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TV Preview: 'I'm With Her' gets laughs from real-life experiences

Sunday, September 21, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - TV writers often draw from their personal experiences when creating TV shows, but the cute and funny ABC sitcom "I'm With Her" has more real-life parallels than most.

"I'm With Her"

When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on ABC.

Starring: David Sutcliffe, Teri Polo.

High school teacher Patrick Owen (David Sutcliffe, "Gilmore Girls") grabs a cup of coffee with zany best friend Stevie (Danny Comden) and gets bitten - twice. First it's a bite on the rump by a dog belonging to famous movie star Alex Young (Teri Polo). Then the love bug bites Patrick and Alex, and a romantic comedy series is born.

"I'm With Her" was created by Chris Henchy, a veteran sitcom scribe ("Spin City," "Battery Park," "Alright Already"). He's married to Brooke Shields and many of his experiences of being the mostly anonymous husband of a celebrity are reflected in "I'm With Her."

Tuesday's premiere features a scene of Patrick arriving at a movie premiere with Alex that's taken from Henchy's life.

"It was our first real public date to the movie 'The Bachelor,' and people started screaming, 'Brooke and Chris!' and I had no idea how they knew my name. It's frightening. I just wanted to get back in the car," Henchy said at an ABC party in July.

After screaming for both of them, some paparazzi focused on only half of the couple. "Then one guy started screaming, 'Brooke alone,' and then they all started screaming, 'Brooke Alone!' The original title of the pilot was 'Alex Alone.' Then I took a step back and you see all the other un-famous husbands and wives. I sat there looking at it, thinking, 'Is this the life I want?' But Brooke is a great person and it's a small price to pay."

"I'm With Her" won't only be about Alex's celebrity life. She lives with her cynical sister, Cheri (Rhea Seehorn), and Patrick has Stevie and his students to pal around with.

"We wanted a guy with sort of a noble career," Henchy said. And, when your show follows "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," it doesn't hurt to have some teen-agers in the cast.

"If your teacher was dating Brooke Shields, it's going to be disruptive," said co-creator Marco Pennette. "We're going to have a lot of fun with that."

But the romance between Patrick and Alex will be the show's focus.

"When Marco and I pitched this idea, we said it was like the '24' of romantic comedies," Henchy recalled. "We want to try to track this romance from the first date."

Episode two will follow Patrick's efforts to plan the couple's first real date. Later they'll meet one another's parents. Other episodes will present obstacles relevant only to movie stars. For instance, how will they cope when Alex is out of town shooting a movie on location for a long period?

The Hollywood background will always play into the stories, which contrasts his lifestyle with hers.

"We wanted this guy to be aware of Hollywood, but not to be so jaded or cynical about it," Henchy said. "He has the kind of perspective a majority of the population has."

Star Sutcliffe, most recently seen as Rory's father on "Gilmore Girls," said the relationship on "I'm With Her" is fairly unique.

"I just don't think it happens very often where a big Hollywood movie star meets an English teacher or a plumber and is willing to take it to that place. I think most people feel more comfortable dating someone who is sort of at their level, because the issues that come up in this show aren't going to be there and they don't have to deal with that," Sutcliffe said. "I think [what Patrick] is dealing with is the insecurity of dating somebody who is that beautiful and this famous, and can he handle that?"

Henchy has plenty of his own stories to inspire plots in the series.

"It's the world of going to a restaurant with [Brooke] and getting the best table and then showing up three days later with your buddies, waiting an hour and sitting by the kitchen," he said. "I get to witness both sides of that."

He's also learned the realities of fame. A few days after he asked Shields to marry him, Henchy was at home getting ready for bed as "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" played in the background.

"Conan said, 'In the news, Brooke Shields got engaged to Chris Henchy this week, and I know what you're thinking, [begin itals] the [end itals] Chris Henchy?' I'm sitting there brushing my teeth, this is the week we got engaged and this is a solid relationship and you get slammed like that," Henchy said. "We'll probably use that [in the show] because there's nothing to prepare you for that."

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 . Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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