'Wedding Bells' Sound for FOX
Much-honored television uber-producer David E. Kelley is turning from law shows ("Boston Legal," "The Practice," "Ally McBeal") to the world of wedding planners with his latest series. Fox launches the comedy-drama in a highly prized period -- following "American Idol" -- Wednesday, March 7, before the new show settles into its regular Friday slot two nights later.
After playing the new first lady on "The West Wing" last season, Teri Polo jumps back into series work as one of three sisters trying to manage others' weddings while facing crises in their own love lives. KaDee Strickland ("The Grudge") and Sarah Jones ("Big Love") star as the other siblings.
Other series regulars include Benjamin King ("Saving Jessica Lynch") as Polo's husband, the company's chief operating officer; Michael Landes ("Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") as their photographer; and Chris Williams ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") as the resident wedding singer.
"I'm optimistic," Kelley says of his newest series' potential. "It seems to be an inviting, fun show, which is what we set out to do. It's a romantic comedy, and certainly, no great stakes will be in play from episode to episode. For the end of a long week, when people are just sitting in their easy chairs and looking at their television screens and saying, 'Entertain us,' I think we pull it off.
"What I love to do most," Kelley adds, "are series that are behavioral in nature and really draw on the emotional lives of the characters. It's just what I like writing, and it's fun to be able to devote a whole hour to it. 'Boston Legal' is fun to write as well, but so far, this has been a very enjoyable experience."
Having Polo as his lead actress makes Kelley, who also hired her for "The Practice" as a guest star, feel "really lucky. She came in on the first day of casting, and the minute she read for the role, I knew she was it." For her part, Polo feels lucky to have landed another steady job so relatively soon after her "West Wing" run.
"I've been very interested in series work since my son was born," she explains. "I want to try to stick as close to home as possible during the early years when he's not in school. Maybe when he gets a little bit older, I'll look into the possibility of getting back into films." That may happen even sooner: A third chapter of the "Meet the Parents" movie comedies is being discussed, with Polo potentially reprising her part.
The actress also proved her enjoyment of humor with her 2003-04 ABC show "I'm With Her." However, she believes sitcoms are "like the dinosaurs when they were dying off, plus to find a good one these days is very tough. ('The Wedding Bells') was just something I couldn't pass up. It was right up my alley. It was David E. Kelley, it was already picked up for 13 episodes, and it was a lovely role. And to top it off, it films at a studio five minutes from where I live."
Kelley credits the "Wedding Bells" idea to Jason Katims, who also produces NBC's "Friday Night Lights." Katims previously worked on the school drama "Boston Public" with Kelley, who remembers him first pitching the wedding-planner idea then.
"We actually did a pilot that just didn't work," Kelley reports. "It wasn't funny or emotional enough, but I still stayed very interested in the topic. There's just something about weddings and the invitation of fun, yet there's always a crisis involved. Someone in that room is having a tragedy of great significance. I've always seen a wedding and the reception as a microcosm of life."
Nov. 14, 1993, was Kelley's own date for such an occasion when he married actress Michelle Pfeiffer. "My wife went to great lengths to keep everything secret, even from me," he says, "because she was afraid it would be sabotaged by the tabloids and paparazzi. I knew where I was supposed to be and at what time, but I knew very little about the planning.
"My most distinct memory before the actual ceremony is of getting dressed, not knowing what was going to happen, and getting ready to say 'I do' and live the rest of my life in the dark. The wedding itself was great; we had none of the crises we allude to in the series."
Following ABC's similarly themed "Big Day" so soon is coincidental for "The Wedding Bells," Kelley maintains. "I saw a couple of episodes because ['Big Day' star] Marla Sokoloff was with us [on 'The Practice'], but this isn't anything like that. Any series ultimately becomes about the characters populating that specific franchise. Ours are very different, plus that series was about only one wedding and the planning of it."
Polo thinks the time is still right for such a show. "It's a fairly universal subject," she reasons. "If you look at women's magazines, there's always something about celebrities getting married and what their weddings were like. Everyone's always interested in that because people are always getting married, and there are always the horror stories as well as the wonderful stories. It's kind of nice to be involved in something that has an underlying theme of hope and positivity."
As he readies an American version of the British series "Life on Mars," also having "The Wedding Bells" and "Boston Legal" under his wing is reminding Kelley of the workload he once had.
"I did get to take a nice step back in doing just 'Boston Legal,'" he allows, "especially since I have a pretty good staff writing some of the episodes, but it's gotten a little busier. We went straight into 'Wedding' when we were in the middle of the season on 'Boston,' and with the 'Mars' pilot on top of that, it kind of feels like old times."