Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spending Time with the 'Men of a Certain Age'

(Photo: Maarten de Boer/SAG Foundation)

I had a blast on Tuesday night moderating a panel for TNT's "Men of a Certain Age," which -- to borrow an old TV Guide feature -- is easily one of the Best Shows That You're Not Watching. Star/co-creator Ray Romano was battling a fierce cold and fellow star Andre Braugher had to catch a late flight, but both were there and in funny form, along with the cast's third member, Scott Bakula. Also on stage: Co-creator Mike Royce.

The panel, held as a part of the SAG Foundation's "Conversations" series, gave plenty of insight into the the creation of "Men of a Certain Age," and how the show is tough to categorize (which could be why it struggles to attract a larger audience). It's the most dramatic role of Ray Romano's career, and it's the most comedic of Andre Braugher's. It's a show about a group of men, but it's not a show about a bunch of guys acting like stereotypical guys. It's simply a funny, and deep, show about the what it's like to be struggling to achieve and maintain your life as you approach 50.

For Romano and Royce, it also represented a change of pace after writing set-up-joke-set-up-joke sitcoms. But like "Raymond," it continues in the classic style of "write what you know" comedy -- with strong results.

A few things gleaned from the panel:

-- Romano's character, Joe, has a gambling problem -- and Romano admits that his character's gambling is a bit autobiographical. That includes Joe's habit of making "self bets" -- promising himself a reward (like Lakers tickets) only if he achieves a goal. Romano says he considered making a "self bet" episode of "Raymond" but decided it would be too dark for that comedy.

-- Romano and Royce originally offered Braugher's role to "The Wire's" Wendell Pierce -- but Pierce was already committed to HBO's "Treme." That's when Braugher was suggested. When Romano and Royce checked his IMDB credits, they couldn't find a single comedy on his resume -- but knew he was too good to pass up.

-- Bakula notes that he's nothing like his manchild character, Terry, but that he's intrigued to see the character finally mature and perhaps settle down.

The second half of season two debuts June 1 on TNT. Among the storylines, Joe looks to get his gambling under control but winds up reviving his friendship with his bookie, who's struggling with cancer. Meanwhile, Owen (Braugher) tries to find new ways to save the struggling car dealership he inherited from his dad.

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