TV Week

TV Week: The Ex Files

Paula Marshall and Jay Mohr star in CBS's "Gary Unmarried."
Paula Marshall and Jay Mohr star in CBS's "Gary Unmarried."
By Marc D. Allan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 26, 2009

The outlook wasn't brilliant for Ed Yeager the day "Still Standing" went off the air in 2006. After four seasons as co-executive producer of "a show that doesn't necessarily make you an enormous commodity in the market," he had few prospects.

But he did have an idea: a situation comedy called "Right Backatcha" about a newly divorced guy, his ex-wife and their efforts to raise two children in two households. Yeager knew networks had little interest in sitcoms, but he brought the story to his agents anyway.

"And they said, 'Absolutely not,'" he remembered. "'No one will listen to it, nobody's ready to do a divorce story, it's failed in the past.' I really didn't have anything else I could get out there and pitch, so I just wrote it."

That proved to be the right decision: His show, renamed "Gary Unmarried," has become a Wednesday night success for CBS. "Gary" is off this week but ends its 20-episode first season with two new shows May 6 and 13.

To get the series on the air, Yeager had to scurry. ABC Studios, which bought "Gary" just before the Hollywood writers' strike began in late 2007, sold it to CBS in March 2008. That left him about six weeks to produce a finished pilot episode before the network announced its fall lineup.

He had his script ready. What he needed was a cast. He found Allison when someone suggested Rockville native Paula Marshall.

Marshall, whose child was 3 at the time, had been searching for a sitcom, only to hear from her agents basically the same thing Yeager had: "Don't hold your breath, because no one's making them."

But in the back of her mind, she said, she knew the idea could work. "People like laughing. Life is short. Be nice. Be funny. Laugh. It's what I enjoy, and I think a lot of people do."

Yeager said Marshall has infused the role "with just the right level of sexiness and weariness -- all the stuff we wanted a divorced woman to have who's been living with a guy who's a pain."

Jay Mohr, meanwhile, had a two-year contract to play professor Rick Payne on another CBS show, "Ghost Whisperer." But he liked the idea of a sitcom.

"Every time I talk, I get to say something funny," said Mohr, who left "Ghost Whisperer" to be Gary. "And if it's not funny, a group of people scurry around and make it funnier. As a comedian who's just an eyelash from 40, that's a great opportunity."

In "Gary Unmarried," Mohr plays the "get rid of your books, throw away your toothbrushes, you're with daddy now" parent to Marshall's more rigid, long-suffering Allison. They spend much of their time trading barbs.

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