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Lapiduss sisters move on to new sitcom, Web venture

Sunday, March 19, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Sally Lapiduss is an unlikely co-executive producer for the new sitcom "Titus." She and her younger sister, Maxine, had a normal family life growing up in Squirrel Hill -- a far cry from the dysfunctional childhood of "Titus" star Christopher Titus.

"He's this Northern California, blond, blue-eyed, WASP-y boy dealing with his hard-drinking, divorced father," Sally said. "That was not my Pittsburgh Jewish experience. My parents just had their 51st wedding anniversary.

"One of the other writers on the show and I were constantly looking at each other when stories would come out," she said. "We joked after every writing session, and we'd say [to our parents], 'Thank you for not doing horrible things to us even though in our own experience you did horrible things to us.' But we were so lucky."

Lucky growing up and lucky in their Hollywood careers.

Sally, 43, worked as an assistant to Katharine Hepburn before moving to Los Angeles and writing for the sitcoms "Mad About You," "The Nanny" and "Ellen" and the sci-fi drama "Farscape."

Thirtysomething Maxine wrote/produced "Roseanne," "Home Improvement" and "Ellen." Now she's about to launch www.voxxy.com, the Web component of the media company Voxxy she founded with two other women.

For Sally, "Titus" represents an opportunity to work on an edgy show that she says doesn't rely on sex or bathroom humor.

"To me it's about the psychological underpinnings of a father being married five times," Sally said. "No matter what you do in your present life, you're always dragging the past with you. 'Titus' is about how you overcome that. It goes into territory shows like 'Mad About You' really ended up exploring but does it in a fresh way and a universal way."

While waiting for word on whether "Titus" will be granted a second season, Sally is pitching an idea for a series to Lifetime and developing a sitcom for a thirtysomething woman, as opposed to the 20-year-old stars who have run rampant in prime time lately.

Maxine has had her fill of TV. After working on the final year of "Ellen" and what she called a "killer" NBC pilot that didn't get picked up, she changed gears and co-founded Voxxy.

"That was sort of the wall for me, just the frustration level of doing good work and realizing it doesn't matter," she said. "Most of the time it's where the deal is, how many layers of bureaucracy you have to get through ... make it like everything else on TV and not something different."

Maxine hopes to create content for Voxxy her way. Voxxy isn't just a Web site. The plan is eventually to become a company that provides programming for the Internet and television. This summer's planned premiere of the Web site will be a springboard to other media, including a record label.

Voxxy is aimed at girls ages 13 to 19 and has signed "Friends" star Jennifer Aniston as host of a Web-based variety show that launches late this summer. Another Web-based show, from the producers of MTV's "Real World," will be downloadable in five-minute installments beginning in late June.

If Voxxy ascends to take its place alongside such media conglomerates as Time Warner, Maxine doesn't rule out the possibility of a Voxxy office in Pittsburgh.

"We could go to the old WQED studios and shoot some stuff there," she said. "That's what I've always wanted to do. We love Pittsburgh, and it's a big part of who we are."

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