Sitcom Star Suffers for His Art
But Will a Live Show Be Drop-Dead Funny?
By Scott Moore
"What a pain in the . . . "
Oh, yeah, and the ABC standards-and-practices guy says you have to avoid three-letter references to your posterior.
Don't get Drew Carey started. The comedian railed for a few moments on the comic opportunities lost to a squeamish network overseer.
"It makes me madder than anything," Carey said, relating to the times suggestions from the "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" audience are shot down before the improv cast even gets a try. Or when a small part of a skit is deemed unfit -- necessitating the loss of the entire segment.
Carey recalls a standards-and-practices decree that quashed a segment about the bothersome effects of a car wreck, apparently worried there would be comic depictions of dead bodies or such. "Censoring ahead of time, for potential, makes me so mad," he said.
Not to mention the pain and suffering in his, well, you know.
But, Carey figures the discomfort will be on the other end when "The Drew Carey Show" goes live Wednesday at 9 p.m. with a partially unscripted story line that includes appearances by "Whose Line" members Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood (plus Ryan Stiles, a regular on both Carey shows).
"Drew Carey" actually will have three live shows, for the East/Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones. Further, the producers vow to avoid the type of overly slick live presentation that "ER" produced in September 1997. (And of course ABC censors want no dead bodies.)
"I saw the 'ER' show and how smooth it was, and said, let's figure out a way to make [our show] all screwy," said Bruce Helford, executive producer and
co-creator of the sitcom. "So, we scripted windows of improv, where the actors will have no idea of what's coming at them."
On the "ER" episode, "their intention was not to have anything go wrong, so they were over-rehearsing," Helford added. "Our feeling is, whatever happens, happens."
Added Carey: "If you're going to do something live, do something crazy -- take a risk."
The closely guarded improv segments will change in each of the three presentations, replicating the seat-of-the-pants spontaneity that rules on the laugh-out-loud-funny "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
Stiles, who also was a regular on the original British version of "Whose Line," said the "Carey" cast often livens up rehearsals by adding improvisational elements. So he welcomes the daring approach to the live shows. "With improv, if you fail, sometimes it's even funnier," he said.
Added Helford: "Drew and I have always felt that viewers have to get their money's worth -- even though it's free. It's too easy to do a regular show each week. As a kid I used to love when you had to stop whatever you were doing so you wouldn't miss a big television event."
In recent seasons, "Carey" often has been surrounded by weaker shows, meaning the series has had to attract its own audience. The daft ensemble cast and innovative elements -- elaborate musical dance numbers, error-filled April Fool's shows, a guest appearance by Daffy Duck and an episode filmed in China -- have often put the fifth-year series' Nielsen ratings among the weekly Top 20.
And on Nov. 17, "Drew Carey" will have a simulcast on the Internet with a story line that involves Drew being an online pitchman for Winfred Louder, the department store for which he toils. Viewers who log on to selected Web sites will be able to follow the action from Drew-cams throughout his fictional Cleveland home. In some cases, while the show focuses on Drew at work, Internet viewers will see the comic doings at the house.
ABC said that more than a third of the 9 million U.S. households that watch "Carey" have Internet access. Producers expect to be able to accommodate about 300,000 Internet visitors per time zone, and the archive will be accessible for at least a week after the broadcast.
"This is going to be the biggest event in the history of the Internet," predicted Helford. "It's going to go way beyond the Victoria's Secret event," which in February drew more than 1.5 million users to a fuzzy-pictured fashion show. Last month's NetAid concerts drew an even better response, delivering 2.3 million video streams during the 11-hour event.
Carey, of course, has his doubts, as well as a bout of derriere discomfort caused by the extra work. "How many people have a TV right by their computer?" he said. "I do, but I'm rich."
Warner Bros., the series' producer, has that answer: more than 50 percent of online users.
But we won't pain Drew with that fact.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company