Breeality Bites

Your New Friends?

Page 3 of 4

In the words of Jeff Zucker, NBC Entertainment president and the man who flashed Vertue and Moffat the green light, the Brits "are a great farm team." Time to call them up to the majors.

"He said what?" Vertue asks over the crackles and hiss of a transatlantic cell phone call, when told of Zucker's comments in the Los Angeles Times last fall.

Zucker referred to the BBC as a farm team--the minor leagues, as it were.

"Oh, did he?" Vertue says with a laugh. "NBC is a major and very successful station, and it'll be great if it works out. Jeff is very bright. I really liked them at NBC. But they also let us be involved. Some people were trying to say, 'Oh, no, you can't come over,' in which case we wouldn't have been involved."

Small point: Vertue's mother, Beryl, produced Steptoe and Son, which did quite fine on these shores when Albert Steptoe turned a darker shade of Redd Foxx's Fred Sanford. She also executive produced the 1992 Britcom Men Behaving Badly, which landed on NBC in 1996 and wound up going the way of General Cornwallis. So she knows how to do this kind of thing right and how it can all go so very, very wrong. (First mistake: the hiring of Rob Schneider. Just a guess.)

"My mother said you can't just sell something to a studio," Sue says, by way of explaining what kind of advice Beryl passed along. Actually, the whole enterprise is something of a mom-and-pop business: Sue Vertue's parents are involved in the production company behind Coupling, and her husband writes every single BBC episode. "You have to go and sell the show to people that you think understand it. We've had quite a bit of interest in this from various people, but they have to be people you think know how to make it, and that's why we wanted to stay involved. That will give it the biggest chance at survival. And it's fun. And she started the whole format business here, really."

Whether Coupling will be the next Friends, as NBC intended when it approached Vertue and Moffat about acquiring the rights, or the next Amanda's By the Sea (the gawdawful Fawlty Towers redo starring Bea Arthur, which lasted longer than the one starring John Larroquette, since it never aired) will be something determined at the beginning of the 2003-'04 season. Or maybe later: When NBC bought the show, Friends was a non-issue; since then, of course, the cast has agreed to come back for a slightly shortened 10th season.

But the show could never literally replace Friends: NBC and Vertue figure it a tad too risqué for the 7 o'clock slot, what with its breast-flashing and lesbo tape-watching--and the fact that at one time or another, every woman on the show has slept with every man on the show, more or less. If Vertue holds fast to her promise to keep the show's sexual content intact, it will likely have to air a little later--say, after Will & Grace, since Good Morning, Miami ain't likely to see September, the good Lord willin'.

And there is this little hurdle to get past: NBC may have OK'd a pilot, but the network still hasn't picked up the show. Like that matters.

"When they say they want it to replace Friends, they mean they want it to be a successful comedy, not just someone to go in that slot," Vertue says. "Isn't that what their thinking was? I dunno. It will go in the fall if they pick it up. I think they will. They should, and if they don't, I'm sure somebody else will." As if you couldn't guess, Sue Vertue is chuckling again. Chuckling her arse off.

"How confident am I?" she says through the sheets of laughter. "We're not holding our breath."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky