Sunday, September 7, 2003

'I'm With Her' writer really is

I'm with him.

The best TV comes from writers with intimate knowledge of a situation - which is what could make Chris Henchy's I'm With Her the surprise hit of the fall season.

I'm With Her, about the hot movie star who falls in love with a nobody school teacher, was created by Henchy, whos' the husband of actress Brooke Shields.

Terri Polo
He knows what it's like to be shoved aside when his wife walks down the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere.

He's been called "Mr. Shields." He never dreamed the Suddenly Susan star would be called "Mrs. Henchy."

"I never watched her movies," says Henchy, 39, who married Shields two years ago. They had a baby daughter in May.

"She was somebody I knew (of) growing up, and would see in pictures and magazines, but my world was so far from whatever would have been (to) make some sort of connection," he says.

Not that Henchy is a complete Hollywood nobody. He has written and produced Michael J. Fox's Spin City and Bonnie Hunt's Life With Bonnie.

Unlike his wife, he's never been one of People magazine's "50 most beautiful people." He didn't marry a star tennis player (Andre Agassi). He hasn't been a guest on numerous Bob Hope TV specials, or made movies with Renee Zellweger, Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Fonda or George Burns.

So he can bring an average Joe perspective to I'm With Her (premiering Sept. 23 on ABC) for the unlikely romance of actress Alex Young (Teri Polo, Meet the Parents, Sports Night) and high school English teacher Patrick Owen (David Sutcliffe, Rory's dad on Gilmore Girls).

As the tabloid headline says in the show: "Alex Young Dates Joe Thousand-aire."

• Just two more days! The prime-time TV season unofficially begins Tuesday with two NBC comedies, Whoopi Goldberg's Whoopi (8 p.m., Channels 5, 22) and Happy Family (8:30 p.m.) starring Christine Baranski and John Larroquette.
• UPN also jump-starts the season with five new series this week, starting with the Jake 2.0 drama Wednesday (9 p.m., Channels 25).
• Most new and returning series premiere after the 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Sept. 21 (8-11 p.m., Channels 19, 45).
When Alex invites Patrick to a movie premiere, he says: "It's like a prom, right?" To which she replies: "Yeah, a prom - that Bruce Willis and Nicole Kidman will be at."

Of course, Patrick's students know more about Alex than he does. Lots more. One teen-age boy asks during class: "Are Alex's nudes on the Internet real?"

Henchy, who met Shields at Warner Bros. studios the day she rescued a stray dog, says not being known "affords you a whole new outlook or opportunity to view her world."

"It's the world of going to a restaurant with her, and getting the best table," he says, "and showing up three days later with your buddies, and waiting an hour and sitting by the kitchen. I get to witness both sides of that."

Henchy knows what its like to bring a movie star home to Mom and Dad. Sort of. Shields has met his family in New York, but she hasn't been to Augusta, Ga., where his parents live.

"I have a big family in New York, and ... I kind of eased everybody into it," Henchy says. "I didn't want to scare her off, so I took it slowly. My family's been really good about it."

'Firsts' in relationships

Except for one uncle who asks Shields to sign her Vogue magazine covers.

"When it's your uncle, you've just got to turn a blind eye and go, 'That's my uncle.' "

The first season, he says, will explore all of the "firsts" in a relationship - first fight, first time meeting relatives, first weekend away, first time they sleep together.

"There are two different worlds that are kind of colliding, and in this case, Patrick is just trying to keep a normal, normal relationship," Henchy explains.

What makes I'm With Her far from normal TV is the sweetness, charm and realism. Patrick initially turns down a date with the movie star, knowing she's way out of his class.

"This is my world, and what I do here matters," Patrick says when Alex visits his school. "In your world, none of this matters - and everyone is asking 'Why him?' "

A Hollywood fantasy

Perhaps I'm With Her works so well because the cast, crew and writers realize it's Hollywood's biggest fantasy - finding true love away from the insanity of the entertainment industry.

"There are certain aspects of the business that are not exactly very pretty, and not exactly very welcoming or warm, or have your best interests at heart," says Polo, who is married to photographer Anthony Moore.

She describes the advantages of dating outside the Hollywood species this way: "They don't have to fight... to get in front of the mirror in the morning, and don't have to worry about whose movie is doing better than theirs, and whose publicist is working better for them, etc., etc. It's just kind of nice to be involved with someone who doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the businesses."

Says Sutcliffe, who plays the teacher: "Most actors ... are jealous of somebody who's in a relationship with somebody who's not in the business. There's something that's stable about that."

Jealous? That could describe people involved with all the other new fall sitcoms, which don't have the genuine warmth of I'm With Her. It's the one to watch.



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