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Smiths' real family life inspires UPN sitcom

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Will Smith is playing one of the "Bad Boys" again at the movies this summer, but this fall his real-life story inspires a new UPN sitcom.

Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband, Will, are executive-producing "All of Us."

Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, are executive producers of UPN's "All of Us" (8:30 p.m. Sept. 16). It's a comedy that allows time for dramatic moments in the story of Robert James (Duane Martin), whose wife (LisaRaye) left him. Now Robert is ready to move on and marry a schoolteacher, Tia (Elise Neal), but ties to his ex-wife will continue through their son (4-year-old Khamani Griffin).

"The show really is just loosely based on our experience," said Smith, who is divorced from his first wife, the mother of his first child. He later married Pinkett after the two were introduced by "All of Us" star Martin. "It really gets to an essence of the struggles of blended families."

And what does Smith's ex-wife think of the show?

"She thinks it's wonderful, and she thinks everyone should watch it," Smith joked. "She knew it was loosely based on our experience, and she just suggested we keep it real loose."

In addition to serving as executive producers, the pair plan to appear as guest stars on the show. Smith will play a boyfriend of Robert's ex-wife in three episodes, and Pinkett Smith will appear as Robert's sister.

"We weren't trying to do your regular sitcom where there were big jokes," Pinkett Smith said. "We wanted a sitcom that reflects a piece of life you don't see often on television and a piece of life that is very difficult to deal with, a piece of life we wanted to show could be dealt with in a very mature way."

Executive producer Betsy Borns will handle day-to-day production of the series, but, she said, both Smiths have been heavily involved in the program. Leslie Moonves, who oversees UPN as chairman and CEO of sister-network CBS, said the involvement of the Smiths will help launch the show, but it wasn't a determining factor in putting "All of Us" on UPN's schedule.

"Ultimately, America doesn't care who's behind the camera," he said. "It might pique their interest, but if the show isn't good, they ain't coming back."

Smith, once the star of NBC's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," called sitcoms "the most natural form of human silly you can do." He said he misses the sitcom format but has a simple reason for not appearing on one anymore.

"They pay me too much money to make movies," Smith said.

He called Martin one of his best friends and said he hired him for a simple reason. "Look, we're in Hollywood. We gotta do like white people do -- give each other jobs!"

'Guardian' update

Pittsburgh-set legal drama "The Guardian" returns for its third season on Sept. 23 with a resolution to the May cliffhanger that left some viewers reeling.

James Mooney (Charles Malik Whitfield) was shot at the Legal Services of Pittsburgh office, and frustrated Nick (Simon Baker) and his father, Burton (Dabney Coleman), beat up a man who stole their parking space. Some viewers were especially upset with the latter development, but series star Raphael Sbarge defended the script by Pittsburgh native and series creator David Hollander.

"So much of what's on the dial is based on what's safe and what we already know works," Sbarge said. "This was the heroes of the show beating up a guy over a parking space, which is morally reprehensible behavior. That's not shock for shock's sake; it's based in character."

Hollander said he knew he wanted to unhinge his characters thematically last season.

"When else would they appropriately be at their wits' end than when Burton had been humiliated by Shannon's father and then rejected by Shannon and when Nick has told Lulu he loved her and was rejected. What they had left is each other and then some idiot takes their parking spot," he said. "I knew when I was filming it and when I was writing it, it was ugly, but I felt it was honest, so I lived with it."

The season premiere picks up seconds after the season finale but will wrap up the cliffhangers in short order.

"I didn't want to get into a big plot festival of the Fallins in trouble. I'm sorry I did that last year. I felt it was some of my worst writing in those first episodes," Hollander said. "This year the show is going to be very psychologically driven by what has happened, but it won't be about them getting in trouble because of what's happened. Burton does something incredibly stupid because his conscience really grabs hold of him. If you think about what the next step is for Nick, yeah, he got into that fight, but his next place is to walk into Legal Services of Pittsburgh [where James was shot], where he's going to find something that takes that whole event and washes it away."

A new female character will be introduced in Episode Two. She'll be a lawyer at Fallin & Fallin. The Nick-Lulu relationship won't be at the forefront early in the season.

"The Guardian" returns to film in Pittsburgh Aug. 18-22 and will shoot some scenes in Donora for an episode titled "Big Coal". Scenes that will be inserted into the first five episodes also will be filmed on location.

"I wanted to kick off the year with Pittsburgh," Hollander said. "I love the way the show looks when we're there. It's a big amount of energy and just makes it look beautiful."

Star Wendy Moniz said she was "kind of giddy" at the reception Pittsburghers gave the cast and crew last fall. Hollander would like to return to Pittsburgh in April to film scenes for May sweeps episodes, but it will depend on the ratings.

"It really depends on the numbers," Hollander said. "If we flatten out, we won't have the oomph to pay for it."

Although the third season doesn't premiere until Sept. 23, Pittsburghers will have a chance to get a sneak peek at the first episode Sept. 13 at the Hilton Hotel Downtown. A free screening will be held at 7 p.m. preceded and followed by benefit parties for KidsVoice, the legal services organization founded by Scott Hollander, David's brother, and an inspiration for Legal Services of Pittsburgh in "The Guardian."

Series star Alan Rosenberg will attend the pre-screening reception (cost: $175) at 5:30 p.m., and a director's reception (cost: $125) with Scott Hollander will follow the show.

To obtain tickets, visit www.kidsvoice.org or call 412-391-3100, ext. 142.

Watching the Feds

Tonight at 8 on WQED, a one-hour National Geographic special goes inside "The FBI" and attempts to pull back the curtain on the legendary federal agency.

"The openness of the agents was actually somewhat surprising to me," said executive producer Michael Rosenfeld at a press conference earlier this month. "People spoke with great candor in the making of this film, including the director [of the FBI]. Everyone knows about the war against terror, but I think some of the way that that war is being fought would be new to people."

Dennis Haysbert ("24") narrates the special, which will attempt to give voice to real-life FBI agents, distinguishing from their fictional TV counterparts.

"The agents that work every day are real human beings," said producer/writer Jamie Hellman. "They have real responsibilities, they have real fears. Many times these people go out every day not knowing if they'll be coming home that night. It was a difficult feeling to capture, but I think we were able to do that."


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com .


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