NBC sitcom a reflection of writer's story
Mar. 13, 2015
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Everyone has those days where their life feels like a sitcom.
Starting Tuesday writer Liz Feldman's life really will be a sitcom, after she turned a painful personal episode into the series "One Big Happy," which airs at 9:30 EDT on NBC.
Actress Elisha Cuthbert portrays a lesbian having a baby with her straight male best friend, a plan suddenly complicated when he marries another woman.
Feldman wrote an outline in 2008 for the pilot, made by Ellen DeGeneres' production company. Her friend Jason Allen had just told Feldman that he had met the love of his life.
She and Allen met at Boston University, bonding over their mutual desire to pursue careers in comedy. After graduation, they moved to Los Angeles, and were inseparable through their 20s. "We did everything but each other together," she said.
Feldman knew she wanted children someday. So they had an understanding, although without a firm deadline. If she remained single, Allen would father her children.
Panicked when she learned Allen had proposed, she responded, "Well, you told her about our plan, didn't you?"
"He was like, 'yeah,' and she said, 'yeah, we'll talk about it once we get married,'" Feldman said. "And I could feel that our plan was slipping away. To be totally frank, I was jealous. I was jealous that I didn't have my best friend in the same capacity anymore. I was so weirded out that I was jealous that the only thing I could do was write about it. I couldn't even have a conversation with him."
Allen's reaction when she showed him the script fulfilled a male stereotype.
"I am famous for emotional clues that slide right past me," he said. "I did not take it as a friend writing a letter to a friend. I took it as just a pilot and I thought it was really funny."
Their first real conversation about it came years later in a writers' room for "One Big Happy" in front of other staff members studying them to apply facets of their relationship to the sitcom's characters.
While also doing standup comedy, Feldman has written for DeGeneres' daytime show, Jeff Foxworthy's "Blue Collar TV" and the CBS sitcom "Two Broke Girls." Offered an opportunity to write a comedy pilot, she immediately went back to her own story.
"I learned an amazing lesson, taught to me by Ellen, that when you are authentic, it's really powerful," she said. "People relate to it, but everyone might not like it. That's sort of what happened to her when she came out - she found out there were a lot of people who were really proud and were really rooting for her, and there were people who weren't."
DeGeneres' 1997 declaration that she was gay, simultaneous with the character in her sitcom coming out, "changed my life," Feldman said. A year later, the 21-year-old Feldman met DeGeneres at a book signing and summoned the guts to say, "you're Carol Burnett and I'm Vicki Lawrence, but you don't know that yet."
Their friendship and shared sense of humor led to the partnership on "One Big Happy." DeGeneres said she wasn't on the lookout for scripts featuring gays or lesbians.
"Yes, there's a lesbian character, but it's a really funny show," she said. "All I wanted to do was to put out really funny material, smart and thought-provoking."
Feldman pays tribute to her mentor on the pilot through one of Cuthbert's lines, "I should have known I was gay when I named my cat 'Ellen.'"
In sitcom life, Cuthbert's character gets pregnant from her friend's sperm donation, which Feldman never did. It's part of an eventful pilot where her friend, played by Nick Zano, meets, marries, breaks up with and gets back together with his love interest.
The fictional Liz doesn't like the new woman, a free-spirited Brit played by Kelly Brook. In real life, Feldman and Allen's wife are good friends. She is godmother to Allen's son George, together with her own wife.
"We want to have kids," she said. "It won't be with him."
Feldman and Allen are still working together; he's a writer on "One Big Happy." Having him around keeps her grounded, Feldman said.
"I've always wanted to write for a sitcom," Allen said. "It took Liz making me a character on her own show to make it happen."
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder