TV Land has hit on a pretty genius formula—not only rerunning classic sitcoms, but taking some of the stars of those sitcoms and uniting them in new shows. which mirror the old shows!
Hot in Cleveland is basically the new Golden Girls, and it happens to star one of the old Golden Girls, along with survivors of Frasier, Just Shoot Me, and One Day at a Time. They switched around the types a little (i.e., Betty White is now pretty much the Sophia character, though Poland is her St. Olaf), but kept the warmth under the oneupmanship, making it pretty zingy but appealing in a cable-y kind of way.
At a TV Land party at the Gansevoort Park Avenue NYC, the show’s Wendie Malick told me, “TV Land was the first network to say yes to a comedy about women over 50, and that’s astonishing.” (I was going to say, “What about Golden Girls?” but charmingly kept quiet for a change.) “Men can visit,” added Malick, “but they can’t stay!”
She said that her character, narcissistic B-actress Victoria Chase, “is a legend in her own mind. Anytime we can poke fun at our insanities, it’s healthy.” But isn’t the sitcom’s relatively easygoing pace also rather soothing? “That’s what you get when you have women of a certain age,” Malick assured me, conspiratorially. “The register of our voices has gotten lower!”
And it’s gotten more nasal if you listen to The Nanny survivor Fran Drescher, whose new TV Land show, Happily Divorced, has the extraordinary gift of Hot in Cleveland as a lead-in. It’s based on the real story of Fran’s marriage being rocked when her husband—Peter Marc Jacobson, the show’s co-creator—came out as gay. Been there!
As Jacobson explained to me, “Seven years into the marriage, I told Fran, after many therapy sessions, that I’m bisexual, but I love her and I want to be with her. She thought it was cool that I was being honest. I wasn’t playing around, so it was all right.
“But if you repress something, you get angry and act up a lot. That’s what drew apart the marriage.” So is he really bi or was he just saying that? “I thought I was bisexual at that point,” admitted Jacobson, “because I wasn’t facing who I was, but I think of myself as gay—and single.” Single? Call him, guys. Men can visit—and they can stay!
Cleveland‘s Valerie Bertinelli popped up the very next day at a Jenny Craig celebrity cookoff at Lincoln Center, where I came out as hungry. As I wanly nibbled on half a turkey burger, an official told us that Jenny Craig is not about losing weight, “it’s about making yourself the very best version you can be.” But just then, she pointed to one of Jenny’s clients in the crowd and crowed, “She lost 53 percent of her body weight!” Maybe she should report it to the police.
Bertinelli declared that you don’t have to starve on this stuff. “It’s about volumizing,” she enthused as she drummed up big portions of chipotle, which ended up winning the cookoff. But speaking of volumizing, Val looked even tinier under her oversize chef’s hat. “I lost weight in my head!” she laughed.
There was one more TV star serving edibles when the Cooking Channel celebrated its first anniversary outside a food truck in Chelsea, where volumizing is queen. Rachael Ray was there, scooping out blueberry ice cream for fans and photographers while fending off the dicey memories. “I worked in a Howard Johnson’s when I was a kid,” she confessed to me between scoops. “My mother was the food manager for a chain of them. I started as a DMO—dish machine operator—at 14 to get my working papers. Then I was promoted to fountain girl, and I was glad I no longer had to smell like old eggs.”
“But it was so degrading,” Ray went on. “I had to go into the ice cream chest thing to scoop the ice cream. There’d be a river of melted ice cream and I’d always have a line of it across my chest.” It was the caste mark of a HoJo!
As for the weight gain normally attached to things like ice cream, Rachael said it’s a matter of moderation, and besides, when she orders gelato, “I think about it in girl math. It’s made with tons of fresh fruit.” I just think the very best version I can be is one eating lots and lots of dessert.
For one last course, I went to Industry gay bar the next night and ran into Drescher and the ex-husband promoting Happily Divorced! Alas, 53 percent of my body weight smelled like old eggs. “So Peter told you after seven years that he was bi?” I cooed to Fran in a corner. “No, it was 14 years,” she corrected. And he ruined the marriage with his anger? “I had a midlife crisis,” she explained, “and that’s why I left the marriage. He begged me not to go.” This was becoming like a nasal Rashomon.
Well, did you stay roommates, like in the sitcom? “We were never roommates,” Drescher said. “That’s for the show. We only lived together as husband and wife. Two years after the divorce, I survived cancer and was in love with someone else.” Good job, princess. But most importantly, how does it feel to follow Hot in Cleveland? “It’s the first time I ever had a good lead-in,” she said, beaming. With that, 10 studs wearing Happily Divorced T-shirts were brought onto the stage for a photo op with Fran, and I had a hot flash in Hell’s Kitchen.