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'Ed' character surpasses his lovable loser origin

Wednesday, January 10, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

NBC's "Ed" has only been on the air since October, but it was on the Top 10 year-end list of many TV critics.

After a strong start in a Sunday night time slot, ratings dipped after the return of Fox's "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle." So NBC moved "Ed" to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, where the comedy-drama has improved the network's performance in the time slot. "Ed" dodged a major bullet when CBS scheduled "Survivor II" for Thursday nights instead of Wednesdays.

The series focuses on Ed (Tom Cavanagh), who returns to his hometown of Stuckeyville after losing his job in Manhattan and catching his wife in bed with the mailman. When Ed returned home, he went on a date with the prettiest girl in his high school class, Carol Vessey (Julie Bowen). They're now just friends, but the potential for a romantic relationship remains.

Squirrel Hill native Jon Beckerman created the series with Rob Burnett, and in a phone interview Beckerman talked about how the show has developed:

Q: Rob Burnett has said you and he were "losers in high school" and that when you write a show like "Ed," you "write stuff about your life and then you get a better-looking guy to do it." How much do you draw from your own adolescence when creating the back story for Ed?

A: I was probably a bigger loser than Rob because Rob played varsity soccer and I didn't play anything. When we came up with the concept of the show, Ed was probably a little more of a lovable loser than he is now, and part of that is the result of Tom Cavanagh. He is so much not a nerd or geek. There's little point shoehorning him into that. He's a very likable, charming, gregarious guy. If you take the pilot of "Ed" and replace Tom with me or Rob, things suddenly become a lot more creepy and depressing.

Q: In the beginning, "Ed" was a reverse "Felicity." Felicity chased Ben to college. Ed bought a bowling alley and settled in Stuckeyville because of Carol. Is Ed a stalker?

A: It felt a little more lighthearted than that. Early in the series, Carol kissed Ed twice, once in the montage, once at the end of the pilot. It's not as though his pursuing her is completely nonreciprocated.

Q: In each episode, Ed (Cavanagh) and his best friend, Mike (Josh Randall), make a bet on something stupid -- whether one of them can meow loud enough to get the attention of an old man or order a hamburger by asking the waitress to "burger me." Where did this come from?

A: Rob and I were on a flight for "Ed"-related business, and we're sitting on the plane bored and I bet him he could meow loud enough to make a specific guy a few rows ahead of us turn around. He started meowing, and basically everyone else in the cabin turned around except the specific guy. The moment we did that we thought, we have to do this on the show. We're trying to figure out whether we need to have a bet in every episode. It's hard to come up with new twists, but it's nice to be able to go to that at any point and have something really silly.

Q: Has it been tough to move away from Ed-Carol relationship stories now that they've decided to just be friends?

A: If there was any element of the show we didn't have, we'd be in trouble. I don't think we'd be able to sustain this show just as a romantic comedy between Ed and Carol. I would like to see the show get to the point -- and we have to a certain degree -- where we can have Ed and Carol hanging out without having either one actively chasing after the other. It's just fun to watch them together. These characters light up the screen when they're together, and we can get the benefits of what it would be like if they were going out without having to bring them to that point.

Q: Later this month actress Rena Sofer ("Melrose Place") joins the cast for a five-episode arc as a rival lawyer who may get involved with Ed romantically. What's the reason for adding this character?

A: We wanted to introduce somebody Ed could have a very different type of romantic dynamic with than he does with Carol. You get a sense Ed and Carol both know the other will ultimately be "the one," but they're not ready to take that step yet. We thought it would be interesting to see somebody Ed knows is not "the one," and she knows the same thing. Frankly, I feel there will be many women for Ed in the future and many men for Carol ... We want to see them in ... different situations.

Q: Won't the audience be mad if Carol and Ed are involved with anyone besides each other?

A: I would be surprised and shocked if the audience would be happy to see Ed end up with someone besides Carol, but I think one of things you realize when you're doing one of these shows is you can't give the audience what they want. A lot of people would be thrilled if Ed and Carol get together next week, but they might not ever tune in again after that. It's a tough ball to keep in the air. Our attitude is the more slowly we can move that stuff along, the better. If people are angry, that means they've embraced Ed as a real person and feel like they know who Ed belongs with. My hope is they will find these story lines interesting and entertaining and the only way to find out is to try different stuff.

Q: When did you decide Carol's friend Molly (Lesley Boone) would get a crush on Ed?

A: From the beginning. I can't say we've had everything planned out that far in advance, but we knew that. The first season has been ... about discovering what we feel works and what our strengths are. We didn't know what would be appealing. In another world, the actors who play Ed and Carol could have had no chemistry and we would have abandoned that plot line. Lesley Boone is a favorite of people from what we can see. People seem to identify with her and like her. I'm sure she will be rising to the foreground in episodes to come.

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