ahem! -- Lake has a point of view and a mighty accomplished background.  Of course, as a TV judge, a gal also has to have the legal credentials -- and this one has many.  She earned her law degree at Wayne State University, and is a member of the New York, New Jersey and Michigan bars, with concentrations in family, criminal and entertainment law.  Now, Paternity Court combines all of her areas of expertise, as the feisty-yet-fair Lake, herself a mom, uses her sharp wit to help litigants resolve legal issues involving paternity using DNA results.

On the eve of the show's debut last week, Must Hear TV caught up with Lake to find out just how she plans on making her Court-room a place we all want to visit.

Must Hear TV:  Your background includes expertise in several different areas of law. What made you interested in paternity?

Lauren Lake:  I've been a practicing attorney for 18 years concentrating in family, entertainment and criminal law. I have represented families in disputes involving divorce, child custody, visitation, matrimonial and paternity. I am passionate about children and believe it is in their best interest to know who their parents are.

MHTV:  In the past, when we've seen the subject of paternity addressed in daytime TV, it has been on some of the cheesiest shows, where paternity testing is used for shock value, and to incite guests to arguments and violence. How will Paternity Court differ in its approach?

LL:  Paternity Court combines science with the law. We don't just use the DNA results for shock value. We use them as a tool to empower families with the truth. Additionally we add the legal component and I am able to counsel litigants on the legal rights and ramifications associated with those results and then help them figure out how to move forward in their lives. We also offer counseling to our families after each show and provide them with counseling resources in their home state.

MHTV:  What has been the most inspiring case you've encountered so far regarding paternity testing? What has been the most inspiring case you've encountered for the show?

LL:  I find most inspiring cases to be the ones where I see men come into the courtroom wanting desperately to be the father of a child. Our show is about more than "dead beat" dads. It's about helping men become better fathers and empowering families. I am also inspired by the courage of our litigants who come into our courtroom and share their shame and secrets in a quest for the truth and to break the cycle.

MHTV:  What advice would you give to a child who wonders about his or her true father, in terms of getting tested? What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to prove paternity? Or to a man?

LL:  I would advise them to be open about their concerns with all parties involved and voluntarily submit to a DNA test.

MHTV:  You must be familiar with the many "judge shows" currently on television. Is your own style of mediating similar to any of the judges we're familiar with from those shows?

LL:  We definitely respect the court shows that paved the way for us. I believe I am a blend of feisty and fair. But ultimately I am focused on empowering families to be better and stronger.

MHTV:  In the end, what message do you hope that Paternity Court will convey?

LL:  No matter the secret, shame or the struggle, honesty and truth are the tools you need to begin again.
A father's presence in a child's life is priceless. Knowing who we are and who we belong to should never be taken lightly or for granted.

Monday to Friday
Debuted September 23
Check your local listings for air times

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones
Thursdays at 9PM Eastern / 8PM Central,
Premiering September 26

In 1997, the Los Angeles office of advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day created Apple Computer’s “Think Different” slogan, and an accompanying campaign inaugurated with a now historic TV ad.  “Here’s to the crazy ones,” Richard Dreyfuss narrated, in a salute to the geniuses and innovators who have changed the world.  The spot won raves from critics, and the 1998 Emmy for Best Commercial.

Now, CBS brings us The Crazy Ones, a new advertising-set sitcom which cleverly can be viewed as both an homage to and a lampooning of such self-serious salesmanship.  And with its cunning conceit and all-star cast, the new show is poised to bring the same type of “crazy” energy, and similar accolades, to the genre of half-hour comedy.

The brainchild of John Montgomery, the Executive Creative Director of Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, and nurtured by accomplished executive producer David E. Kelley, The Crazy Ones snagged Oscar winner Robin Williams for his long-awaited return to series television.  Williams’ hyperkinetic character Simon Roberts is “an idea guy who’s been on everything but skates,” says the 62-year-old comedy icon.  “I watched a documentary about ad guys, and a lot of them live on the edge.  Their whole job is to think outside the envelope, and at the same time get an idea down to the simplest, purest image, to fight for your consciousness.”

