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March 12, 2010

'Men of a Certain Age'

Paleyfest braugher bakula menBy Erik Pedersen

Rarely has a TV show’s title been more likely to reflect its probable initial audience than “Men of a Certain Age.” It works both ways: Folks who aren’t of a certain age, maybe even a certain gender, might be less motivated to sample it. They’re missing out.

The crowd for Friday’s episode of PaleyFest certainly fit the presumed demo, but it was couples night at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. And the audience Q&A session proved that women are paying equal attention to what arguably is the TV season’s best new show.

The evening began with clips from series writer/co-creator/star Ray Romano’s (Joe) first appearance as a stand-up comic on “The Tonight Show” in 1991, complete with a Johnny Carson intro. But the laughs were tempered when moderator Stuart Levine took the stage and informed the full house (with closed balcony) that Romano’s father had passed away and that “Certain Age’s” most recognizable actor had flown back east to be with his family. Those who had turned out specifically to see the former “Everybody Loves Raymond” star likely were disappointed, but the show went on with a three-man panel.

Writer and co-creator Mike Royce, also a veteran of the stand-up wars, and co-stars Andre Braugher (Owen) and Scott Bakula (Terry) were consistently funny and insightful in discussing the TNT dramedy. Royce mock bristled at that genre label, joking, “When you say dramedy, people say, ‘Oh, it sucks.’ ” But all three repeatedly referred to what makes “Certain Age” unique in the TV landscape -- words like “real,” “honest” and “believable.”

“I loved the script from the first moment I read it,” Braugher said, with a quick aside that it wasn’t necessarily a great negotiating position. “It was a chance to do something new.”

Discussing an episode in which his character spends lots of screen time dealing with his diabetes, Braugher said: “It’s a real issue -- that’s why I like this show. … It doesn’t pull back from stuff just because it’s uncomfortable for us. I’ll do whatever the script says as long as it’s for real.”

Royce, who also wrote for “Raymond,” was asked about the impetus for the series. “Unemployment,” he deadpanned, before saying that it started with him and Romano going over movie ideas and became a way for them both to “unburden” themselves. He said Romano was worried about being typecast after the phenomenal success of “Raymond.”

“We started wondering, ‘Is this the best my life will ever get?’ Because it was pretty great -- especially for him.”

After the laughter died down, Royce added that they began to wonder if they were just going to be in for “50 more years of, ‘Hey, remember that?’ ”

Asked about the casting process for “Certain Age,” Royce said they saw “lots of funny people and lots of dramatic people, but do we believe they’re really friends?”

Paleyfest menThe unforced camaraderie among the leads is a hallmark of the show; the guys really seem like they’ve been close friends for 30 years. That gave Bakula a lead-in to discuss his character, Terry Elliott, a long-struggling actor and somewhat flighty playboy who doesn’t take life or its responsibilities too seriously.

“All (Terry) really cares about is his relationship with these two men -- and getting laid,” he said.

Referring to playing a none-too-successful actor and how that parallels the real-life challenges actors face, he said, “It’s the nature of the business -- learning to take that rejection … and turn it into something positive.”

Bakula said he loves being an actor and “isn’t trained to do anything else.” Copping a line from the show, he added, “I’m professionally charming.”

Braugher then discussed his character, Owen Thoreau Jr., a married father who has been working for decades at the car dealership owned by his dad (Richard Gant), a former Los Angeles Laker who is never easy on his son.

“I feel very connected to Owen,” Braugher said. “He’s got a thick soup of relationships — wife, kids, father.” He said of Dad, “People are indignant for me — ‘How can you put up with that guy?’ ” But he added that it’s obvious that Owen’s father loves him, a fact that becomes more open later during the show’s freshman year.

He also likes the “maturation” of the character. “He wakes up during the course of the season,” Braugher said.

Romano plays Joe Tranelli, a recently separated father of two teens who juggles owning a party store, being newly single and  having a serious gambling problem. He’s also a scratch golfer who dreams of joining the PGA Senior Tour, something Royce said would be an ongoing story line next season.

He noted that they just started writing for Season 2 this week, so he wasn’t being cagey when pressed about potential plots. He did, though, say the second-season order was for 12 episodes, two more than the rookie year. He said they plan to do some backstory on the three main characters and maybe delve into their families. Owen’s wife Melissa -- played by LisaGay Hamilton, whom Braugher said Friday was his classmate at Juilliard -- is a regular on the show, and his children and parents also get screen time. Joe’s kids and wife also are part of the show, as is -- or was -- Terry’s much-younger girlfriend (Carla Gallo).

Paleyfest men actors Just as Terry decides to try to be a better boyfriend, she pushes him into getting more serious about acting. When he stumbles into a little success and is gone for a while, she bags him. Will there be a reconciliation between the two next season? Royce called the situation “very tricky.”

No matter what ensues on “Certain Age,” expect to continue enjoying the antics of Joe’s bookie, Manfro, a fan favorite. Jon Manfrellotti, who plays the kinda-sorta-maybe mobbed-up bookmaker, was in the audience Friday and drew a big cheer when introduced. What a guy in the crowd later began a question with “I love Manfro …,” Manfrellotti stood up and yelled, “So do I.” Big laugh.

Braugher -- one of the medium’s finest actors, who won an Emmy as Detective Frank Pembleton on the brilliant ’90s series “Homicide: Life on the Street” -- talked about what brings him back to doing TV.

“There’s an awful lot of good writing in television,” he said to applause. “We do typically braver things … much more depth, much more interesting stories.”

He drew a chuckle from the crowd -- and himself -- after noting that all of his previous TV series have been ratings challenged. “I was saying to myself three nights ago, ‘Wow, this is a hit!”

Royce chimed in, “Wait till you see the action figures.” He paused. “Well, it’s ‘Men of a Certain Age,’ so they’re really inaction figures.”

He said the series, which originally was developed as a half-hour, has had great backing from the network.

“TNT was into it right off,” Royce said, adding that brass offered “very few notes,” letting him and Romano pretty much do what they want. But he’s also realistic about the show’s long-term future.

“We’re not doing 100 episodes,” Royce said. “ ‘Men of a Certain Age’ can’t go into their 70s.”



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