Ricky Blitt, creator of "Romantically Challenged," may not know much about Pittsburgh outside the dome of Mellon Arena, but it's because of the kindness of Penguins players in the 1970s that the new ABC sitcom is set here.
Mr. Blitt, who grew up in Montreal, was always a hockey fan, and would go with his brother, artist Barry Blitt, to the hotel where teams stayed. Barry would carry along pictures he drew of the team and give them to the Penguins players.
"The Penguins would give us tickets [to the games]," Ricky Blitt said in a recent telephone interview. "The Penguins were the nicest team."
In the years since his childhood, Mr. Blitt has been to Pittsburgh "five or 10 times" to watch the Penguins play.
"I'm Jewish and I joke that the first time I went to Pittsburgh it was like [going to] Israel for me," he said. "I was going to go for the first time to a place where other people were cheering for the Penguins. I've never matured past the point that a Penguins loss isn't painful.
"People would be amused by the way I watch the Penguins," Mr. Blitt said. "I'm such a pessimist. The Penguins had a 2-0 lead [during a playoff game last year] and if you came into my home, saw me watching TV and didn't know what happened, you would assume the Penguins were down by 16 goals. I was almost comatose."
Because of his love for the team, Mr. Blitt, who previously wrote for "Family Guy" and created "The Winner" for Fox, chose to set his new series in Pittsburgh.
"Romantically Challenged," premiering tonight at 9:30 on WTAE, follows four Pittsburgh friends, including recently divorced lawyer Rebecca (Alyssa Milano). The friends often hang out at a coffeehouse -- shades of Central Perk -- that Mr. Blitt said he imagines is somewhere in Downtown near Rebecca's office. He said he intends for Rebecca's home to be in Mt. Lebanon -- because it's where Penguins great Mario Lemieux once lived.
Mr. Blitt's hockey love extends to the end credits of "Romantically Challenged" and his production company's logo. Mr. Blitt asked his brother, an artist whose work has appeared on the cover of the The New Yorker (including the infamous, satirical image of the Obamas fist-bumping), to come up with a piece of art for the logo; Barry drew an image of Ricky, seated on a sofa, watching a hockey game on TV.
Mr. Blitt's affection for hockey and the Penguins isn't the only "Romantically Challenged" tie to Pittsburgh. There's also an odd Hollywood coincidence at work.
Actor Kyle Bornheimer, who starred last season in CBS's "Worst Week," is not from the area -- he grew up near South Bend, Ind. -- but he's starring in three Pittsburgh-set projects.
First, he was one of the stars of the filmed-and-set-in-Pittsburgh movie "She's Out of My League," which arrived in theaters last month.
Now he's in "Romantically Challenged."
Finally, he's been cast in CBS's fall Pittsburgh-set pilot -- once called "Livin' on a Prayer" but currently untitled -- that was written, in part, by a former Pittsburgher and stars Mt. Lebanon native/Carnegie Mellon University grad Joe Manganiello and Mr. Bornheimer's "League" co-star Lindsay Sloane ("Grosse Pointe").
"It's so funny," Mr. Bornheimer said in a recent interview by telephone. "I don't know how that came about. It was like, boom-boom-boom."
Like most sitcoms, "Romantically Challenged" filmed all its episodes on a soundstage in Los Angeles and the CBS show will do the same.
"There were, like, three movies being made when we were there," Mr. Bornheimer said of his experience making "She's Out of My League" locally. He was excited to see locations used in movie favorites such as "Deer Hunter" and "Silence of the Lambs." "We were Downtown staying at a hotel and there's a lot of great architecture. They maintain their old buildings really nicely, like the old city hall and the old city prison. I checked out a couple of Pirates games and the new stadium is beautiful. We had a big cast and were able to go out a lot and have a lot of fun."
How, you may wonder, can Mr. Bornheimer star in two sitcoms almost simultaneously? Producers of the CBS show are playing the odds that "Romantically Challenged," like 80 percent of all shows, will fail, which would make Mr. Bornheimer available for their CBS sitcom this fall.
Technically, he's in "second position" on the CBS show, meaning his first allegiance is to "Romantically Challenged." If "Romantically Challenged" is a hit and the CBS comedy gets picked up producers of the CBS show will have to re-cast Mr. Bornheimer's role with a different actor and re-shoot its pilot episode.
TV editor Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. First Published April 19, 2010 4:00 AM