What do you get when you mix veteran sitcom actors Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves, and Betty White? Well, for one thing, you get TV Land’s first original sitcom, Hot In Cleveland. Wait, better yet, you get the highest-rated and most- watched series in TV Land’s history. Still not impressed? The show was also nominated for two Screen Actor Guild Awards including: Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series as well as Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series- Betty White. And, what do you know? At 89-years-old, Betty’s still got it. While the cast did not win Ensemble, the always unpretentious Betty White took home the award for her category. Hm, not bad TV Land. If that is still not enough for you, TV Land President, Larry W. Jones, has recently announced that the show has been picked up for a third season. TV Land will grace us with twenty-two more episodes of witty writing, outstanding comedic acting, and hilarious story-lines. The show is on fire; that fire is not going out anytime soon. These ladies are not just Hot In Cleveland; they are Hot In Australia, Canada, Israel, England, Turkey, and more, as the show was distributed to these countries earlier this year. So, what is it about this sitcom? What makes it so special? Is it TV Land? The actors? The writing? The crew? I think it is safe to say that it is a combination of everything: the perfect recipe for a hit show.
The series revolves around a trio of fabulous women from Los Angeles who are diverted to Cleveland once their plane, originally headed to Paris, makes an emergency landing. The three best friends know that it is time for a change. Author Melanie Moretti (Bertinelli), former soap star Victoria Chase (Malick), and eye-brow waxing queen Joy Scroggs (Leeves), do not see a need to return to vapid L.A. After realizing that their lives are better suited for a place like Cleveland (and that their egos become severely inflated every time they step foot into a bar), the girls decide to rent a house together. Oh, and it just so happens that the house comes with a snarky, yet loveable caretaker, Elka Ostrovsky (White).
Emmy Award winning writer Suzanne Martin created the show and serves as show runner, executive producer, and writer. The show is also executive produced by another Emmy Award winner, Sean Hayes, as well as Todd Milliner, who both run Hazy Mills Productions. Clearly, TV Land was not messing around. They were indeed looking for only the best and I think they got what they were looking for. You know what they say, go big, or go home.
The story-line is different and it is fresh. There is something about the power of female friendship; the natural chemistry between Valerie, Wendie, Jane, and Betty is undoubtedly unique and effortless. In a year full of ridiculous reality series, high-school dramas, and countless cop shows, it is nice to watch the friendships unfold between four older women. Yes, I said older women. With ages ranging from 50 to 89, the series really focuses on the extraordinarily fun relationships between actual adults, a concept that audiences have not seen in many years. Hot In Cleveland dips back into the traditional sitcom: they film in front of a live studio audience. No canned laughter, no fake applauses. It’s the real deal. TV Land knows their viewers and they know their viewers well. The throw-back to this type of filming definitely creates a special energy for not only the actors, but for the audience as well. See, everyone wins.
It is no secret that TV Land has got a big hit on their hands, but they are in no way ready to slow down. In fact, they are just beginning. They launched their second original sitcom, Retired at 35, after Hot In Cleveland’s season two premier. The show gives us two more renowned veteran actors, George Segal and Jessica Walter, along with Johnathan McClain. But, don’t worry; TV Land is still hungry for more. They recently announced that they have green lighted three new pilots including: Fran Drescher and Peter Marc Jacobsen’s Happily Divorced, Terri Minksy’s Rip City, and Mark Reisman’s Ex Men. Though, there is no word yet on which show will make it to series.
TV Land has managed to be our home to classic television for numerous years. Older generations as well as younger generations are able to watch and identify with such incomparable and memorable shows. They range from The Honeymooners to M*A*S*H to Sanford and Son to The Cosby Show to The Andy Griffith Show to The Nanny to Roseanne and even to the more recent Everybody Loves Raymond. It not only makes you realize how momentous classic television is, but it also makes you see how truly remarkable the channel is for keeping these types of shows alive with viewers. These are the sitcoms that are permanently embedded in television history; these are the legends, the icons, the comedic geniuses that inspired so many of the talent you see today. It was only a matter of time before TV Land introduced original programming. If anyone knows what makes a show timeless, well, TV land is by far your best bet.
OK, we think it’s time we hear from someone who may have a bit more knowledge about the television world. I sat down with TV Land President, Larry W. Jones, for a wonderfully candid interview about Hot In Cleveland’s success, what’s in store for season three, upcoming pilots, and the future of TV Land.
BLAST: Why did TV Land decide to get into original programming?
LARRY W. JONES: The reason we got into original programming was because we do a lot of research with the audience and we found that people were, well, I like to say that something was missing in people’s television diets. And, you know, they love TV Land. They love the old shows, seeing familiar faces, familiar characters, and they love this very specific kind of particular sitcom format. They weren’t getting it any place else. Broadcast television wasn’t making those kinds of shows anymore, and other cable networks weren’t making those kinds of shows anymore. So, we thought there was a great opportunity for us to make modern sitcoms in a classic format. And, it would be a perfect compliment to shows like Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond.
BLAST: Is that why you chose to shoot multi-camera with a live audience?
LWJ: Yes, that was, you know, what they had been describing to us, what they were missing, those old-fashioned sitcoms where you can hear the audience laughing. There was a period of time for a certain demographic, for people in their 40s and 50s, like myself. We grew up watching those kinds of half-hour television comedies. And it was missing. So, they wanted to see it again. They did see them to some extent when watching TV Land, which is what we predominantly air, but they wanted to hear more modern content.
