[Paleopsych] NYT: (Pamela Anderson) Why Johnny Can't Read
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Sun Apr 10 17:00:03 UTC 2005
Arts > Television > Why Johnny Can't Read
By ALEXANDRA JACOBS
Series premiere, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., Eastern and Pacific times;
7:30, Central time
THE atmosphere was zoolike at a recent Los Angeles taping of
"Stacked," the Pamela Anderson sitcom scheduled to begin Wednesday on
Fox, in a coveted slot right before "American Idol." "Ah-ooh!" came
the hollers from the peanut gallery, as Ms. Anderson emerged from
backstage, clad in a low-cut black cocktail dress, flanked by the rest
of the cast. There followed a series of wolf whistles.
"Oh, my God," murmured a smitten man in the audience as Ms. Anderson,
in character as a novice independent-bookstore employee, removed a
diaphanous peach-colored garment from her purse. Then, losing his grip
on the English language altogether: "Whoa!"
You merely have to utter the name "Pamela Anderson" for devoted
middle-aged husbands to be rendered smirking, hormonally addled
teenage boys. Yet their wives don't seem to mind, perhaps because Ms.
Anderson, the flaxen-haired favorite of Playboy magazine and Howard
Stern, passed long ago into the realm of the cartoonish, thanks to her
remarkable cleavage (she has never been coy about her use of silicone
implants); her stormy and very public love life (she married and
divorced the Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and dated the rapper Kid
Rock); and her superhuman celebrity endurance, a bionic gallop through
long-running but lowbrow fare like the lifeguard drama "Baywatch" and
the bodyguard drama "V.I.P."
As her persona has acquired a lacquered, synthetic patina, it has been
easy to forget that Ms. Anderson got her start in television as Lisa,
the "Tool Time Girl" on Tim Allen's wholesome sitcom "Home
Improvement," and that she is the mother of two young boys, both with
Mr. Lee. After "V.I.P.'s" run ended, Ms. Anderson took a break to care
for her children. But, she said in a telephone interview, "I kind of
got antsy." It took the promise of a sitcom's regular,
soccer-mom-friendly hours to lure her back to television. "We sort of
felt like she is someone who has this kind of wild past but is showing
herself to be a good mom, which America would embrace," said Gary
Newman, a president of 20th Century Fox Television, which is producing
But first audiences will have to buy Ms. Anderson as someone who could
plausibly sell a John Dos Passos novel, or at least as the star of a
family-friendly sitcom. "You might think it's silly - that she's going
to be Chrissy from 'Three's Company,' " said Steven Levitan, the
creator and executive producer of "Stacked" and a veteran producer of
the NBC hits "Just Shoot Me" and "Frasier." "I'm hoping that people
are very surprised that it's actually an intelligent show that deals
with real issues, that is not just a chance for Pam Anderson to wear
small outfits and grab ratings."
Ms. Anderson plays Skyler, an irresponsible but good-hearted gadabout
with a history of failed relationships and a closetful of revealing
frocks: "a sort of unfamous version" of Ms. Anderson, as Mr. Levitan
put it. But at a moment when tabloid stars are choosing to play
versions of themselves in unconventional reality-based shows (see
Paris Hilton, Kirstie Alley and the sisters Simpson), "Stacked" is
hewing closely to a classical sitcom format.
"I hate reality shows," said Ms. Anderson, who has, unsurprisingly,
been offered many over the years. "I hope they're on the way out. I
don't watch a lot of TV, and when I do, I don't want to see people you
know. I want to escape and see funny things."
Mr. Levitan concurred, plotting the new project as a kind of "Cheers"
in reverse. "I felt like doing a throwback," he said. "Instead of the
smart intellectual coming to the everyman place, it's the everyman
coming to the smart intellectual place." The show's bookstore -
supplied exclusively with volumes from HarperCollins, which, like Fox,
is owned by the News Corporation - is the place "where everyone knows
your name," with a back office reminiscent of the one where Sam and
Diane once tussled and eventually smooched on "Cheers." There is a
wisecracking, blonde-hating barista named Katrina, played by Marissa
Jaret Winokur of "Hairspray," in the mold of Rhea Perlman's bartender
Carla on "Cheers" (by coincidence, Ms. Perlman's sister Heide is a
writer on "Stacked"). There is a crotchety regular like Norm and Cliff
from "Cheers," here condensed into the form of Christopher Lloyd, who
plays Harold March, a somewhat senile rocket scientist sweetly
befuddled by Sklyer's charms.
The bookstore is owned by the DeWitt brothers, schlumpy and wistful
Stuart (Brian Scolaro), and slim and neurotic Gavin (Elon Gold). A
stand-up comic with a sarcastic delivery and a receding hairline, Mr.
Gold is an eleventh-hour replacement for Tom Everett Scott , a
soulful-eyed, floppy-haired heartthrob type who was fired over Easter
weekend, to the surprise of the rest of the cast. "We were all like
O.K., this is devastating to us," Ms. Winokur said. "And then you go
into that survival mode."
"It was a very difficult decision for everyone," Mr. Levitan said of
Mr. Scott's firing. "But at the end of the day, Tom is a relaxed,
easygoing, wonderful, nice guy, and that's everything Gavin isn't."
Mr. Levitan scoffed at the idea that this late cast change might spell
trouble for "Stacked." He said it was normal to tinker with the
ensemble of new sitcoms, and suggested that the show was under extra
scrutiny because Fox had committed to six episodes before reading a
completed script, bypassing a customary pilot-vetting period.
It's too soon to tell if a Sam-and-Diane-style romance is in the cards
for the characters played by Ms. Anderson and Mr. Gold but it seems
likely, if the show survives long enough. "I thought a lot about the
Marilyn Monroe-Arthur Miller dynamic when I was writing this," Mr.
Levitan said. "Here was this blond bombshell who surprised a lot of
people by being with this New York intellectual and vice versa. That's
always been a fascinating relationship to a lot of people."
Certainly it is smart of Ms. Anderson, who turns 38 this year, to
embrace humor before she falls definitively over the precipice of
female middle age. Mr. Levitan said: "I keep telling Pamela, 'You're
so beautiful when you walk around Malibu, and when you come to
rehearsal in sweats - let people see that side of you.' She just
delivers sex appeal no matter what she does, so don't clobber the
world over the head with it."
He seems to think his heroine has some kind of special, otherworldly
"We really want to honor the tradition of good multicamera television
comedy," he said. "People are concerned that it's a dying breed.
Maybe, just maybe, somebody like Pam Anderson can save it."
Alexandra Jacobs is an editor at The New York Observer.
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