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Ball on network TV: Been there, don't want to do it again

Friday, June 01, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

"Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball knows what it's like to write for a broadcast network and he hopes never to do it again.

"I'd only do it for the money," Ball said matter-of-factly after an HBO press conference in January. "And if I did it just for the money, I'd be a big whore, so I hope never."

He didn't bother pitching "Six Feet Under," about a family-run mortuary, to a broadcast network.

"They would have said, 'Does it have to be a funeral home? Couldn't it be a vet hospital? Couldn't we make it an advertising agency? Do we have to make it about death?' " Ball mocked. "This show would never happen on a network because networks are about creating a context for advertisements. Everything's nice, everything's pretty. Look at this fabulous life you could have if you bought this crap you don't need. That's what the programming is about, too."

Before the release of the Oscar-winning film he wrote ("American Beauty"), Ball created the 1999 ABC sitcom "Oh, Grow Up" that lasted about half a season. It centered on three guys who shared a Brooklyn brownstone with a dog that barked its thoughts, which were then subtitled on screen.

"At one point I was told we needed something 'Ally McBeal'-esque, a gimmick," Ball said. "I had the dog in the series, but I didn't have it talking or subtitled. I can't remember if it was ABC or my production executives, but once that idea came out, it was like, 'That's great! Do that!' "

By then, Ball didn't want to make the series. He said the network asked for a reading of the script with "various actors who weren't busy that day" and Ball feared miscast actors would lead to network ideas to completely change the show. He said no.

"There's no more powerful word in Hollywood than the word 'No' and the next thing I knew, we were greenlit," Ball said. "But I felt like I was never left alone. I was constantly being asked to do things I felt took me away from my original vision."

If he'd had his way, Ball said "Oh, Grow Up" would have been darker with fewer hugs and lessons learned.

"I feel like sentimentality is really wrong," Ball said. "Most of that sugary, homespun stuff is incredibly cynical and crass and basically there to appeal to people's most unevolved instincts, so more people will watch, so more people will buy the crap that's being advertised."

Thursday, May 31, 2001

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