Articles about "What
About the show
Cusack bucks odds with 'Joan'
July 26, 2001, BY PHIL ROSENTHAL TELEVISION CRITIC
PASADENA, Calif.--Joan Cusack did something on TV last season that Bette Midler, Geena Davis, John Goodman and Michael Richards--talented and beloved though they may be--could not even approach.
She got renewed for this fall.
''It was really hard,'' said Cusack, who's steeling herself to begin work on the second season of ABC's Chicago-based ''What About Joan'' in two weeks. ''I had no idea how hard it would be. But I realized that I love doing it. It's a great medium for me in some ways. I'm figuring out the finesse of my performance and [how to work with] an audience and all that.''
''What About Joan'' had something of a shakedown cruise in its first season. As Joan Gallagher, a high school teacher dating a hunky stockbroker she can't quite believe is as head-over-heels in love with her as he is, Cusack worked to make the sometimes-rough transition from Oscar-nominated actress to sitcom star.
''In the movies, if you do a little part here, a little part there, it's not so out there, but if it's you on a TV show, you're really out there--there's no flying under the radar,'' she said. ''I have more input now. This year I'm trying to get more of what's meaningful to me in there, so at least I feel as though I've given it my best shot.''
Those who suggested Cusack was projecting past the cameras to the last row of the studio bleachers only knew half of it. Turns out she was playing all the way to Los Angeles, where executive producer James L. Brooks (''The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'' ''Taxi,'' ''The Simpsons'') and others monitored run-throughs via a T1 closed-circuit hookup, offering suggestions from afar.
''It was confusing,'' she said. ''It was hard to get a sense of creative connection sometimes. Sometimes it was great [and] it didn't matter. Jim is so great and so brilliant and so inspirational, so a lot of times it didn't bother me at all. [But] it's all going to be done from Chicago, so we don't have that confusion.''
John Levenstein has been brought in to run things in Chicago, along with a handful of other new behind-the-scenes people. So if Brooks or anyone else wants to suggest something during run-throughs, they will have to get on a plane and fight the Kennedy Expy. traffic, like the rest of the team.
''I learned some stuff about my own performance,'' Cusack said. ''I'm used to being sensitive and intuitive to the medium I'm in, and [because] there were audience members, too, I didn't find the right balance. So I'm excited to be able to finesse that. I learned so much, and it's great to have all that raw information to take into another season because it's so hard to get it right.''
Jeff Garlin, who plays Larry David's manager in HBO's ''Curb Your Enthusiasm,'' is joining the cast as a friend of Jake's. Jessica Hecht, meanwhile, is out as Joan's friend and co-worker. The fate of the four as-yet-unaired episodes, taped as part of the original order of 13 last spring but shelved as strike insurance, is uncertain in light of the changes being made.
''We're just gonna try to make [the show] a little more realistic all the way around,'' Cusack said. ''Audiences are a little more sophisticated, and they expect more.''
HBO's ''The Sopranos'' and ''Sex and the City,'' she said, have upped the bar for network shows such as ''What About Joan.''
''They're more thoughtful and it just seems audiences are ready for that,'' she said. ''You don't have to spoon-feed them.''
Among the first scripts she has seen for the coming season is one that shows how boyfriend Jake (''Early Edition'' alum Kyle Chandler) and Joan first met, which presumably will be part of fleshing out their chemistry and determining exactly what their relationship is all about, something that was much discussed between the two characters last spring but too rarely seen.
''We're figuring out what the dynamic is between the two characters in a more subtle way,'' Cusack said. ''Jake is maybe somebody who's a thoughtful guy and a business guy and a smart guy, but maybe he's not as emotionally developed. How does that reflect on your life if you're not emotionally developed in that way? You kind of get to a tough family situation, and you just have a couple of cocktails and don't say anything, which is I think a newer, more interesting approach.''
So maybe Jake this season will not seem quite as remarkable as he first seemed, both to Joan and to the audience, and maybe she can more easily discern what he sees in her.
''It's more her fantasy that he's perfect,'' Cusack said. ''Reality is, he's not perfect. Nobody's perfect. He's got his shortcomings, too. You learn that, along with the fact she's got her strengths, and that balance is part of what makes it real.''
Hey, she's coming back for a second season. In network television, it doesn't get any more real than that.
'Joan' Gets New Showrunner
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - John Levenstein will become the new showrunner for the Columbia TriStar TV sitcom What About Joan, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Levenstein takes over for David Richardson, who will focus on developing shows for his overall deal with Columbia TriStar TV. Also leaving the series is actress Jessica Hecht, who portrayed Joans needy friend Betsy.
