Wednesday, June 9
Don Roos has an unlikely deal at NBC: to make a TV show based on his 1998 movie The Opposite of Sex . And Garth Ancier, the new NBC entertainment president (Warren Littlefield’s old slot) who arrived from the WB just about a month ago, has told Mr. Roos to keep it as racy as legally possible.
“He really wants us to push the show as far as we can,” said Mr. Roos, 44, from his office at NBC Studios in Los Angeles, where he’s writing the first six episodes. “So, we’re going to push the envelope.”
There are limits: “I don’t think we want to explore bestiality or anything,” said Mr. Ancier. Oh, and one more thing: While gay characters figured prominently in the original The Opposite of Sex , they won’t be getting major air time in the TV version.
Mr. Roos is the longtime TV and movie writer ( Hart to Hart , Dynasty 2: The Colbys , Boys on the Side , Single White Female ) who let his talent shine for The Opposite of Sex . It starred Christina Ricci, who played a scammy teenager who moves in with her wealthy, gay half-brother and steals his boyfriend. Along the way, she makes a lot of sarcastic cracks about gay culture in her voice-over–which was O.K., since Mr. Roos is gay himself.
The TV show is to be called M.Y.O.B. Asked about the lack of gay characters on the TV version, Mr. Roos said: “Straight people are so dreadfully, woefully underrepresented on network television.”
You know the way teenagers are portrayed on new shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer ? None of that stuff will fly here.
“It’s basically Eve Arden, after midnight, when she’s sour and mean,” said Mr. Roos. “It’s sort of going to be a comment on the type of teen shows that we’re seeing so much of everywhere. We hate teenagers here in this office. I can’t possibly be interested in whether their pimples are going to clear up before the prom.”
The casting of the Christina Ricci part has been a trouble spot for Mr. Roos and NBC. (Where do you find a television actress who can match Ms. Ricci’s piercing eyes, Satanic grin and that arsenal of tongue cutlery?) Mr. Roos thought he’d found his gal in Nicki Aycox, who plays a formerly homeless teen on Providence . But after he reviewed the pilot with Mr. Ancier, the two decided she just wasn’t it.
“We didn’t have someone who could zing out those lines the way Christina Ricci did,” said Mr. Ancier.
Now Mr. Roos is desperate to find a lead. “We’re hoping to God there’s someone out there. The pool of teenage actresses is diminished out here,” he said. “Everyone you want is on Dawson’s or something.” Tonight on Dawson’s: sensitive teens in sexy situations, surrounded by nature’s bounty. [WPIX, 11, 8 P.M.]
Thursday, June 10
Patrick McCarthy was packing a suitcase in his studio apartment in Murray Hill on the afternoon of June 4. At the age of 28, after years of striving, he had gotten a job as a writer for a TV show–and now it was time to leave New York for Los Angeles.
Into the suitcase went Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges and Sexual Personae , by Camille Paglia. Also socks, boxers, slacks and dress shirts–boxed. “My mother taught me this,” Mr. McCarthy said. “You go to the cleaners, you have the shirts boxed, so this way you don’t have to, like, iron everything all the time. It will be nice and neat. You take them out and you’re ready to rock.”
Mr. McCarthy has been hired, for a 16-week trial run, at It’s Like, You Know , an ABC sitcom created by former Seinfeld executive producer Peter Mehlman.
Last year, working as an intern at Cosby in New York, between fetching coffee and picking up dry cleaning, Mr. McCarthy teamed up with fellow peon Erik Shapiro and wrote a Cosby script. The Cosby producers liked it and bought it–but it never got made. Still, the script got Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Shapiro into the Writers Guild.
Last spring, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Shapiro flew out to Los Angeles separately in search of work, copies of the Cosby script in hand; both returned to New York with nothing.
