When art imitates life, sometimes art hits a little too close to home.
That happened with The WB's "Grosse Pointe," a pointed and exceedingly funny satire of life behind the scenes on a "Beverly Hills, 90210"-type TV series. That "Grosse Pointe" was created by Darren Star, who also dreamed up "90210," only makes the comparisons all the more obvious.
When we see a bitchy, dark-haired actress, it's easy to think of Shannen Doherty.
When we see the Shannen Doherty-lookalike's boyfriend, with his sideburns and poofy hair (actually a partial toupee), our minds drift to Luke Perry.
And when a character with an eating disorder, low self-esteem, orange-red hair and an uncle who runs the network is introduced, producer Aaron Spelling thought he spied a cruel spoof of his daughter, Tori Spelling.
Spelling got upset. Star, who worked for Spelling during his years on "90210" and "Melrose Place," got upset. And The WB was in a bind. Alienate Spelling, producer of the network's two biggest hits, "7th Heaven" and "Charmed," or side with Spelling and tick off Star, who's riding high with HBO's "Sex and the City."
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"I think it's gross," Spelling said of "Grosse Pointe" at this summer's TV critics press tour in Pasadena, Calif. "Darren knows how I feel, and they're working on changing some things, and I appreciate it. I didn't like the way they depicted my daughter. I never called the network with changes; I talked with Darren."
Come on, Aaron, didn't you find it at least a little bit funny?
"If you like to laugh at real people, is that funny?" Spelling said testily. "Tell me what it was a parody of because I got confused. I think it can be a very good show. It will work out. I'm not angry at anybody. There's no lawsuit or anything."
Star said he never set out to hurt anyone's feelings, but he "thought what was going on behind the camera was in some ways more interesting than what was happening in front of the camera on all the series that I produced."
The WB sought a compromise. The show would go on without the nepotism angle. By dropping the nepotism, Star got to keep the low self-esteem trait, which is funnier anyway. The eating disorder is hinted at, but isn't as blatant (a scene of the character vomiting into a bag while riding in a limo was dropped). The character's hair color will be less reddish and more brown in upcoming episodes.
"If you had seen the original pilot and what has changed, I think that the changes we are talking about are fairly small," Star said.
That could be Hollywood spin, but having seen both versions of the pilot, I have to agree with Star. Even with these changes, "Grosse Point" is still the funniest new fall series.
"If you're doing a satire, you sometimes have to be merciless, and that's where the humor comes from," Star said. "But in this case, I feel confident we'll be able to sort of dance around this without hurting the show."
While Spelling made a fuss, Shannen Doherty's publicist told the Wall Street Journal this summer that the actress found the show funny. Star said Doherty was going to have a cameo in the "Grosse Pointe" pilot but was unable to participate due to a scheduling conflict.
Star also pokes fun of himself in "Grosse Pointe," not only in the form of the show's young executive producer, but also in the dialogue for the characters on the teen drama.
"I definitely am satirizing myself, and I think that I'm not taking offense at all of the bad dialogue that I used to write on these shows or quote bad dialogue that I'm now writing as the show behind the show," Star said.
Newcomer Irene Molloy, bubbly and sweet in person, plays Hunter, the Doherty-like character. But she didn't see the similarity until "we really got into it and saw what we were doing.
"The script didn't say 'a Shannen Doherty-type,' " Molloy said. "We weren't really aware of it.
"Maybe someone else saw that in me," she said, laughing.
Executive producer Robin Schiff, who is running the writer's room with Star, said one episode in the works concerns Hunter's desire to be an actress like Jodie Foster, but she feels "Grosse Pointe" is holding her back.
"She gets an offer to be in the new Oliver Stone movie. The only hitch is it's called 'Lewinsky' and it's for the part of Monica and she has to gain 50 pounds to play the part," Schiff said. "So the whole episode is about body image and the rarefied world girls live in where they're all size zero and what you're willing to do to get your dreams."
As for the changes made to "Grosse Pointe" to mollify Spelling, Schiff isn't concerned.
"We're losing a couple of good jokes in the pilot, and we're replacing them with a couple of equally good jokes," Schiff said. "Darren does not want to hurt [Aaron] and Tori, and he doesn't need to."
Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or email@example.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.