Attended a fun and informative evening with Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky last night at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, where the creative duo screened the pilot of their acclaimed series, "The Comeback," followed by a Q&A session.
As many of you recall, "The Comeback" ran just one season on HBO, but has left an indelible mark on the celebrity landscape with its brutal send-up of everything in Hollywood, from aging actresses and power-hungry show runners to hot shot writers and delusional publicists, all the while poking fun at the era's scripted offerings (The CW-able "Room & Bored") and predicting where reality television would lead ("America's Next Great Porn Star"!).
Watching the pilot episode on a big screen with an audience was really a treat. The show is so subtle and nuanced that it was almost as much fun noticing what made other people react as it was watching it yourself. (The audience was nearly all gay men, by the way.) Afterward, Tod Lippy, editor of ESOPUS magazine, moderated the chat, and started at the top by asking where "Valerie Cherish" came from. Kudrow quickly explained Val had roots in her days at the Groundlings -- "Whenever that was" -- and was a character she did for a "Your Favorite Actresses on a TV Show" assignment at the legendary comedy training ground. "The completely insincere voice -- 'We're doing it for the children' -- the whole thing," she recalled. She performed her "probably only three times." Jump ahead to the end of "Friends" when her publicist and the publicist of Michael Patrick King, fresh off his "Sex and the City" success, suggested the two have lunch. Both said that they had no idea why this date had been arranged -- and completely agreed neither of them had any interest in doing another television series. "But if I were going to do one, I have this character ..." Kudrow told King. Without missing a beat, she said, King got everything she was explaining. The lunch ran four hours and by the time it was over, King told her that with one more lunch, he believed they'd have a series. It was as if King took her "sugar and whipped into into a candy sculpture," she said "It'll be a show within a show," he said, and within no time, they were getting ready to pitch it to HBO.
"Other than stuff I had done at the Groundlings, this was the first thing I had formally written," Kudrow said. "Yet we did the whole thing really quickly and with very little rewriting. So I asked Michael Patrick if this was normal (that it would go so quickly and smoothly) and he said no."
If writing the pilot was easy, selling it was anything but. Bucatinsky remembers the incredibly awkward pitch meeting vividly -- and how everyone in the room kind of stared at them as Lisa broke into character and they tried to explain who this aging sitcom star who is willing to suffer any humiliation to get herself back into the limelight is. HBO executives weren't like regular network suits, Kudrow explained, as she demonstrated how they all sat with their legs up on the tables and asked few questions. Finally, realizing they had Michael Patrick King -- "who had just made HBO a billion dollars with 'Sex and the City'" -- and someone with a track record on a megahit show, Bucatinsky said HBO finally said, "We don't know what that is, but do it anyway." And the show was bought.
Eventually, they got around to discussing the show's untimely demise. Both Kudrow and Bucatinsky spoke very fondly and respectfully of HBO throughout the discussion. It was at this point they got introspective and serious, and said they had heard conflicting reports about what ultimately ended the show. A regime change was mentioned. The fact that the network had too many "Hollywood navel-gazing" shows on at once ("Extras," "Entourage," and "Unscripted" were all the air then too) might have been a factor. And that the channel "stopped being HBO for a second," Lisa said kind of sadly, and started thinking like a regular network for a while, was offered as an explanation. Most interesting, though, was how even after all these years, there still seemed to be palpable shock that the show was canceled at all. "This was definitely a two-season thing," Lisa said. "Everyone just thought they put you on and then they leave you alone -- like seven seasons of 'Arli$.'" (No need for sarcasm in parenthesis -- and the "Arli$$" crack may have been said more than once.)
We also learned that:
Eventually, the host turned to the audience, who thankfully were prepared to ask the questions that still needed to be asked.
At one point before the whole thing started, I was telling my date for the evening, Christopher, how truly excited I was because there were only a few things that I would come to like this. (Debbie Harry at a public school or a "Desperately Seeking Susan" screening might do the trick, or anything having to do with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show.") He turned and told me that when he first came to New York for an internship in 1984, some television station used to show three back-to-back episodes of Mary very late at night. He didn't have a strong recollection of the show from when he was a kid, so found himself getting lost in life at WJM. Although he had to be up early for work, he recalled the night the last two episodes -- including the famed "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" series finale -- and the pilot happened to be the three. "It was one of the greatest nights of my life," he joked, as we both began to poke fun at our "pathetic" selves for even kidding about such a thing. Then we paused for a second -- remembering that life's joys really do come in all shapes and sizes, including a trip out to Queens to revisit Valerie Cherish -- and then both agreed this was no joke at all.
Afterward, Christopher and I worked our way down to the stage, where Dan and Lisa were chatting with various friends and attendees. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to Dan (who directed one of my fave gay movies ever, "All Over the Guy"), but Lisa was very warm and kind when I worked my way over to her. I mentioned our mutual friend (Scott, who directed her in "Kabluey") and she immediately said, "Oh, hi. He said you'd be coming." (You know THAT made my night!) I knew she was aware of my Madonna-Val comparison, so I told her that that item was the post that put my infant blog "on the map" back in the day (Queerty and Towleroad both linked to me, which was -- and is -- a big deal in the blogosphere). She smiled and said, "But really -- what is up with that? I don't know if she (Madonna) knew, but her hairdresser ..."
We laughed and then I asked her if Valerie would ever turn up as a client of Fiona Wallice (the character she plays in "Web Therapy") -- sort of an Ursula and Phoebe Buffay situation -- and she smiled and said, "God, Fiona would eat her alive!" Christopher then got the "pic with" and moments later we were back on the subway to the city. It was one of those great evenings that goes by so quickly you feel like you went from saying "Hello, hello, hello" to "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye" in a just matter of seconds.
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