Mr. McCarthy moved back into his parents’ house in South Salem, N.Y. He briefly waited tables before going on unemployment. Eventually, at Mr. Shapiro’s house in Passaic, N.J., the two banged out a script for Just Shoot Me on speculation. (“We stayed up until 4 A.M., and we crashed and woke up and read it and we were just astounded, we were just so happy,” said Mr. Shapiro.) They sent it to the Kaplan-Stahlar-Gumer Agency in Los Angeles (with whom Mr. Shapiro had already had some contact). On the strength of the spec script, the new team of McCarthy and Shapiro flew out to Los Angeles in April to meet with Marc Provissiero, a Kaplan-Stahler-Gumer agent.
The agency is located on Wilshire Boulevard. Downstairs you have the Trimana coffee shop. That’s where Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Shapiro really made an impression.
“We have a runner in the office who gets coffee and drops things off,” said Mr. Provissiero. “He came back and said there were these two clowns down in the coffee shop, these two dorky-looking guys, who were arguing over who was going to pay for the muffin. They were causing a scene and were literally arguing over who was going to pay the 25 cents for the muffin and they got to a point where they were laughing and then they said they weren’t going to have the muffin and everyone in the place was laughing. And then they walked in and I said, ‘Who are these fucking guys?'”
Two New York guys having a dispute over a muffin in L.A.? Mr. Provissiero and his colleagues thought these guys would be perfect for Peter Mehlman’s It’s Like, You Know –a Seinfeld -esque sitcom about displaced New Yorkers in L.A. “Elliot Stahler, the main partner in the agency, called up Peter and said, ‘I’ve got your boys,'” said Mr. Provissiero.
The two got a 20-minute meeting with Mr. Mehlman one week later and then headed home to New York. On May 25, Mr. McCarthy got word that he and his partner had gotten the job.
A beginning writer on the show makes $3,000 a week. By selling themselves as a team, McCarthy and Shapiro got one slot–meaning they’ll split the paycheck.
“I liked the fact that they’ve never been on any other show,” said Mr. Mehlman. “They won’t come in tainted by the process that most sitcoms have, which is being a joke machine and sitting around in a group so they can just shout out jokes.”
Mr. McCarthy has 16 weeks to prove himself, at which point Mr. Mehlman will decide whether or not to pick up his contract option. That’s why he’s only packing one suitcase, and staying with a friend in L.A. All the while, he’ll send some rent money back to New York.
“We don’t feel like we are the champions, you know, running around drinking champagne on Mulholland Drive,” said Mr. McCarthy in his studio. The windows gave a nice view of the air shaft. “It’s 16 weeks, and then our option either gets picked up or doesn’t, and we just take it from there.”
As a kid, Mr. McCarthy said, he was inspired by Three’s Company . “It may not be, like, high-class comedy, but for pure funny, it’s brilliant,” he said. Growing up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., he memorized the names of TV writers. “The first thing I ever read was TV Guide ,” he said. “I was like a walking schedule.”
The compulsion lasted through his high school days at Regis High School on East 84th Street, and through college, at Fairfield University. After college he landed lowly jobs, first at Sesame Street (“Funny show– funny! “) and, finally, at Cosby .
Mr. McCarthy has been sharing the ground-level studio apartment with his girlfriend, Cosby audience coordinator Debbie Graber. “I told her it’s not going to change our relationship at all,” he said. “If we get out there and it looks like we’re going to stay, I think she’s going to come out.”
Two days later, on June 6, Mr. McCarthy boarded the 8 A.M. flight out of Newark to Los Angeles. On June 7, he and his partner reported to work at the CBS Radford Studios, joining Seinfeld veterans Carol Leifer and Jill Franklyn. Writing season had begun. [WNET, 13, 11 A.M.]
Friday, June 11
Which Roseanne do you prefer? The sometimes rude, sometimes raunchy mother of Roseanne , the sitcom, or the concerned celebrity of The Roseanne Show ? Well, at 11 A.M. on weekdays, you’ve got your choice–the sitcom reruns on Channel 5 and the talk show one click down, on Channel 4. They’re not happy at Channel 5: “We were there first,” said a spokesman for the Fox affiliate. Channel 4 had no comment; an executive at King World, which produces The Roseanne Show , said the syndicator was “not thrilled” to have Roseanne in competition with herself in New York. Nationwide, Roseanne creams herself in the ratings: 2.7 million people watch the sitcom reruns, while 1.4 million watch the talk show. [WNYW, 5; WNBC, 4, 11 A.M.]
