Thursday, January 16, 2003

'Ed' tackles weighty storyline


Supporting actor has stomach-reducing procedure in real life

By Lynn Elber
The Associated Press

[photo] Actor Michael Genadry, in a "before" photo, hopes to eventually get his weight down to 240 pounds, from a high of 473.
(NBC-TV photo)
| ZOOM |

NBC's Ed, a frothy will-they-or-won't-they tango between lovelorn Ed and his would-be flame, gained depth this season with the addition of Daryl "Chill" Mitchell.

He plays Eli, a bowling alley manager who is a paraplegic. The actor (Galaxy Quest, Veronica's Closet) was left paralyzed and in a wheelchair after a 2001 motorcycle accident. His character combines a breezy confidence with unavoidable vulnerability, all the more touching because we know Mr. Mitchell understands him.

Now, a twist in another actor's life has brought Ed (8 p.m. Wednesday, Channels 5, 22) another chance to feature an unusual and unusually well-realized character.

Michael Genadry knew he was facing a crisis - at 5-foot-9, he was pushing 500 pounds. Recognizing that his health was at risk, the 24-year-old actor chose to undergo gastric bypass surgery.

What's happened in life is being reflected in drama. A supporting player on Ed since its 2000 debut, Mr. Genadry - and his battle with obesity - were pushed center stage when producers decided to put his character through surgery as well.

Mark, the smart-aleck high school student played by Mr. Genadry, was confronted by friends in a Dec. 11 episode about his weight. In one brave scene, he pulled off his shirt for an unflinching look in the mirror.

Situation `forced itself'

Subsequent episodes are tracking Mark's preparation for the surgery and its aftermath. Mr. Genadry himself had the operation Sept. 18.

"The situation kind of forced itself," says Ed executive producer Jon Beckerman. "An actor tells you he's going to have a procedure that causes a dramatic change in his appearance, you're going to have to deal with it in some way.

"We didn't want to ignore it or tell viewers he did this from Weight Watchers or cutting out the chips. It felt dishonest," Mr. Beckerman says, adding: "The guy really did this thing, so why tell any other story than the one we had?"

The series' producers, including Rob Burnett and David Letterman (his Worldwide Pants Inc. is one of the companies behind Ed), were careful to depict the procedure's pros and cons.

There are surgical risks and potential side effects, and life after the stomach is reduced in size requires a careful and disciplined approach to eating. Doctors are divided over the procedure, Mr. Beckerman says.

Mr. Genadry armed himself with information before making a decision. His father, also obese, shared his own research into the surgery, while the producers of Ed put the actor in touch with physicians.

"The more I looked at it, the more I realized this is probably the last chance I have left," Mr. Genadry says. "I wasn't having major health problems but I have a history of diabetes and heart disease on both sides of my family."

(Both Mr. Genadry's father and the actor who plays his dad in Ed have since undergone the procedure, in which the stomach is reduced to a small pouch and attached to the small intestine. The surgery gained increased attention after singer Carnie Wilson underwent it in 1999.)

Mr. Genadry also thought hard about seeing a version of his story unfold on Ed.

"I'm not the kind of person who likes to have anything to hide," the affable actor says. But he was concerned about being "defined by the surgery."

Confidence in producers

"I'm an actor first and a shrinking person second. I was really worried about how they (the producers) would handle it, and I thought between the publicity and writing it into the show it would be too much.

"But after talking to Rob and Jon, I realize if there was anyone who could handle it correctly, these guys would do it," Mr. Genadry says.

His operation went smoothly and the few problems he's had involve adapting to his new regimen - four to five small meals per day. From his high of 473 pounds, he was down to 374 by the end of December. His target weight, which he expects to reach in a year or so, is 240 pounds.

"It's a funny feeling at this point. ... I look deflated, that's the way I put it," he says.

He's gained resolve from working with Mr. Mitchell, who displays what Mr. Genadry calls "true bravery. . . . He handles everything he's been through in such a positive light. . . ."

Unquestionably, the series has gained a creative spark from the two actors, Mr. Beckerman says. Mr. Mitchell allows them the confidence to write about a disability without fear of being labeled "cheesy or corny," Mr. Beckerman says.

"Whatever those criticisms might be, they just wouldn't even bother me. I'd say, `This is a real guy and I've been inspired by him.' The same goes with Michael. There's something empowering about the fact this is really happening."



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