TV Column: HBO orders pilot for Stiller comedy

January 24, 2012

HBO is seriously in love with Washington.

Although the TV industry, by and large, gives Washington a “miss” and tries not to think about the ratings heartaches that were “The Real Housewives of D.C.” and “Real World: Washington D.C.,” among other shows, the premium cable network keeps gobbling up shows set in our fair city.

HBO just ordered a pilot for a comedy about a Jewish family living in Washington; the show is to be directed and executive-produced by Ben Stiller.

Stiller has cast his favorite actor — himself — in the lead role, and Alan Alda is tapped as a possible co-star.

The series hails from novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who is among the show’s executive producers. Foer is the guy who wrote the book “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” which got turned into that newly Oscar-nominated weeper starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.

HBO promises that the new comedy will be “politically, religiously, culturally, intellectually and sexually irreverent.”

“Ben Stiller continues to be a major, multi-talented star because of his discerning ability to embrace creative and innovative projects — whatever the medium. From major blockbuster motion pictures to small independent films, from Broadway to off-Broadway, the common thread is always the excellence of the material,” HBO’s president of programming, Michael Lombardo — who apparently did not see last year’s “Tower Heist” — said in HBO’s new-series announcement.

Speaking of “Tower Heist,” Stiller’s co-star in that flick, Eddie Murphy, is the latest to be cast in HBO’s ages-in-development biopic about former Washington mayor Marion Barry. (As long ago as 2002, the network announced — and we reported — that Chris Rock was going to executive-produce its biopic about the controversial politician and that Jamie Foxx would star.)

Those are just two of the latest Washington-based projects on HBO’s dance card. Here are two more:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in HBO’s new comedy series “Veep,” about the VPOTUS.

Julianne Moore depicts former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in “Game Change,” HBO’s coming film about the 2008 presidential race.

Actually, HBO isn’t that “strategic” about going out to market looking for Washington shows, Lombardo told The TV Column on Tuesday.

The network does, however, “respond to the passion and vision of creators” who like to bring Washington-set shows to HBO because other networks and studios run in terror from programming having to do with politics or Washington, he said.

In the case of the new Stiller comedy, Foer grew up in Washington and wanted to set the series here. “That is his frame of reference,” Lombardo said.

“I think, since I’ve been here, it’s the first non-political piece we have set in Washington. . . . That is unusual, and it’s really very fresh,” said Lombardo, adding: “Washington as a metropolis has been pretty much ignored by film and television.”

Fumbled coverage

Washington’s Fox-owned TV station, WTTG, acknowledged Tuesday that those Xfinity ads that interrupted Washington Comcast customers’ viewing of Sunday’s Giants-49ers game were the result of technical problems at the station.

“We apologize for the impact these technical issues had on the viewing experience of Comcast subscribers and have taken additional steps to ensure that these problems do not happen again,” WTTG said Tuesday.

Comcast viewers in Washington who were watching the nail-biter of a game were galled when Xfinity ads began interrupting play. Viewers jumped on social networks to vent. Comcast reacted quickly, issuing a statement early Monday that said, “We know some D.C. area viewers missed portions of last night’s NFC Championship game due to additional ads inserted locally.” Comcast also said that it sympathizes “with their frustrations” and that “WTTG believes it was due to an equipment failure at their station.”

“Not so fast,” responded the station, saying it was still investigating. But 24 hours later, WTTG issued Tuesday’s statement/apology.

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