“And,” Williams adds, “they can be kind of crazy.”  That’s where Simon’s daughter Sydney, his partner at their joint small agency, comes in.  After seasons of slaying vampires as Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar says she was happy to become the organized, ambitious and Type-A Sydney, whose task of wrangling her unfocused father, while finding her own place in the industry he dominates, may be just as exhausting.  “To me, some of the greatest parts of Buffy were the funny moments,” Gellar explains of stepping into this lighter role.  “And I got to a point where I thought, ‘I’ve cried a lot.  I’m ready to be funny.’”

Helping to make that happen is Bill D’Elia, himself a longtime New York ad man turned TV writer, and now one of The Crazy Ones’ executive producers.  The inspiration for Montgomery’s pilot script, he explains, “was this idea to have fun with how we create advertising.  Not to denigrate the products, but the process, and [as ad execs] ourselves.”  With a pitch like that, it’s easy to see while real-life clients are clamoring to come on board; The Crazy Ones features McDonalds in its pilot, and D’Elia expects to recruit two or three more real brands, “plus a few fictitious ones thrown in,” to round out Roberts & Roberts’ roster.

But, the producer insists, The Crazy Ones’ appeal ultimately comes not just from the craftiness of its concept, but from the chemistry of its cast.  From the start, D’Elia says, “Everyone has felt like they’ve been together for a long time.  Robin and Sarah feel like real father and daughter.”  And coworkers played by Hamish Linklater and James Wolk – fresh off his season on that other crazy/advertising show, Mad Men – have already proven themselves more than capable of keeping up with Williams, the king of comedic improv. 

As Williams agrees, “All these people can go one-on-one, and riff just as well.”  But with The Crazy Ones, he notes, “I am often on script because the script is so good.”  The actor credits the show’s quality to its writers and advisors, many of whom are “real ad agency execs, who tell us stories that are just insane.”  Of course, Williams and Gellar might be able to contribute some stories of their own; Williams recently shilled for Snickers, and Gellar has done over 100 commercials – including, at age 7, a spot for Duncan Hines cake mix, directed by D’Elia.  It goes to prove, she adds, that it’s just all one, small Crazy world.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' Hostages

Mondays at 10 PM Eastern/9 PM Central,
Premiering September 23

With its similarly intense mix of political intrigue and personal drama, Hostages is obviously harboring hopes of becoming the next Homeland.  After all, the two series have more in common than merely the cleverness of their blonde heroines; both action thrillers have origins in Israel, which is fast becoming fertile ground for growing America’s future TV hits.

Showtime’s series, adapted from the Israeli Hatufim, captured critical raves and swept the Emmy Awards in 2012.  Now, CBS’ high-concept Hostages, based on a previously unproduced script out of Tel Aviv, has nabbed both a top-notch cast and one of TV’s highest-profile launching pads for a drama, the network’s Mondays at 10.

Hostages stars Toni Collette in the juicy lead role of Ellen Sanders, a Washington, DC surgeon whose family is taken captive by team of rogue FBI agents on the eve of her operation on the President of the United States.  Commanded to kill her political patient, Sanders is tested in her resolve as a medical professional, as a wife and mother, and as a patriotic citizen.  The scope of the story, says producer Alon Aranya, who teamed with writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff to tailor the original script for an American audience, reaches beyond that of the typical television procedural.  The intricately-plotted, surprise-rigged Hostages “will be like a feature film designed for TV.”

In another way that Hostages will be notable for the network, the series will, following its September premiere, run for 15 straight episodes with few repeats or interruptions, before ceding its timeslot in early 2014 to another hotly anticipated drama. (Intelligence, which stars Lost’s Josh Holloway as a government intelligence operative whose brain has been implanted with a supercomputer microchip and CSI’s Marg Helgenberger as his agency boss, is scheduled to debut February 24.)  Such shorter seasons have long been the norm on cable, but as network president Nina Tassler explains, this is a first for CBS:  “We’re normally in the 22-episode business, because our fans don’t want less of their favorite shows – they want more.”  But Tassler and her team were soon won over by the Hostages producers’ detailed plans for a nailbiting first season, which she describes as “fifteen really terrific episodes, jampacked with big events and plot twists.”

