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Tuned In: Creators plan more chemistry for NBC's 'Ed'

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Will they or won't they? That's the question inherent in the relationship between Ed (Tom Cavanagh) and Carol (Julie Bowen) on NBC's genial comedy-drama "Ed," which returns for its second season at 8 tonight.

 
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'Ed' makes strong return tonight

 
 

Should they become a couple? Or will that ruin the romantic tension that's woven through the show?

When last seen in the May season finale, Ed and Carol were on the verge of intimacy when -- ding-dong -- that wicked witch Bonnie Hane (guest star Rena Sofer) showed up at Ed's door, ready to rekindle their short-lived romance.

Cavanagh and Bowen have their own feelings on the budding love between their characters. Bowen wants to see the characters together, and she's confident creators Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman can find a way to make that work. Cavanagh thinks "Ed" has enough other elements to keep viewers coming back even if what they want to see -- Ed and Carol as a couple -- doesn't happen anytime soon.

"Shows that rely on a will-they/won't-they scenario get themselves in trouble if there's nothing else going on," Cavanagh said at the TV critics press tour in July. "What has worked well for us is Rob and Jon have created this town, Stuckeyville, that hopefully people want to come visit. And they don't want to come visit just to see what happens with Jules and I."

Creator Burnett joked that Ed and Carol will remain apart until the college education of his children is paid for. Turning more serious, he said the relationship between Joel and Maggie on "Northern Exposure" or Sam and Diane on "Cheers" was different from Ed and Carol's in a specific way.

"Those shows were all based on the two lead characters being oil and water," Burnett said. "It's all, oh, my God, she's from Alaska and he's from New York. They hate each other. We have a very different dynamic. For us, it's a much more realistic dynamic of two people that are probably the right people [for each other], but for one reason or another, it's always the wrong time."

And because of the chemistry between Cavanagh and Bowen, producers may be able to delay the inevitable pairing for a long time to come.

"The trick in doing a show like this is to expend the right amount of capital in the right amount of time," said Beckerman, a native of Squirrel Hill. "You don't want to burn all the stuff you can do between the characters or else you'll have nothing to do in the future."

Beckerman said he and Burnett are trying to do a better job planning this season's episodes. "Last year we kind of had to discover the show, and we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants and doing all the writing ourselves."

This season, additional writers will contribute scripts with an eye toward balancing arc-type continuing stories with stand-alone stories.

"Just the experience of doing this for a year, whereas we had never done it previously, has taught us a little bit about how to get the scripts written," Beckerman said.

That planning should also help the writers serve the show's myriad characters, including Carol's friend Molly (Lesley Boone), who didn't have much to do last year. This year she'll get a love interest, and though it probably won't be Ed, whom she clearly has a crush on, there's a contingent of fans who would like to see that coupling.

"Molly and Ed is something we might do down the line," Beckerman said. "I'm not saying this season and I'm not even saying next season, if we're lucky enough to have one, but I would certainly not be surprised to see that crop up again."

Last year, high school student Warren (Justin Long) became a large part of the stories, which Beckerman said was an unexpected turn.

"The nice thing we discovered as the season went on is that in addition to being hilarious, the guy can actually act and carry off story lines and emotional scenes," Beckerman said. "And because in a way Rob and I are forever mentally kind of stuck as high school sophomores, this was a nice thing for us, to be able to do stories in a school in addition to all the adult character story lines we're doing."

The Stuckeyville high school gets a new principal this year (played by John Slattery), who butts heads with Carol, makes her think and may eventually become a love interest.

Beckerman also plans to slip in more Pittsburgh references this season. Tonight's show includes mention of a "Bloomfield Avenue," but his favorite last season was a reference to a gas station "at the corner of Forbes and Murray."

"That's where I used to fill up," Beckerman said of the gas station that was torn down in the past year. "I enjoyed putting that in."

Last season, Beckerman also sneaked in the names of former teachers ("Mrs. Gennaccaro" and "Dr. Sutula") and classmates from Shady Side Academy. In the penultimate episode, Warren tried to ask a girl to prom and, before she could say whom she was going with, Warren rattled off a list of possibilities. They were all names of guys who attended Shady Side at the same time as Beckerman, a 1987 graduate.

"They were all the cool guys. The guys I was always like, damn, I'm never going to have anywhere near the life these guys have. They were just so on top of the world," Beckerman said. "I don't even know if they see the show and know it's them. It's just fun being able to throw stuff in there that only 50 people in the world will understand."

In addition to dialogue that's a shout out to Pittsburgh, Beckerman is hoping to get his parents, who live in Squirrel Hill, onto the show again as extras.

"Rob's dad has appeared twice very prominently as a delivery guy, so I've got to get my folks in there," Beckerman said. "Although the fact Ed's parents are named after them is pretty good."

In addition to garnering decent ratings and critical praise last season, "Ed" found a dedicated contingent of fans in cyberspace who create Web sites devoted to the series and its characters (www.virtualstuckeyville.com is particularly fetishistic in its desire to be complete and up-to-date). Beckerman was amazed.

"It is very flattering and very entertaining to read what people post there," he said. "How can you resist knowing straight from the mouth of the viewer what they think of what you're doing? As in any situation, some of those people are idiots, some of them are very smart. Sometimes you get your feelings hurt; other times it makes you pretty proud."

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