ABC will unveil a fall schedule to advertisers today that's short on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and newsmagazines, but adds two new sitcoms, another sketch-comedy series and three dramas to replenish its lineup. All three midseason comedies My Wife and Kids, What About Joan and The Job will be back next fall, though none of the four new series that premiered last October will be returning, including The Geena Davis Show and Gideon's Crossing. Friday sitcoms Norm and Two Guys & a Girl also are dead, but Once and Again will return, moving to 10 p.m. ET/PT Fridays, and reality show The Mole will open that night at 8. Millionaire will air just twice a week (down from four times currently) on Mondays and Thursdays. One edition of Millionaire will feature celebrities each week.
Dusty Saunders, January 21, 2001
HOLLYWOOD -- James L. Brooks has come a long way since his show-business baptism of fire in the summer of 1970.
Along with Allan Burns, another budding producer-writer, Brooks met the press at a Beverly Hills restaurant to discuss a new CBS comedy series starring Mary Tyler Moore.
Moore was there, but husband Grant Tinker, the main spokesman for the show, had been hospitalized with back problems.
A pilot (first episode) had not been filmed, so Moore and the two young producers were winging it while trying to explain, to a hostile group, the comedy concept surrounding a young woman "who would attempt to make it on her own."
While that press conference was a near-disaster, it was a launching pad for MTM (the meowing-kitty trademark), an enormously successful, top-quality production company. And as the world knows, The Mary Tyler Moore Show became one of the most revered series in TV history.
And Brooks was on his way to a luminous career as a major writer, director and producer. While being involved earlier with Room 222, an ABC comedy, Moore's show was the project that eventually allowed Brooks to expand his career past television.
He followed Mary Tyler Moore with a variety of quality series: Lou Grant, Taxi, The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons. The result: 15 prime-time Emmy awards.
His mantle became more crowded with the addition of Oscars for writing, directing and producing Terms of Endearment.
His film-production credits also include Broadcast News, War of the Roses, Big, Jerry Maguire and, most recently, As Good As It Gets, which received seven Academy Award nominations and Oscars for Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt.
With such glowing big-screen success, there seems to be little reason for Brooks to be involved as executive producer of a new comedy series ABC has been calling The Untitled Joan Cusack Project. (A quick title update from Brooks: The Still Untitled Joan Cusack Project.)
"I never really left television," Brooks says. "There's just been a period of years when I think I've been lucky enough to have two different experiences (movies and TV).
"You really can't compare the two. Television is warm, more collegial, more community, just more team. When it works, it's the best job there is. I've always thought that. And a half-hour comedy that works is the best job you can get from the writing point of view."
Brooks says the Cusack project, scheduled to premiere in March, provides deja vu, since, like Moore's show, it deals with a single woman and features an ensemble cast. In 1970, Mary Richards was a transplanted New Yorker who moved to Minneapolis to start a new life while working at a local TV station. But Mary didn't have a boyfriend.
A funny, acrobatic actress, Cusack (Working Girl, In & Out) plays Joan Gallagher, a single Chicago schoolteacher who's full of anxiety and has a boyfriend (Kyle Chandler). And since this is the 21st century, Joan Gallagher sleeps with him. Mary Richards could never have done that 30 years ago.
"I think Mary is brilliant; Joan is brilliant. They have very specific talents," Brooks says. "But the shows are different. We consciously patterned a lot of the character on Joan, based on her broad comedy background in films, TV and stage.
"Perhaps this series is a bit more alive with issues because there are a lot of women on the staff, much more so than in Mary's days."
Brooks notes that Cusack's series will have a different TV look because it's being filmed entirely in Chicago, at Cusack's request.
"The fact it's shot in Chicago makes it fun. It makes everything fresh," Brooks says. He laughs and adds, "I think when the networks have to go on a plane instead of a car to see the show, well, it sort of changes everything." His point: less network interference.
Cusack's show was the concept of Gwen Mascai, best-known as an author and award-winning National Public Radio essayist. She came to Brooks and they developed the series before they got the star -- "unlike some recent shows," Brooks says, alluding to struggling TV comedies starring Bette Midler and Geena Davis.
"I'm a firm believer that if you get the concept first, things hold together better," he says. "Then you get a star like Joan and then tailor scripts around the star.
"Joan is very physical. ... She ad-libs physically. I've never worked with anyone as physically gifted as Joan when it comes to comedy. She's funny when walking into a room."
Unlike many critics and industry leaders, Brooks doesn't condemn today's situation-comedy atmosphere.
"I think there are some great shows," he says. "Malcolm in the Middle. ... And I'm a huge fan of Ally McBeal. Frasier is as good as Frasier is supposed to be. And I'm leaving some out."
Movie critics won't have to ask Brooks why he left the big screen to return to television. As he prepares to launch Cusack's show, he's busy working on a feature dealing with Janet Cook, the Washington Post reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize after creating a bogus story.
"There's always room for both TV and movies in my life," he says.
Family Matters: Main | Photos | Cast | News | Episodes | Songs | Links | DeutschBook: Sign | View