The twists were what lured actors like Collette, who remembers that “when I read the pilot script, it was unlike any other show.  I loved that I didn’t know what was happening -- although I thought I did.  It really was a page-turner, where I couldn’t put it down.”  Collette is joined by Tate Donovan as Ellen’s less successful – and less-than-faithful – husband Brian, Dylan McDermott as Duncan Carlisle, the erstwhile Fed turned conspirator and kidnapper, and James Naughton as the President targeted for assassination.

But both Hostages’ producer and leading lady warn not to blindly accept these simplified descriptions of the show’s characters.  “The show is a conspiracy thriller – and as such, all is not what it seems.  There’s always another layer,” Aranya teases.

“People keep asking Dylan, ‘How is it to play the bad guy?’” Collette adds.  “But he may not be entirely bad.  All of these characters have their reasons for doing what they do.  And those reasons will slowly be revealed.”

Fall Preview: CBS' Mom

Mondays at 9:30 PM Eastern/8:30 PM Central,
Premiering September 23

As the executive producer of a trio of today’s top comedies, Chuck Lorre might want to take some advice from his Big Bang Theory character Sheldon:  look into cloning.  Because this fall, after already bringing forth the Big Bang, plus Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly, this man in demand is bringing his fourth sitcom to CBS.

Co-created by Lorre and his Men writers Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker, Mom is the story of Christy (Anna Faris), a thirtysomething waitress at a posh Napa Valley restaurant who struggles not only with the challenges of being a single mom to a rebellious teenage daughter and pre-teen son, but with addiction.  Christy’s four-month-and-counting sobriety will continually be tested, now that her man-hungry mother Bonnie (Allison Janney), herself a (barely) recovering alcoholic, has reappeared in her life, armed with passive-aggressive insights and questionable advice.

“I’ve always wanted to tell the story about somebody trying to reclaim his or her life after destroying it, repairing the damage of perhaps a poorly thought-out lifestyle,” Lorre says of his latest inspiration.  With Mom, “We get to see the second act of Christy’s life.  I think the idea of a second chance is a very American theme.”

After building a successful career on the big screen, Faris chose Mom as her first TV project, similarly moved by the show’s complex dynamic and message.   “On film, I’ve played a lot of very simple characters, so now it’s fun to play someone like Christy, who’s so complicated,” explains the 36-year-old actress and real-life mom to year-old son Jack with her husband, actor Chris Pratt.  “Christy is flawed, but trying to be better.  She has the best of intentions, but doesn’t always know the right way to get there.  I think we all have issues like that to some degree, whether it’s from not yet achieving your life goal, or not being sober, or having financial struggles.  I think that’s why from page one as I read this script, it felt like Cinderella’s shoe.  I realized, ‘Wow, this is me!’”

After winning four Emmys during her stint on The West Wing, Faris’ co-star Allison Janney is already TV royalty, and was equally eager to become America’s new favorite Mom.  “The best comedies deal with the reality of recognizable situations without always trying too hard to be ‘funny,’” Janney enthuses.  “With Mom, everybody will be able to recognize the truths behind this very frustrating relationship.”

Friday, June 28, 2013

Devious Ana Ortiz

As the substitute host of yesterday's Frank DeCaro Show on Sirius XM OutQ 109 (so that Frank could attend the funeral here in NYC of James Gandolfini), I had the pleasure of interviewing Ana Ortiz, one of the stars of Lifetime's new series Devious Maids.

If the description of Devious Maids sounds familiar -- five women come together and form a friendship after the murder of one of their own -- it's because it's from the creator of the long-running hit Desperate Housewives, Marc Cherry.  In the interview below, Ana -- an incredibly funny, sexy lady whom I first met nearly a decade ago when she was acting in a sitcom pilot created by a mutual friend -- talks all about her new character, Marisol, and about her star-making role as Ugly Betty's fabulous, high-heeled sister Hilda.