BLAST: What first drew you to the concept of Hot In Cleveland?
LWJ: Well, we were out talking to a lot of creators, writers, and producers. We were looking for stories that were specifically targeted towards a life stage of people. The other thing we noticed was that nobody was making television shows for people who are in their 40s and 50s. If you made a show like, Big Bang Theory, which is essentially the same kind of format, you know, multi-camera format, it’s populated by a bunch of 20- year-olds, and now they are starting to get into their early 30s because the cast is aging. But, still, it’s about the people they see on the screen, and they are a bunch of 20-year- olds. Although there is a huge number of people in their 40s and 50s who are watching that show, it is still not about them. They do not see themselves on the screen. We wanted to make a show that had our audience represented in the characters on the show. And when we heard the idea of Hot In Cleveland all of those things clicked. It was perfect.
BLAST: Why do you feel it has become such a success with television audiences?
LWJ: I think the main thing is that it is simply funny. It’s traditional; it’s just a really smart, funny comedy show. I think that’s the main reason why it is successful. After that, for our audience, they have been very, very attracted to it because they see themselves in the characters. They are reminded of a format that they are very familiar with. All of those factors, I think, add up to the shows success.
BLAST: Did you think the show would do as well it has been doing?
LWJ: I personally was very, very optimistic in the very beginning. But, I would never, never have said those words out loud about as high as the ratings were. It would’ve been fantasy that we could get a number that high. But we were thrilled when we did. I was thrilled.
BLAST: When watching these four ladies work, it is obvious that the chemistry between each of them is wonderfully natural and enjoyable to watch. As the head of a network, how important is that to you when casting a show?
LWJ: The chemistry between the actors is extremely important. It is something that you don’t really start to see; sometimes in the casting process you can see one or two actors read together, so you can kind of see the chemistry between two people. But, you don’t really get to see the whole chemistry until you get the entire ensemble together. That typically happens during the first table read. From the very first table read of Hot In Cleveland we knew we had something special.
BLAST: Over the past two seasons, the show has had so many great guest stars. From Tim Conway to Melanie Griffith to Joe Jonas, why do you think people are so drawn and so willing to appear on the show?
LWJ: I think that our reputation, and we definitely, definitely noticed this in season two, is that it is a really fun set. In season 2, as far as booking celebrity guest stars, it’s been easier because they heard through the grape vine that it is just a really fun week. I think in the very beginning, clearly the draw was working with those women, working with Betty, or working with Valerie. That was a very fun draw. But now, we’re kind of off and running, and I think our reputation is that this is a community of people having a good time. There are smart, funny scripts and acting talent will really seek out smart, funny scripts.
BLAST: With the recent announcement of its third season, what are some things the network will do to keep the show original and fresh?
LWJ: I think that the characters have only really started to begin to find their voice in many ways. They will definitely hit their stride; they have begun to hit their stride in season 2, and they will continue to do so in season 3. They will go on more adventures outside of the house in Ohio. And they have such a deep, checkered past. We’ve heard little things about, you know, Wendie’s character has 3 children and 3 past husbands, so perhaps we will see some of them. We have not really explored the neighbors very much. We had Wayne Knight’s character. I think we have a lot of avenues to go down, a lot of directions to go in. And, more guest stars!
BLAST: Since the show has developed so nicely, do you think even more guest stars will jump at the chance to come by the show?
LWJ: Yea, I think we will definitely be able to get more guest stars. We have already started putting some lists together. I have actually started getting notes from some celebrities I personally know, (chuckles) giving me some casting suggestions.
BLAST: With the current success of original programming, TV Land has had more viewers than ever. With that said, has your demographic widened as well?
LWJ: It has widened a bit, but I think most of our ratings growth over the last 6-8 months has really been coming from the core of the demo, which is women 40-54. That’s where we have seen our biggest growth category in primetime, and that’s very specifically where Hot In Cleveland is targeted. The great thing about it is that, not only are they watching Hot In Cleveland, but also they’re watching more Roseanne and Raymond.
BLAST: TV Land picked up three new pilots; impressive actors have already been cast in those pilots. What are some things viewers can look forward to with a new string of sitcoms airing on TV Land?
LWJ: I think our commitment and our dedication to making original sitcoms for our core demo is growing and we are really excited about these three pilots. We expect to pick up one of those in the next week. We are really excited about that. The good thing and the bad thing about that is that all of the pilots have tested so well. It’s going to be a really hard decision to pick just one. But, I mean, we could not be more thrilled with the cast, the writing team, and the producers we have on the show. They are really top notch, A-level talent.
BLAST: So, is it safe to say that we can look forward to even more in the future from TV Land?
LWJ: Absolutely more. We are going to launch a new companion show with Hot In Cleveland when it comes back for season 2B, which is June 15th, and that will be one of the pilots we pick up.
BLAST: That sounds great. I look forward to it. And, that’s all for today.
LWJ: That covers it?
BLAST: Yep. Thank you so, so much.
So, there you have it. TV Land clearly has many projects brewing, some of which are ready to just about boil over. I guess we can only sit and wait patiently to see what the future holds for the network. But, I must say, it’s looking rather good. I don’t think any of us have to worry about these guys.