Saturday, June 12
Tito, Michael, Jermaine, Jackie and Marlon. Before the crazy pets and allegations of child abuse. Before LaToya. The Jackson Five . Relive the animated magic. [TV Land, 85, 9:30 A.M.]
Sunday, June 13
Y2K alert: Jesus Is Coming . [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 57, 5 P.M.]
Monday, June 14
Katie Couric meets Johnnie Cochran on Johnnie Cochran Tonight . [Court TV, 40, 7 P.M.]
Tuesday, June 15
Dan Rather stops by to see the ladies of The View : It’s party time. [WABC, 7, 11 A.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
James Cagney once told me he’d worked with 80 directors in his career, “but there’s only five I’d call a real director.” Which was what? “A real director is a guy who, if I don’t know what the hell to do, can get up and show me!” Pioneer Raoul Walsh, with whom Cagney did three memorable pictures, was definitely one of those five. The best example of his acting abilities (most famously he was John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation ) can be seen in Walsh’s own vigorous 1928 adaptation of the classic Somerset Maugham short story and stage play of South Seas sex and repression, Rain , starring the immortal Gloria Swanson as that notorious lady of easy virtue, Sadie Thompson [Monday, June 14, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 2 A.M.; also on videocassette] .
Swanson owned the picture (Joseph Kennedy was funding her company and having an affair with her) and hired Walsh to direct, and superb Lionel Barrymore as the hypocritical puritan minister, then asked Walsh to make tests for the other lead role of the Marine sergeant. Walsh told me he “must have taken 20 tests of all good-looking fellas. I’d rehearse them and show them what to do. Gloria would be down on the set sometimes. We were falling behind on the start date, so [studio head] Joe Schenck sent for me one day and said, ‘Raoul, we’re never going to start this picture unless you play the part. I know this gal and I know what she wants.’ And sure enough, he was right.” Walsh has an understated, strangely innocent charm in the role, his last completed one; later that year, he was starring in and directing In Old Arizona when a freak car accident–a jack rabbit jumped into his windshield–cost him an eye and ended the acting part of his career.
Swanson was nominated for a best actress Oscar for Sadie Thompson and then, over two decades later, nominated again for her performance as the has-been movie queen in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard , during which she has a line in defiant praise of silent films: “We didn’t need words–we had faces then!” Indeed, her work in Sadie Thompson proves this more than accurate: What she could do with those extraordinary eyes; what amazingly complex emotions you could read on her radiant face. Seeing this performance, it isn’t difficult to understand why she was such a popular star, one equally adept at comedy and drama. For the morning-after scene, following Barrymore’s betrayal and suicide, Walsh told me, Swanson “on her own … stayed up all that night so she’d look haggard. And, boy, she did look haggard–from the beautiful girl she was. And then came out of that door–you knew something had happened to her.”
The Maugham story was remade as a talkie four years later with Joan Crawford and Walter Huston as Rain , and 20 years after that as Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth and José Ferrer, but neither film worked nearly as well as the original. Walsh said that Crawford had come up to him once in a nightclub and apologized for even attempting it.
Despite the loss of his eye, Walsh went on to a long and adventurous directing career in the sound era. The three Cagney-Walsh pictures are: the nostalgic period comedy-drama, The Strawberry Blonde (1941), the explosive psychopath study White Heat (1949) and the riveting 1939 Prohibition saga, The Roaring Twenties [Tuesday, June 15; Turner Classic Movies, 82, 4 A.M.; also on videocassette] . Often as devil-may-care as many of his characters, Walsh came to pictures from an odd mixture of New York savvy and wild cowboying experiences, evidently a better way to develop a personal view than by taking film courses at New York University or U.C.L.A. No wonder movies used to be more interesting.