And by the way, if you missed the premiere of Devious Maids this past Sunday, June 23, there are a few ways to catch up before episode 2 this Sunday.  This IMDB link will work for the next few days, so go ahead and enjoy the pilot for what looks like a fun, soapy new end-of-the-weekend treat.

Devious Maids
Sundays, 10 PM Eastern

Monday, June 24, 2013

Welcome Under the Dome

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Starting Tonight, June 24, Spend Your Summer Under the Dome

In his dozens of novels and their TV and film adaptations, Stephen King has turned ordinary townspeople into vampires, terrorized them with demon-possessed cars and rabid dogs, and buried them – but not for long – in a haunted “Pet Sematary.”

Now King is about to seal the unsuspecting folk of Chester’s Mill under an enormous, transparent dome.  As in the author’s 2009 novel, CBS’ new 13-episode summer series, Under the Dome, will portray the town’s inhabitants -- and one mysterious new stranger, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, played by Mike Vogel -- as they strain to survive in post-apocalyptic conditions and to find answers as to what this barrier is, where it came from, and if and when it will go away.

Although the show has this far-out conceit as its start, its executive producer Neal Baer stresses that Under the Dome, from producer Steven Spielberg, “is not a sci-fi show per se.  It’s much more character-driven, about how people in a town in Anywhere, USA cope in an environment where resources, and faith, are running out.” 

Desperate, the population of Chester’s Mill – the exterior shots of which are a combination of the real-life towns of Southport and Burgah, North Carolina – will have to struggle to keep order as they both re-learn some of mankind’s most basic skills, like farming, and capitalize on some new technologies, like solar energy.  Along the way, “we know you’ll fall in love with these characters,” Baer says, “and be drawn into how they cope with this mystery.”

When author Stephen King visited Under the Dome’s Wilmington, North Carolina set for the start of production, “he said to me, ‘We all live under a dome,’” reports executive producer Neal Baer.  “He meant it in the sense that resources are limited, and sustainability is an important issue of our time.  So this is a modern-day parable of the crises we could all be facing.”
So in case someday you should find yourself similarly trapped under a dome of your own, Baer offers some helpful clues about the phenomenon and its mysterious physical properties.
Impenetrable.  As we’ll soon see, neither airplanes nor the bombs they drop can break through Chester’s Mill’s mysterious dome…
Insurmountable.  …Nor can the barrier be tunneled under – “but you’ll see that they try that,” Baer reveals.  And because the dome encapsulates part of a nearby lake, “they try to swim under, too.  They’ll try anything.  They’re desperate.”  And here, Baer reveals a small clue.  “In their attempts, they find that it’s not really a dome; it’s more like a sphere or bubble.”
Electrified.  Touching the dome, Baer says, “shocks you at first, but then you get used to it.”
Non-Stick.  After the efforts of one apparently unlucky dome-toucher, we’ll see for a while, courtesy of special effects, his or her bloody handprint hanging in the sky.  “But the thing is, the dome is like Teflon,” Baer explains.  “And so ultimately, the handprint kind of slides off.  It’s much like a self-cleaning oven.”
Microclimatic.  The encapsulated area of town is large, and contains a lake, Baer says; therefore, as sunlight shines through, it evaporates water and makes clouds and rain.  “For these people, it’s like living in a giant terrarium.”

Transparent.  “The dome is invisible – at least when we start,” Baer teases, and so being able to see the outside world makes life even more tantalizing for those trapped.  For example, leading lady Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) can look out at another house she had thought of buying. “’Why didn’t I buy that house across the street?’ Julia asks herself.  But actually, I leave it to the audience to decide what side of the dome it’s better to be on.”

Under the Dome
Mondays at 10 PM Eastern /9 PM Central
Starts June 24

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Happy 80th Birthday, Carol Burnett

This spring, I had the immense honor of getting to interview Carol Burnett about her new book Carrie and Me:  A Mother Daughter Love Story (released April 9 by Simon & Schuster), about the box set of The Carol Burnett Show released last fall by Time Inc., about her life and career, and about her love for her daughter Carrie Hamilton, a talent in her own right who passed away far too young at age 38.

