Monday, July 24, 2000

Goodman's show features Tristate

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PASADENA, Calif. - If John Goodman's new Fox sitcom is set in a small town near Cincinnati, would it be like Springboro, where he made his professional acting debut in the mid-1970s?

        “I don't know yet,” says Mr. Goodman, the former Roseanne star who appeared in a LaComedia dinner theater production of 1776 after graduating from Southwestern Missouri State University in 1975.

        Many details have not been worked out for the “untitled John Goodman project.” But producers say the former Mr. Goodman will play a divorced Los Angeles contractor who returns to his Ohio hometown to announce he's gay.

        And his name is William “Butch” Gamble Jr. No word on if he's related to the founders of Cincinnati's biggest company, though producers are familiar with the territory.

        “Cincinnati is wonderful. It's a great place to set a show,” says Bonnie Turner, a Toledo native who will produce the series with her husband, Terry.

        Mr. Goodman's sitcom is one of three new fall shows about Midwest sensibilities. Comic Jim Gaffigan plays a small-town Indiana weatherman hired by a network morning show on CBS' Welcome to New York, while NBC's Ed follows a Manhattan lawyer back to his Ohio hometown, where he sets up a law practice in a bowling alley.

        “The thing I like about the Midwest is it is a very average place,” says Mr. Turner, who also produces with his wife 3rd Rock from the Sun set near Ohio's Kent State University and That '70s Show set in Wisconsin.

        The Turners love the “great cross-section of people in Cincinnati,” and the small towns and suburbs nearby. They have sent scouts to Cincinnati to take photographs of homes, bars, other buildings and people as a model for the set and costumes, Ms. Turner says.

        “It's a simple place — not simple as in stupid, but uncomplicated. My God, they test soap there,” says Ms. Turner, who keeps up on the Buckeye state by reading Ohio magazine every month.

        The Turners surprised Fox by trashing their first pilot. Originally Mr. Goodman lived in Los Angeles with an old college pal, played by Anthony LaPaglia, who has been dropped from the series. They figured the Queen City would provide more laughs.

        Mr. Goodman's new TV family, yet to be cast, will include a divorced sister with two teen-agers, one a 14-year-old boy who asks if being gay could be hereditary.

        Also not yet cast are his par ents or remarried ex-wife. His mother “is not in complete denial, but she thinks (his homosexuality) is a phase. That it can be fixed, it can be reversed,” Mr. Turner says.

        The Wednesday comedy, to debut at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 1, will focus on Butch Gamble trying to re-establish family relationships after four years on the West Coast.

        “We're not in this to lecture on homosexuality, to say whether it's good or bad,” Ms. Turner says.

        “The gay people I know talk about the process of coming out, and going home, and what it's like. Everybody has the same stories, no matter where they're from — one parent is more accepting than the other, a sister doesn't understand it, while another one is totally liberal and very into it. It's a mix.”

        Actor Greg Pitts, the only other survivor from the first pilot, plays Butch's 20-year-old son. “He's not angry because his father's gay. He's angry because his father made it public,” Ms. Turner says.

        No decision has been made about whether any exterior scenes, or the opening credits, could be shot in Cincinnati, as was done for CBS's WKRP in Cincinnati in 1978, she says.

        Tristate viewers should expect to hear or see references to the Bengals, Reds, local landmarks and colleges, she says.

        The possibilities would seem endless: Could Butch Gamble,a contractor, help build the Reds new stadium? Would he listen to WKRP? Could Mr. Goodman, a Missouri high school football star, offer any tips to the lousy Bengals?

        “It's just rich. It's ripe for the taking,” Ms. Turner says.

        As for the name of the suburb, Ms. Turner says her staff has compiled a list of fictional names.

        Not Fairfield?

        “I know Fairfield. It's beautiful,” she says.

        Perhaps the Butler County community of Blue Ball?

        “Blue Ball? We'd be in so much trouble with that one,” she says.

        Also not on the list is Springboro, where Mr. Goodman learned about life in Southwestern Ohio 25 years ago. When 1776 closed, the St. Louis native stayed with his girlfriend in Springboro and waited tables at the dinner theater, making three times more on tips than his actor's salary.

        Believe it or not, in 1776 he played Thomas Jefferson.

        “I weighed about 195 then,” he said shortly after Roseanne premiered. “That makes it a little easier to figure how I got the part.”

        Enquirer TV Critic John Kiesewetter is reporting from the Television Critics Association's summer press tour.