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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2007

TV newsroom source of fun for Heaton and Grammer

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Kelsey Grammer and Patricia
Heaton star in Back to You. Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton star in Back to You.
HANDOUT NOT BLADE SAM JONES/FOX Enlarge

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Fox's TV newsroom sitcom Back to You will be in the spotlight this fall because it's one of the few new comedies filmed in front of a studio audience.

Traditional multicamera sitcoms have become a bit of an endangered species in recent years as dramas, reality shows, and single-camera, laugh-track-free comedies (Scrubs, The Office) have been more prevalent.

"I don't think any single show should be the savior of any particular form," cautioned Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori.

Back to You stars Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) as news anchors who worked together in the '90s and had a brief romantic fling. Grammer's character then moved onto larger markets before meeting with disgrace and landing back in Pittsburgh.

The show's setting isn't entirely arbitrary. Created by Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me) and Christopher Lloyd (Frasier), the pair were at odds about the station's city, with Lloyd favoring Buffalo, N.Y., and Levitan preferring Pittsburgh, where his college friend, Ken Rice, is ananchor at KDKA-TV. They took the choices to Liguori, who picked Pittsburgh.

"Pittsburgh felt like the right place for these two people, knowing what I know about local news," said Levitan, who worked in TV news before writing sitcoms. "I believe these people in Pittsburgh more than I believe this team in Buffalo."

"They're a little too polished to believe they're from Sioux Falls," Lloyd added.

Levitan said he's always wanted to write a newsroom comedy, because having worked in news, he knows it's a setting ripe for laughs. "I kept sending scripts to Ken throughout the process, making sure it's still accurate because it's been 15-to-20 years since I've done news," he said. "What's so funny to me about local news is this great narcissism pretending to be altruism. It's a wonderful place for larger-than-life characters to be a big fish in a small pond."

Levitan was quick to point out that Back to You isn't meant to be another behind-the-scenes show like Studio 60, and because it stars familiar sitcom veterans, the show doesn't feel that way. "It could be an insurance office, and the personal dynamics would be the same," he said.

For Grammer, playing another broadcaster, as he did with his radio shrink on Frasier, wasn't a concern.

"Based upon my knowledge of most broadcasting now, it's got nothing to do with news anyway," Grammer said. "I'm happy to be a performer pretending to be a performer. Frankly, Frasier was a psychiatrist who happened to be on the air."

Heaton said she and Grammer share the same agent and they had talked about developing a project that would have cast them as rival college professors, the dead-white-male professor vs. Heaton's women's lib professor. That never materialized.

"I was doing this play in New York for 600 bucks a week and my agent called and I said, 'Yes, whatever it is!'•" she said.

"That's flattering, Patty," Levitan said, getting laughs.

Also on Fox: The network has ordered additional seasons of So You Think You Can Dance and Hell's Kitchen for 2008. Mad TV, which premieres its 13th season Sept. 15, will tape its new season at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood to enhance its live-event feeling.

At Saturday night's Television Critics Association Awards, NBC landed four awards, but all eyes were on David Chase, creator of HBO's The Sopranos, which won two trophies.

In his first public statements since an interview with a New Jersey newspaper after the cut-to-black Sopranos finale, Chase joked, "Here's another clue for you all: The walrus was Paulie."

In accepting one of two awards for The Sopranos, Chase said to presenter Alan Sepinwall of the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, "You're from New Jersey, I'm from New Jersey. Will you explain to these people, it is possible, in fact very likely, to be sitting in a restaurant in Jersey, and everything just stops."

His final statement on the nonending included an allusion to the surprise conclusion of the first Planet of the Apes movie, which he saw as a 23-year-old graduate student in the Stanford University film school.

"I'll just say this, and maybe it will help to explain it: When the movie was over, I turned to [my wife] and said, 'Wow, so they had a Statue of Liberty, too!' So that's what you're up against."

Comedy winner Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) told a funny story about meeting Chase. Baldwin said he was in the bathroom of the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, shirtless, trying to dry a sweat-soaked shirt. When he saw Chase, he turned "all Woody Allen" awkward.

Chase said he was nonplussed.

"When I walked into that Four Seasons bathroom, all I thought was, 'Holy [cow]! That's Alec Baldwin, the famous movie star!' I didn't even notice he didn't have a shirt on or anything."

Good humor mingled with sincere appreciation at the awards. In accepting the outstanding new program award for NBC's low-rated Friday Night Lights, executive producer Jason Katims noted, "There may have been other shows that deserved it more than us, but no one needed it more than us."

Other 2007 TCA Award recipients:

Program Of The Year: Heroes (NBC).

Outstanding Achievement in Drama: The Sopranos (HBO).

Outstanding Achievement in Comedy: The Office (NBC).

Outstanding Achievement in News & Information: Planet Earth (Discovery Channel).

Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming: Kyle Xy (ABCFamily).

Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries, and Specials: Planet Earth.

Individual Achievement in Drama: Michael C. Hall, Dexter (Showtime).

Heritage Award: The Sopranos.

Career Achievement: Mary Tyler Moore.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.

Contact him at:

rowen@post-gazette.com



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