This weekend, as the TV legend and comedy icon celebrates her 80th birthday, let's all look back at the times we had together.

A Legend’s Love Story
In a New Memoir, Carol Burnett Pays Tribute to a Talented Daughter

Carol Burnett and daughter Carrie Hamilton
For eleven seasons, Carol Burnett brought the audience for her eponymous variety show some of television’s biggest, longest laughs.  Now, via both her latest autobiographical volume and a deluxe Carol Burnett Show DVD box set, the beloved comedienne is bringing us back to her show’s 1970s heyday, to relive her on-screen highs as well as to reveal her poignant struggles behind-the-scenes.

The Carol Burnett Show debuted in 1967, the almost accidental result of a little-noticed clause in Burnett’s contract for The Garry Moore Show wherein CBS promised the musical comedy actress her own program.  From such inauspicious beginnings, Burnett and her talented ensemble cast of Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner soon became a hit, averaging 30 million viewers per week and ultimately winning 25 Emmy Awards.

Now, even though The Carol Burnett Show has been off the air for more than a generation, as Burnett explains, she still gets mail “from teenagers – even 11-year-olds – who write me because they’ve seen individual sketches on YouTube.  They’re the sweetest letters, saying ‘We heard about this show from our parents’ or ‘our grandparents.  We wish we could have been there at the beginning.’”

The Best of The Carol Burnett Show

That’s why, adds this recipient of twelve People’s Choice awards, eight Golden Globes, six Emmys, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Kennedy Center honors, she’s so happy about her latest prize:  last fall’s release of a Carol Burnett Show DVD box set, titled “Carol’s Favorites” (16-episode set $59.95 or 25-episode set $99.95 in stores; 50-episode deluxe edition, including showcase collector’s box and exclusive memory book $199.95, only at  Now, Burnett explains, fans old and new can experience the show’s laughs in context, within episodes hand-selected by the star and presented in their entirety for the first time since their original broadcast. 

Both box sets sport bonus features, such as a reunion roundtable of the show’s old gang where, Burnett explains, “we all ended up telling stories that even the others had never heard before.”  That’s an achievement, because as the 80-year-old actress notes, “I have a good memory for the show.”  Burnett remembers well the sketches and musical numbers that had America cracking up at home – and, famously, had some of the show’s cast members cracking up on screen.  And so, picking the episodes for DVD from among eleven seasons was easy, she adds.  “But I want you to know, I don’t sit around like Norma Desmond.”

Maybe not, but Burnett did famously portray “Nora” Desmond, a similarly faded and self-obsessed silent-screen star in one of the show’s popular movie parodies.  Then there was Mrs. Wiggins, the blonde bimbo secretary obliviously chomping her gum.  And who could forget Eunice – she’s so starved for attention, she’d never let you get away with it – in the frequently recurring series of “Family” sketches that ultimately was spun off into its own series (although sans Burnett), Mama’s Family.

But it was in the actress’s spoof of another iconic big-screen heroine, this time called “Starlet” O’Hara, where The Carol Burnett Show hit its brilliant peak, and made television history.  As Burnett descended down a grand, Tara-esque staircase, in a gown the show’s costume designer Bob Mackie deliberately made to look clumsily thrown together from fringed velvet curtains, complete with curtain rod across the shoulders, “the audience saw the dress for the first time, and they were screaming,” the actress remembers.   The resulting bout of laughter, reportedly ten-minutes long, is one of the longest ever recorded on television, and the dress that incited it resides in the Smithsonian.  Even Burnett herself nearly broke down.  “To keep from laughing myself, I had to walk down the stairs while biting the inside of my cheek,” she remembers.

Breaking Up Is Hard Not To Do

Carol may have kept it together in “Went With the Wind,” but her entire ensemble was already infamous for not being able to keep a straight face; in one famous sketch, poor Korman was unable to stop shaking with laughter as Conway, as a dentist, improv’d a hilarious slapstick routine with a novocaine needle.  “We never did it on purpose,” Burnett insists about “breaking” on screen.  Instead, trained in live television on shows like Garry Moore and earlier, The Paul Winchell Show, Burnett wanted to preserve a spontaneous feel.  “I wanted people to see that we’re in the sandbox and we’re having fun.  We’re playing,” she explains.  “I didn’t want to stop and re-do the scenes, so I said just let it go.  Let the audience know this is happening, and it’s truthful.  And the audience appreciated that.”

In another throwback to her days working with Moore, who performed a stand-up routine to warm up his own live audience, Burnett also reluctantly committed to interacting with the crowd – but this time, on camera.  “My executive producer, Bob Banner, also produced Garry’s show.  He pointed out, ‘Carol, you’re going to be in funny outfits, with your teeth blacked out, fat suits, and wigs.  I think it’s important for the audience to get to know you first,’” Burnett remembers.  “And after the first two or three shows, the audience came prepared with some really wonderful questions, so I started to enjoy it.”

Burnett would ultimately pepper many personal touches into these interactive “Let’s Bump Up the Lights” segments throughout the eleven years.  She would perform her trademark Tarzan yell – which she’d developed as a kid, forced to portray Tarzan opposite a beautiful cousin who insisted on being Jane -- on command.  She continued to tug her ear – a on-air gesture she’d originally used in her Garry Moore days to signal the OK to her grandmother at home – and close with her signature song, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together,” written by her then-husband, and the show’s executive producer, Joe Hamilton.

A Mother-Daughter Love Story

But as Burnett writes in her new book, Carrie and Me:  A Mother-Daughter Love Story, ($24, in stores April 9), even with this outlet for such personal expression, she decided in 1978 to end her series, in part to spend more time at home with Hamilton and their three young daughters.  The book, Burnett’s third, portrays the actress’ relationship with her eldest, Carrie Hamilton, who in her early teens developed an addiction to drugs.

Carrie’s illness and setbacks on the road to recovery preoccupied Burnett during her early post-variety show career, on the sets of such films as The Four Seasons and the 1982 big-screen Annie.  As Burnett writes, it took a while to accept a tough lesson about forcing your child to deal with her addiction:  “You have to love them enough to let them hate you.”  But by 18, Carrie had successfully completed rehab, and began a career in which it was clear she had inherited many of her mother’s talents.

“When she was 25, Carrie made a movie in Japan, Tokyo Pop, that has become a cult film.  She got sensational reviews – but then she wanted to do other things,” Burnett explains.  Eventually moving to Colorado, Carrie pursued a multi-faceted career as a singer, composer and writer, and began work on a screenplay called “Sunrise in Memphis,” meant to be the story of a bohemian girl’s journey to Graceland.

As Burnett chronicles in Carrie and Me, her daughter took the Graceland trip as research, crossing through Burnett’s own birthplace of San Antonio, Texas, and digging further back into the family’s roots in the town of Belleville, Arkansas.  But unfortunately, Carrie never got to finish that screenplay; she was soon diagnosed with cancer, which would ultimately take her life at just age 38.

The mother and daughter team had first collaborated on the play Hollywood Arms, based on Burnett’s book One More Time; the play ultimately opened in April of 2002, just months after Carrie’s death.  Then, during her last days in the hospital, Carrie asked her mother to fill in the missing middle portion of “Sunrise in Memphis,” but “not having taken that journey myself, I didn’t know where she wanted the characters to go.  They were hers to write,” Burnett explains.

But now, with Carrie and Me, Burnett is fulfilling her promise, finally bringing her daughter’s screenplay to life by publishing it just as it is.  “I felt Carrie on my shoulder the whole time I was writing the book,” Burnett explains.  “I loved doing it because it brought her back to me.”

“The thing about Carrie was, she never met a stranger,” Burnett explains.  “She loved people, and was a great listener.  And where I’m a very conservative dresser, she had hair that was never the same color from week to week, and a collection of boas she’d wear.  She was quite the character, and I hope readers will get the essence of just what a special person she was.”