And Then There's Joan...
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October 16, 2001
|THIS IS SAD AND
by Phil Rosenthal, Television Critic
There was a strangely bittersweet exercise Friday night on the Chicago set of ABC's "What About Joan," a little more than 24 hours after the show was canceled by the network on series star Joan Cusack's 39th birthday.
With walking papers in hand, the actors and crew of nearly 200 went through their paces, filming the eighth episode of a season that ended just as they thought they were finding their stride.
"This last show that we shot on Friday, I was so proud of and I really feel successful in that way, that it was really a show that had meaning to it," Cusack said Monday. "I just feel like that's hard to do, to get good content into a sitcom. ...It was jelling together, so this is sad and frustrating."
All told, the nation's television viewers got to see just 11 of the 23 episodes Cusack and company produced. The problem was that, after some promising sampling of early episodes last spring, not enough people showed an interest or inclination to see any more.
They didn't care that the show, as of its return this fall, had a smarter, more realistic feel and that Cusack's Joan Gallagher character was far less manic. Or at least they didn't care quickly enough.
The dropoff in viewership on "Joan" from its first week this fall to the second was 23 percent. Surely it didn't help that three other shows--NBC's "Three Sisters," the WB's "Gilmore Girls" and UPN's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"--all were actively courting the same strong female audience "Joan" was at 7:30 p.m., but ABC, which used to own Tuesday nights, wasn't looking for excuses.
So it axed Cusack's show after just those two episodes in an effort to salvage a night further dragged down by the disappointment of Jason Alexander's "Bob Patterson," a low-rated, poorly received sitcom partly owned by Disney that remains alive for now.
That leaves six unaired episodes of "Joan" from this fall to gather dust in a Columbia TriStar warehouse alongside the four episodes the studio produced earlier this year as part of the show's initial order but scrapped when it was decided "Joan" needed to go in a different direction.
Off-the-air clearly was not the direction anyone had in mind.
"You couldn't have a more charming and endearing lead than Joan, and she had such a strong supporting cast," said ABC's Stu Bloomberg, who not only helps program the network but oversees Disney-owned TV productions. "But somehow the elements all didn't add up. The show never truly jelled and found itself."
While it's possible some cable network will buy the "What About Joan" inventory--the story of a thirtysomething Chicago high school teacher involved with a hunky investment banker would seem to have Lifetime written all over it--ABC, for now, plans to burn off unaired episodes this summer and wash its hands of a costly missed opportunity.
"We need a winning season," Bloomberg said. "I love Joan. I have been pursuing Joan for television for probably five years, and it was a painful, painful decision."
Cusack admits it took time to adjust to this new medium, but the Oscar-nominated film star would love to do another series someday. "I learned about TV," she said. "It's such a corporate world and so different from the boutique-y film thing. It was fascinating."
Friday's filming had Joan's boyfriend quitting his job and being encouraged by Joan to find something to do that he truly loves.
"He thinks about it, and realizes he does love what he's doing at work and it has value and meaning to him," Cusack said. "He realizes when life hands you disappointments, you can't quit.
"So it was a really powerful show to do on a lot of levels because I was saying, 'You've gotta do something you love to do,' and there I was doing something I love to do and I believe so strongly in."
Her only regret is that she won't get to do it any longer.
August 6, 2001
|PRODUCTION BEGINS FOR
SECOND SEASON OF WAJ
Production has begun on the second season of "What About Joan," the half-hour romantic comedy starring Academy Award-nominated actress Joan Cusack. The series airs TUESDAYS (8:30-9:00 p.m., ET) this fall on the ABC Television Network.
Shot in Chicago, the series focuses on the complexity and endurance of close friendships among women, as well as the challenging relationship between high school teacher Joan Gallagher (Ms. Cusack) and her investment banker boyfriend, Jake (Kyle Chandler), as they blunder toward intimacy while sharing their lives with a small circle of friends.
Madly in love with Joan, Kyle [sic] is helping her discover the best of who she is. At the same time Kyle's [sic] best friend, Steinie (Jeff Garlin), a bar manager, is attempting to show Kyle [sic] that there is a lighter side to life than the one his facts-and-figures mentality has allowed him to enjoy.
Joan also shares a strong bond with her best friend, Ruby (Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy) -- a psychiatrist and a bit of a diva with troubles of her own -- and enjoys the camaraderie of Mark (Wallace Langham), a fellow teacher, and Alice Adams (Kellie Shanygne Williams), a student teacher at the high school.
Joan Cusack stars as Joan Gallagher, Kyle Chandler as Jake, Wallace Langham as Mark, Donna Murphy as Dr. Ruby Stern, Kellie Shanygne Williams as Alice Adams and Jeff Garlin as Steinie.
Academy Award and Emmy-winner James L. Brooks, John Levenstein and Richard Sakai are executive producers of the series. Gwen Macsai is the creator and producer. Directing this season will be Emmy Award-winner Terry Hughes. "What About Joan" is a production of Gracie Films in association with Columbia TriStar Television. The series, which is taped before a studio audience in Chicago, premiered March 27, 2001.
July 26, 2001
|CUSACK BUCKS ODDS WITH
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.
July 26, 2001
LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) --- ABC and CBS are beefing up the casts of their sophomore series.
Jeff Garlin (NBC's "Mad About You") has joined ABC's comedy from James L. Brooks, "What About Joan," while Jonathan LaPaglia (UPN's "Seven Days") has come aboard CBS' Washington-based cop drama "The District."
Garlin will be pulling double duty during the coming season. On "Joan," Columbia TriStar Television's sitcom starring Joan Cusack and Kyle Chandler, Garlin will play Chandler's longtime best friend. He also will continue as an executive producer and co-star on Larry David's HBO comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which he plays David's manager.
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