BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Bad news for viewers looking to laugh: The comedy drought will continue with the start of the 2014-15 TV season.
Among broadcast comedies that debuted last fall, only “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Goldbergs” return for a second season, and neither one is a ratings champ. The networks’ development for fall 2014 looks no more robust, but there’s one program that gives reason for hope: NBC’s funny, surprising pilot for “Marry Me” (9 p.m. Oct. 14), which hails from the executive producer (David Caspe) and star (Casey Wilson) of ABC’s canceled “Happy Endings.”
Fans of that series, although they were not legion, should embrace the out-of-left-field comedy in “Marry Me.”
Ms. Wilson stars as Annie, who has been dating Jake (Ken Marino, “Party Down”) for six years and is beyond ready for an engagement ring. He plans to propose, but she has a meltdown over his lack of a proposal moments before Jake sets his engagement plan in motion. Several family members and friends become collateral damage in Annie’s whirling dervish tirade.
Mr. Caspe and Ms. Wilson got married in real life, although they did not endure what the “Marry Me” characters go through in the pilot, but Ms. Wilson said she can relate to her character: “I am just as irrational and angry and emotional.”
“It could have happened,” Mr. Caspe added.
“At one point I was so angry with David, I was sitting in my car in our driveway, and I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal maybe to drive my car through our house,” Ms. Wilson said. “You know, I'm Italian. I’m also a Scorpio if anyone out there is into astrology. David says I am an actress.”
Ms. Wilson’s new character, Annie, bears similarities to Penny, the role she played on “Happy Endings.”
“I tried to make subtle differences between the two characters. But I think my acting style tends to be kind of one blanketed style, I’m seeing,” she said, laughing. “I hope that there are differences. … Annie is, I hope, slightly less desperate than Penny and that the whole show in general, I think, will be a little bit more grounded than ‘Happy Endings,’ although, I think, with the same hard jokes and great ensemble. But I want people to close their eyes and know a difference between Annie and Penny, and I’m going to work on it.”
Despite the show’s title, NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said viewers should not consider “Marry Me” a show about a wedding.
“I don’t think you should be so focused on the ‘Marry Me’ part of it,” she said somewhat confusingly. “Now that I’ve seen multiple episodes in outline form and have heard pitches beyond that, it’s a show that extends into the ensemble, and it’s really a romantic comedy about relationships, centered on them but extending into the world around them. So you follow the ups and downs of their engagement leading to the planning probably of a wedding and just forward.”
Mr. Caspe said it’s really a show about a couple and their friends and parents — so, “Happy Endings” redux, essentially — with occasional nods to the prospect of a future wedding.
“It’s not a show that’s like episode two is, like, the dress, and episode three is we need another dress,” Mr. Caspe said. “It really is not going to be a wedding centric show, so hopefully we won’t run into the problem of trying to find fresh jokes about weddings.”
‘Hotwives’ spoofs ‘Housewives’
Ms. Wilson also stars in Hulu’s “Hotwives of Orlando” (debuting today at Hulu.com), a parody of the “Real Housewives” reality shows.
“Hotwives” cast member Angela Kinsey (“The Office”) said she had never watched any of the “Real Housewives” shows but appreciated the “Hotwives” script anyway.
“It’s a slice of life of this absurd, ridiculous social club,” she said. “[These wives] get together, have awkward fights at dinner and then you have to watch them eat a whole dinner together in silence.”
And while the show is absurd, it’s also predictable. “Hotwives” filmed a funeral for a dog and later producers saw a dog funeral on a “Housewives” show.
“We feel like were the Nostradamus of what happens on reality TV,” said actress Danielle Schneider.
The show’s low-budget production schedule is frantic: While most half-hour comedies take five days to film each episode, “Hotwives” shot seven episodes in seven days.
“Here‘s a tip,” said executive producer/co-star Paul Scheer (“The League”), “you can buy anything, keep the tags on and then return it after the movie's over.”
My positive review of El Rey’s “Matador” (9 tonight) ran in Sunday’s Post-Gazette, and already the upstart El Rey has renewed the action-drama with a soccer backdrop for a 13-episode second season.
