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Tuned In: NBC is enjoying buzz around new 'Coupling'

Saturday, July 26, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- It's the most buzzed-about comedy of fall, and that's just the way NBC planned it.

"Coupling," based on a BBC hit that sounds a lot like "Friends," follows the lives and loves of six thirtysomethings as they talk about sex, have sex and then talk about sex some more. Masturbation and oral sex are discussed, alluded to or euphemized in the pilot episode. None of these are firsts, but rarely has sexual humor been so densely packed into a half-hour.

Slated to air at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays this fall, "Coupling" is based on the experiences of Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, creators of the British original and namesakes of the show's central couple, Steve (Jay Harrington) and Susan (Rena Sofer).

"You see these six beautiful people, and it's easy to compare it to another show," said executive producer Ben Silverman at a press conference yesterday with the show's cast. "But it is totally driven by something organic and personal. [The comparison to 'Friends'] is coming out of people looking at the cast rather than the subject matter or the genesis of the concept."

Beryl Vertue, mother of Sue Vertue and a producer of both the British and American "Coupling," said Moffat, when trying to come up with an idea for a series, simply wrote the word "coupling" on a piece of paper.

"He was intrigued by how friendly they still were with their exes," Beryl Vertue said. "Their wedding was full of exes. I think that's true to life, but you can also make a lot of humor out of that."

Phoef Sutton, show runner of the American "Coupling," said it will follow the same style of envelope-pushing as the series it follows, "Will & Grace."

"I don't think you can necessarily separate sex from character and personality," Sutton said. "Hopefully, one's character and personality come out in all of one's behavior. The heart of the show is really between Steve and Susan. ... Part of the fun is hearing men really talk when they're talking among themselves and hearing women really talk when they're talking among themselves. ... Hopefully, the show will deal with all aspects of the relationship in an honest way and in a funny way."

NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker defended the show's racy content.

"We obviously feel America is ready for this, but I think one of the things that's been lost about 'Coupling' is that it's all about sex and that's what it will live and die on. And I don't believe that at all. Obviously, it has a lot of adult themes in it and a lot of adult talk, but at the end of the day, it's not going to survive if it doesn't become about the relationships and the characters," Zucker said.

"An over-reliance on sex and sexual innuendo and sexual jokes would be a huge mistake, which is not to say that we're running away from the fact that it is an adult show with adult themes."

The original British version of "Coupling," about to enter its fourth season in England, can be seen on BBC America and is available on DVD.

"You can't be bland and you can't just be another show," Zucker said of today's competitive TV landscape. "If there's outrage over 'Coupling,' so be it. And that is good for us. It's not why we picked it up and decided to put it on ... but if that happens, that's OK."

"Coupling" star Sofer said her father, a rabbi, has been supportive.

"My father thinks the show is funny, thinks the show is smart," she said. "He's not under the impression that we live some kind of Puritan life. He gets the humor. ... We tape Friday night, so he can't go to the tapings, but I bring the tapes home."

Joked star Christopher Moynihan, "We're pretty much targeting 80-year-old rabbis."

Lowe's latest

When Rob Lowe announced that he was leaving "The West Wing," he was pitched various concepts for his own star vehicle, but those meetings were somewhat clandestine.

"I came onto 'The West Wing' set, and I kept getting shuttled around from one place to another to make sure that nobody knew I was actually there," recalled Remi Aubuchon, creator of Lowe's new fall legal drama, "The Lyon's Den." "I thought the next trip would be under a rock somewhere, talking to Rob."

Lowe, who also gets an executive producer credit on "Lyon's Den," said he felt as though he had unfinished business on "The West Wing."

"There were things that I didn't get to accomplish, and in this show I get to deal with some of those themes that I love," Lowe said. "I just want to be involved in stories with some teeth. It was never about screen time for me. I found that [my 'West Wing' character] Sam was having less and less to do with the stories on the show that were really important. Every week on this show I'm going to be involved in a story with some real heft to it."

When Lowe gives examples of what he likes about NBC's "Lyon's Den," he also reveals what he disliked about his "West Wing" role.

"These people are among the best at what they do and yet they don't wear halos," Lowe said. "They're very complex. They don't all sound alike. They're all very, very different. They're flawed. ... And even though they're workaholics, they also have people in their lives who they love, who they hate, they have mortgages, they have children. They have other themes, that, for me, just my taste, I relate to. That's what I want to see, that's what I want to do as an actor at this point in my life."

Pittsburghers in TV

Actor David Conrad, who grew up on the border of Edgewood and Swissvale and maintains a residence in the Strip, appears in NBC's fall dramedy "Miss Match."

Executive produced by "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star, the show stars Alicia Silverstone ("Clueless") as a divorce lawyer by day, matchmaker by night. Conrad, who top-lined ABC's "Relativity," plays a possible love interest for Silverstone's Kate.

"I guess I'm vaguely like Big on 'Sex and the City,' " Conrad said. "I hover in the background. Maybe I'm a guy they should get Kate together with, but what should happen is thwarted. ... We keep looking at each other, like, 'Well, what about us?' But we keep backing off."

Last season, Conrad had a recurring role on Fox's "Boston Public," but in the fall that show will air on Friday nights -- the same night as "Miss Match" -- so it's unlikely he'll return.

Altoona native Moses Port, previously a writer for the penultimate season of "Just Shoot Me," takes the reins of NBC's "Happy Family," a sitcom starring John Larroquette and Christine Baranski as parents of boomerang kids -- adult children who return home.

Port, a 1987 Altoona High School grad, has hired his younger brother, Joseph ("Manhattan, AZ"), as another one of the show's writers. The 34-year-old Moses Port graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and moved to Pittsburgh for two months.

"When I said I wanted to get into the entertainment industry, my mother said, 'You have to move to Pittsburgh.' They had just shot 'Silence of the Lambs' there, so I said, 'All right, I'll go to Pittsburgh,' " Port said. "I worked on a Tony Danza TV movie and I tended bar at Tessaro's [in Bloomfield] and I lived in Shadyside. Then I realized I'm not going to make it there in the entertainment industry -- in all deference to George Romero -- so I moved out to the West Coast."

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen has been attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 .

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