[03/09/11 - 12:02 AM]
Live at the Paley Festival: TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland"
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

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7:00 PM - Night four of the 28th Annual Paley Festival at the Saban Theater in Los Angeles kicks off right on time with a panel featuring the TV Land hit sitcom "Hot in Cleveland." Only fitting, then, that the archival clip is from Betty White's 1950s sitcom, "Life With Elizabeth."

7:02 PM - The Paley Center's Betsy Scolnick welcomes the crowd and says "Hot in Cleveland" has "single-handedly revitalized the three-camera sitcom." Betsy introduces the Deputy Editor of Daily Variety, Cynthia Littleton, who is not afraid to admit she lobbied for the gig moderating "Hot in Cleveland."

7:06 PM - Suzanne Martin, creator of "Hot in Cleveland," introduces the episode we're screening tonight called "How I Met My Mother" where Joy (played by Jane Leeves) meets the son she gave away for adoption when she was a teenager. There's also a wayward gunshot, entertaining a possibly dangerous parolee and some pretty funny British accents done in the episode.

7:27 PM - As the episode ends, Cynthia introduces the panel for tonight - creator Suzanne Martin! Jane Leeves (Joy)! Wendie Malick (Victoria)! Valerie Bertinelli (Melanie)! Betty White (Elka)! (Betty gets a standing ovation... of course!)

7:32 PM - "I feel like I've known these women forever," says Wendie Malick of the cast camaraderie. "We've all come out of the great love of comedy and have been fortunate to work with amazing writers." Adding that while they're all a little older, "there's no expiration date on being fabulous!"

7:33 PM - Cynthia observes that season two is a bit saucier than the previous season. "I think we were saucy last season, too," Suzanne says. She thinks maybe people were so taken with the "retro" feeling of the show that they weren't listening to the words. "It's a pleasure to have these women on the show... and to have them all together is a gift."

7:35 PM - Wendie admits that she rushes home every Friday night when they get their new scripts and reads it ASAP. Valerie says she sometimes reads it in her dressing room before leaving the set because she cannot wait to see what's next!

7:38 PM - "Elka is a smart ass character," says Betty White, who says Elka may have started out as a heavy but now the cast has become a foursome.

7:39 PM - "It's really fun for me that we get to employ a lot of actors on the show who are not in their twenties," Suzanne says. (She gets a round of applause from the audience.) "Every week we have a gentleman 65-plus who calls and wants to date Betty!"

7:40 PM - The cast would all love to work with some of their former co-stars. Valerie wants to bring Mackenzie Phillips and Pat Harrington (from "One Day At A Time") on in guest roles while it's revealed that Jane's former "Frasier" co-star John Mahoney will be on next week's show.

7:41 PM - Is the show's hefty production commitment (20 episodes in season two, 22 in season three) creatively challenging for Suzanne? "It's a good problem to have," she replies. Wendie asks what the mid-season cliffhanger is and Valerie reminds her she's already filmed it. Laughs all around.

7:44 PM - Part of the show is grounded in reality. "The 'real' of [the series] is that everybody fantasizes that they can reinvent themselves at some point in their lives," explains Suzanne. "And you get to a certain age where you think that that opportunity to reinvent yourself is over and there's a nice feeling to show that maybe it's never over and that's really the meaning of 'Cleveland.'"

7:45 PM - Wendie mentions a psychology study that says for a man, the most important thing to reduce stress is find him a good wife but for women it's to have good girlfriends. "Sitting and shooting the breeze with your girlfriends, it's doing something really good to make you calmer and lower your stress level."

7:46 PM - Betty talks about how the three-camera/live audience show was dead but "Hot in Cleveland" has both. "What that audience brings into that theater and what it does for us as far as giving us timing and energy and approval... we're actors! We're hams!"

7:50 PM - Of the characters she's created, Suzanne says "they're all so devoted to each other and would die for each other." Wendie adds that that's what makes it really resonate with viewers. "As crazy as these four women are, when push comes to shove, they really come through for each other... they're in this together and it's kind of a love thing in a strange way."

7:54 PM - Cynthia mentions how the show has been on "for awhile" and Valerie points out that the show only premiered last June so it hasn't even been on the air a full year and is already renewed for a third season! "Our DVR numbers are huge," adds Suzanne.

7:56 PM - Suzanne says that the "Hot in Cleveland" set is "a great set from top to bottom... it's such a happy place to be." Valerie adds that they come to play, not work.

7:59 PM - Time was one of the big factors that enticed Betty to do the series full-time after she originally insisted she would only do the pilot. Once they started making accommodations for the amount of time she'd be on the set, Betty admits, "I have the backbone of a jellyfish" and couldn't resist joining full-time.

8:02 PM - Cynthia reveals that ABC "knocked on your door" with the idea for the "All My Children" cross-over episode with "Hot in Cleveland." They said Susan Lucci marveled at how few pages they do in a day compared to the quick pace of daytime soaps. As for that Los Angeles-based episode, Suzanne says they will be going back for another visit sometime in the future.

8:06 PM - Betty has made jokes for years about wanting to sleep with Robert Redford so she was nervous when she got a letter from Redford after her Lifetime Achievement Award. "He wrote a six-stanza poem about congratulating and I won't tell you what the last two lines were but they were pretty funny," she says, admitting to showing her co-stars. Joking aside, Betty says she respects Redford so much for his attention to the environment and to the film industry.

8:09 PM - "Did the wall fall down," asks Wendie when Valerie says she took the piece of wood out of a door frame in her house with the different heights of her kids as they grew up. Suzanne jokes with Wendie, "door frames don't support the house." Big laughs from the audience at Wendie's naivete.

8:10 PM - With guest stars like Mary Tyler Moore, Bonnie Franklin, Joe Jonas, John Schneider and Jack Wagner, more guest stars are coming including Juliet Mills, who played Joy's mother last season and will be returning for another episode. Suzanne reveals that "it's always hard to give people a certain number of kids because then if you're going to do an event like a wedding, then where are they? It's hard... but then again, I think anyone who watched 'Sex and the City' thought 'where were their parents?'"

8:14 PM - Valerie says she wants to stay single on the show and Suzanne says, "That's always an odd dance of people that want to be in love and get married but it always has to fail." The girls will also try out new careers. Victoria is going to work at a news station and Melanie is going write a column for Woman's Day magazine (and the actual magazine will show the columns as written by Valerie's character).

8:15 PM - Betty explains that she's game for anything but finds nothing funny in anything having to do with drugs. In fact, in the season one finale, it was going to end with everyone finding Elka's pot stash in her cellar but once Betty voiced her concern, Suzanne changed it and said the change (what they find in the revised version is Elka's former mob husband's stolen loot), which Suzanne says ended up being a better story.

8:19 PM - "I never really had to think too hard about it," says Wendie about pursuing a career in acting. "I was so fortunate to continue to get to do it with these fabulous broads!"

8:21 PM - Jane is glad her acting career has worked out since she didn't go to college and never had a back-up plan. "I couldn't do anything else!" She says you have to have a "blind faith" in yourself.

8:22 PM - Suzanne started out as a novelist but her husband was a writer for David Letterman and "The Simpsons" and she saw how quickly he was getting things produced so she tried writing scripts. Her first sitcom job was writing for Ellen DeGeneres's sitcom, "Ellen," and then she ended up writing on "Frasier." (Many former "Frasier" writers work on "Hot in Cleveland.")

8:24 PM - "I still feel like me," says Betty on how she feels at 89 years young. She said Suzanne had a great line in a script that said how you may be one age but you feel another and she even asked her where that came from. (It came from a chat Suzanne had with her father about age.)

8:28 PM - In terms of casting, Valerie knew that Betty was cast as Elka and was told the producers were trying to get Wendie and Jane so she told them "If you can get those two girls, I'm in!" And the rest is history!

8:30 PM - The cast agrees that the first table read is when you know a show is going to work. "You can cast wonderful actors and have great writing and sometimes it just doesn't work," according to Wendie. Betty says the first "Hot in Cleveland" table read reminded her of that first "Golden Girls" table read. Wendie likens it to a great doubles tennis.

8:32 PM - That's a wrap from the "Hot in Cleveland" panel at the Paley Festival. I'll be back Wednesday night covering the "Parks & Recreation" panel.

And for more PaleyFest coverage - past and present - visit our Paley Center topic page.

  [march 2011]  


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