The series’ lead character, Tony “Matador” Bravo (Gabriel Luna), is a pro soccer player by day and a spy by night. He’s also Latino — although he doesn’t speak much Spanish — and one of the key goals of El Rey Network is to better reflect the country’s diversity,
“One of the missions of the network is to appeal to a lot of Hispanic-Americans who feel like they’re not represented on television,” said network founder Robert Rodriguez at an El Rey press conference last week. “I wanted our audience to look at it and go, that’s me! Identity and belonging to something is very important for the country, that you see yourself represented in the media because it is of vital importance to a group.”
The show’s timing is pretty perfect, coming on the heels of the World Cup. The teams in the show are part of the fictional American United Soccer League, including Matador’s L.A. Riot, which executive producer Roberto Orci ("Sleepy Hollow") described as an underdog team of misfits. As for the team’s name, which recalls the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Mr. Orci acknowledged the name is intentionally provocative, but Mr. Luna said there’s a hooligan squad for the real-world Los Angeles Galaxy that already calls itself the L.A. Riot.
“We wanted to put a positive spin on riot,” said executive producer Jay Beattie. “It’s more synonymous with revolution or revolt.”
Deeper into the first season of “Matador” Pittsburgh native Margot Bingham (“Boardwalk Empire”) joins the cast as a CIA logistics analyst Abigail “Billie” Fisher, who comes into conflict with one of her co-workers.
“She’s introduced in episode seven and has a bigger role in eight and back in nine, 10, 11 and 13,” Mr. Beattie said of Ms. Bingham, daughter of Craig Bingham, a 1980s Steelers linebacker, and Lynne Bingham. “She put herself on tape because she was in New York and I’d seen her in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and when I saw her on tape I got really excited and thought we were really lucky to get her.”
El Rey has limited availability in Pittsburgh — it’s only on DirecTV’s Channel 341 — but its first scripted drama, “From Dusk Till Dawn,” becomes available on Netflix in the U.S. on Aug. 19, giving that series an opportunity to reach a much larger audience.
USA begins its ‘Dig’
Jason Isaacs stars in USA’s six-episode fall event series “Dig,” playing an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who investigates the murder of a young female archaeologist and discovers a conspiracy 2,000 years in the making. Anne Heche co-stars as the head of the Jerusalem FBI office and the casual lover of Mr. Isaacs’ character.
USA Network president Chris McCumber compared “Dig” in tone to “The DaVinci Code.”
Executive produced by Tim Kring (“Heroes”) and Gideon Raff (“Homeland”), “Dig” is in production in Jerusalem where it’s one of two American series on hiatus due to Middle East violence. FX’s “Tyrant” has relocated to Turkey to continue production, according to TVGuide.com; “Dig” is on a preplanned production hiatus that’s been extended while producers explore their options.
“This caught us off-guard,” said executive producer Gideon Raff of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. “Hopefully everything will calm down, and we’ll go back to what we planned, and if not we’ll sort it out.”
Producers said they wanted to shoot in Jerusalem because of the history.
“Putting a ‘DaVinci Code’-type psychological, archaeological thriller in that city gives us a lot of possibilities,” Mr. Raff said.
“Dig” is designed to be a close-ended series, although, in success, it could come back with a new story.
“It’s the power of scarcity,” Mr. Kring said. “When J.K. Rowling told the world she was writing seven Harry Potters it made those books very precious to people. If you’re on book five, you know you only have two more to go. There’s something compelling about that, and I think television has finally seen that as a viable model as well. There are certain stories that lend themselves to a beginning, middle and end.”
Studio heads Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who have led 20th Century Fox Television for the past 15 years, will add oversight of the Fox network to their duties, taking over for Kevin Reilly, who departed last month after a season of disappointing ratings. … Thomas Jane (“Hung”) will star in Syfy’s “The Expanse,” a 10-episode space opera coming in 2015. … LogoTV will air a marathon of canceled episodes of “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23” beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday and leading up to the premiere of the first of eight unaired episodes at 10 p.m. Saturday. The remaining unaired episodes will continue to debut at 10 p.m. Saturday.
A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.