'Living With Ed' Is Not Easy

Actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. may be doing his part to save the Earth, but saving his marriage may prove to be a much taller order.

Not long ago, actor and filmmaker Joe Brutsman approached Begley and his wife, actress Rachelle Carson, with an idea for a reality show based on Begley's vigorous efforts to promote green technology and the couple's equally energetic verbal fireworks.

The result is "Living With Ed," a six-hour "docu-soap" that premieres in its regular time slot Sunday, Jan. 7, on HGTV.

"We have this reputation among our friends for ..." starts Carson.

"... Our snappy repartee," finishes Begley.

"That's a nice way to put it," she counters.

"Otherwise known as bickering," he says. "But we enjoy ourselves."

"We like it."

"We enjoy, but I'm sure some people find it tedious."

"Tedious and overwhelming."

Brutsman decided it was about time that the feisty couple's green lifestyle made them some green.

"The idea," Begley says, "was to do a show about what it's like living with me, the environmental guy with the bicycle, with the electric car, with the 'Turn off the blow-dryer, honey, the solar batteries are low,' 'Why are you in the shower so long? Leave some for the fish.' That was the idea of the show."

On the day before Thanksgiving, Begley and Carson talk about "Living With Ed" in the comfortable living room of their modest two-bedroom 1936 house in Studio City, Calif. The white picket fence around the bilevel bungalow is made from recycled plastic, and the kitchen has new countertops made from recycled soda-pop bottles.

In place of a lawn, there are fig, apple, tangerine, orange, lemon, avocado and olive trees. A backyard garden includes tomatoes, peppers, peas and artichokes. Also on the lot are Begley's workshop and the garage that houses his all-electric Toyota Rav-4 (the couple also has two Toyota Prius gas/electric hybrid cars).

Starting with money he earned during his Emmy-nominated stint as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the 1980s NBC medical drama "St. Elsewhere," Begley has accumulated quite a lot of green technology, including the electric car, solar panels, a wind turbine out in the desert and a battery system in his basement that stores his solar energy.

Begley walks the environmental talk, to his wife's frustration.

"I thought she'd like it that I'm saving her money and saving the planet," Begley says. "No, it's not good enough for her."

When he says he never nags, Carson fires back, "You nag me."

"Yeah," Begley says, "but you're impossible. I have to live with you."

"Nags me all the time."

"She has not yet discovered this little electronic valve at the entryway to each room. It's called the light switch."

That conversation goes on for quite a while, encompassing when televisions are or aren't turned off in the house, the size (or lack of it) of the house, who gets to take which Prius on long trips and so on -- with occasional interruptions by the couple's towheaded daughter, Hayden, neighbor children, a visiting niece, a cat and a shaggy dog named Molly.

Similar conversations go on in the series, as Carson soldiers along, trying to keep up with Begley's enthusiastic pursuit of his environmental aims. But it's not like she didn't know what she was getting into when she married him, since he's been out front on these issues since the '70s.

"I didn't quite believe that he was what he was," Carson says. "'Are you kidding? Really?' He's actually lightened up a little -- a little."

As to whether Begley has converted her to his way of thinking, Carson says, "Oh, no, I believe in it. It's just like everything. He's taken everything to such a heightened degree. I believe in it; I just don't have the discipline to do what he does. It's hard. I do recycle. I don't throw anything away. We recycle every piece of paper in this house. It took a while, but I can do that.

"But I do think he goes a little far. But somebody has to."

At first, Begley was concerned that the filming schedule would disrupt his life.

"They were here 14 hours [the first time]," he says of the camera crew. "I thought, after we did it, 'This is not going to be fun. They're going to be here, five days a week, 14 hours; this is going to be hell. Forget about it.'

"She said, 'Just relax. Let's look at what they did and see.' I said, 'I don't want to look at it. I don't want to do it. I'm out. Forget about it. It's not going to be good. It's going to lead to a divorce; we'll split up.' She said, 'Good, fine, we'll both get out of this hell.' Then we got the DVD (of the pilot) and everything changed. It was so funny. It was so our show."

Begley is now very happy with the schedule, and adds, "Being paid to bicker, I can't imagine a better scenario. It's my job description, to torture Rachelle, and now to be paid to do it, this is heaven on Earth."

Begley says that having the show on HGTV -- which is primarily a how-to network for home and garden -- will encourage people to try some of the techniques and technology shown on "Living With Ed." But he wasn't the first HGTV fan in the house.

"Ed had never seen the network," she says, "but I had. I like 'This Old House' and 'Design to Sell.'"

"I didn't know you did," Begley says. "I thought you hated this house. You just heard her, 'I like "This Old House."' You heard her. She said it. It's on tape."

"I definitely didn't mean this one," Carson fires back. "I think they're wanting more personality-driven material. We're big on personality."

"Yeah," Begley says, "we've got the personality."