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Kudrow, King: You Can Call It a 'Comeback'

Lisa Kudrow (Friends) stars in and executive producer Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City) created the new HBO comedy series The Comeback. It's a mock reality show that follows the career of a celebrity desperate to return to the spotlight.

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Other segments from the episode on June 22, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 22, 2005: Interview with Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King; Review of Coldplay's "X&Y" and Dressy Bessy's "Electrified."

Transcript

DATE June 22, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King discuss their
collaboration on the new HBO series "The Comeback"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "The Comeback")

Ms. LISA KUDROW (Actress, Executive Producer, "The Comeback"): (As Valerie
Cherish) This is my comeback.

All right, no--let me take that again, OK?

(Clears throat) So this is my co...

Jane, I'm sorry. The camera keeps moving in and out. Is that...

"JANE": It's always going to be moving. Just keep going.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) No--yeah. Oh, I know. I know. It's just I didn't
know if I should wait for it to settle or...

"JANE": Hmm-mm.

GROSS: That's Lisa Kudrow in the first episode of "The Comeback," a new HBO
comedy series satirizing the world of television. Kudrow plays Valerie
Cherish, an actress who used to be a sitcom star and is now starring in a
reality series documenting her attempt to make a comeback in a new sitcom
called "Room and Board." Her part on "Room and Board" ends up being a small
one, and the cameras from the reality show are always around to document each
of her major and minor humiliations.

"The Comeback" was co-created by Kudrow and Michael Patrick King after ending
their own very successful series. Kudrow played Phoebe on "Friends"; King was
a writer and executive producer of "Sex and the City." He's writing and
directing episodes of "The Comeback," in addition to serving as executive
producer with Lisa Kudrow. The fourth episode of "The Comeback" will debut
this Sunday on HBO.

Lisa Kudrow, Michael Patrick King, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Thanks for
coming.

Ms. KUDROW: Thank you.

Mr. MICHAEL PATRICK KING (Executive Producer, "The Comeback"): Thank you.

GROSS: How did you team up? I mean, you were from different shows. It's not
like you'd worked together. So how'd you team up?

Mr. KING: Actually we knew each other before our illustrious shows separated
us and brought us back together. I knew Lisa from a long time ago when she
was a member of the Groundling comedy troupe. And a friend of mine was in the
troupe as well, and I went to see her one night. And the thing I remember the
most about the night was she did an impression of Audrey Hepburn on a rural
fishing show, and it was the most bizarrely subtle, bizarre sketch I'd ever
seen. And all I remember is her sitting poised in the middle of the--between
these two hillbillies doing a perfect comedy Audrey Hepburn, and I thought,
`She is really different.'

Ms. KUDROW: Aww.

GROSS: So you were already friends, and you decided that maybe you should get
together for a new show?

Ms. KUDROW: Well, we were already friends, and we ran into each other at
awards shows, you know, where "Sex and the City" would literally trample over
"Friends" to get up on stage and collect their awards.

Mr. KING: That's right. That's exactly the way I like to remember it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KUDROW: And then, you know, if--I don't know. We have the same agents,
and, you know, they said, `Hey, you're both available. Why don't you have
lunch?' And we did, and, you know, Michael looked at me and said, `You
seriously want to do another TV show?' I said, `Well, the only show I would
do is this,' and I did this character that I had done in the Groundlings.
Michael hadn't seen that one. And just--you know, I had this sort of messy
idea, you know--on a reality show, she's starting a new sitcom. And he went,
`Wait. Oh, my God,' and just started organizing it, putting it together,
giving it a shape and just more of a, like, significant context, you know?

Mr. KING: Yeah, but first came the laughing.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, well...

Mr. KING: I mean, Lisa started to do this character that was incredibly
deluded in her own self-worth and thinking she was on top of everything she
was saying. And it was just so, I don't know, vulnerable and funny and
pretentious that I just started laughing. And I have a background in improv
as well. So she actually sat at the table and said, `All I have is this
character that I--I have an impulse and I think it's funny.' And then I
started asking her questions, and then she started improvising. And then I
realized if I was the waiter asking this character a question, it was funny,
and then if I was, I don't know, cop asking this--not that I do a great cop or
anything...

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, you do a great cop, Michael.

Mr. KING: (With accent) It's an Irish guy, an Irish cop. But Lisa was just
able to always make me laugh doing this character. And the only downside
about it was that it was an actress. And we thought, `Oh, it's an actress
character, and she has to be an actress 'cause that's part of her
pathology--is that she wants attention and she wants to present herself as
something.' Then we started thinking, `Well, how can we do this and go
further than just an actress in television?' And then we started thinking,
`Well, what is television about right now?' And we both agreed that what it
was about was kind of the war between reality shows and sitcoms and, also, the
war between, you know, dignity and humility and humiliation.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

Mr. KING: And so we started digging around...

GROSS: With humiliation winning (yeah).

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. KING: Yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: And it is.

Mr. KING: Well, it does win. It wins every week on many, many, many, many
reality shows. Humiliation wins.

GROSS: So, Lisa, could you give us an illustration of the character that you
presented to Michael Patrick King?

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, it's in every episode. It's exactly--she's completely
intact, you know. Well, see, when I first started--I don't know exactly what
I said at the lunch, but, you know, this woman who feels like she's on top of
everything and, you know, takes her time to come up with very thoughtful--just
the right word, and it ends up being something like--you know, it's something
that I think is very important. And then she underlines it herself.

Mr. KING: She also had this impulse that she was always very important.
Like, there was this one improv Lisa did where she was saying something about
cancer, like, at a benefit. And she said--what did you say, Lisa?

Ms. KUDROW: I don't remember.

Mr. KING: You said, `Cancer, it's a killer, and we got to get that word out
there.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KUDROW: Got to get the word out. You know?

Mr. KING: Got to get the word out. So it...

Ms. KUDROW: Not all the people know. It's important to shine a spotlight
on. Yeah, you know, she just--as if she's delivering important news for the
first time to everybody.

GROSS: Now the character you play in "The Comeback," Valerie Cherish, is
first auditioning and then gets the part in a new sitcom. And the sitcom is
supposed to be about four sexy singles who are roommates. But while shooting
the pilot, the writers realize that this isn't going to work because you,
Lisa Kudrow--your character is, like, older than the 20-somethings, the
attractive 20-somethings who are in this sitcom. So they decide to make you
Aunt Sassy. Instead of the roommate, now you're the aunt who lives upstairs.
Now I'd like to play the scene in which the writers tell Valerie, the Lisa
Kudrow character, that she's being changed from a roommate to the aunt who
lives upstairs. And this is going to be a much smaller part. So here's the
scene.

(Soundbite of "The Comeback")

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) So what's up, boss? Boss.

Unidentified Actor #1: Well, it isn't working. The network thought that the
four-girl thing was tired. So we're just going to make some changes to the
script. No one was buying you living with these kids. So now it's two young
girls and two young guys, and you're the aunt who lives upstairs.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. Ooh--so much information.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) My head's going to explode, you know. OK. So--all
right, so now I'm the aunt?

Unidentified Actor #2: Mm-hmm. Aunt Sassy.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. Whose aunt? Does it matter?

Unidentified Actor #1: Cassie's aunt.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Uh-huh. Oh, so June is not fired?

Unidentified Actor #1: No. Oh, God, everyone thinks June is a star.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Oh, good. Good.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah. Well, me too. Yeah.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah.

Unidentified Actor #1: Look, we wanted to find a way to cement you into the
show, so you're Aunt Sassy who lives upstairs and owns the building.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. All right. So she owns the building and she's
an architect. Did she design the building?

Unidentified Actor #1: No, we dropped the architect thing. See...

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) You did?

Unidentified Actor #1: Well, we want to use you whenever we want to use you.
And if you had a job, it'd be all sorts of chaff...

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Right.

Unidentified Actor #1: ...about why you weren't working.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Mm-hmm. Yeah. But, you know, 'cause I'm it. I
have...

Unidentified Actor #2: This isn't a workplace comedy.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah. Well, not today, but who knows what's coming
tomorrow, right? But--no, I know what you're saying, though. Yeah. But
it's just on it, you know, I worked, but they still manage to write me into
every scene somehow. But, no, I understand. This is not a workplace comedy.
So, yeah, I get it. OK. All right. So I'm an aunt--still sexy, smart and...

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah, and an aunt.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Right.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah, who--she owns the building. I mean, that, too.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Oh, right.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah, yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. Right. Yeah, she owns the building. Yeah. I
can relate, yeah, 'cause, you know--I mean, I'm not an aunt, but I own some
apartment buildings. So...

Unidentified Actor #1: Oh, do you really? Oh, that's great.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. So if you need any input,
you know, I'll be happy to give you--OK, go ahead.

GROSS: That's Lisa Kudrow in a scene from "The Comeback." And Lisa Kudrow
co-created the show with my guest Michael Patrick King. Lisa Kudrow and
Michael Patrick King are my guests.

This is a really funny scene. It's also a kind of sad scene for the Valerie
character because she's being so offended in such euphemistic ways (laughs).

Mr. KING: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

Mr. KING: The thing that struck me when I heard the clip without seeing the
picture, what really jumps out, is that the silences are really long. And
that is one of the signature things that's really kind of hard, I think, about
this show--is that we don't try to move through stuff fast. We let her sit in
the uncomfortable pain of it.

GROSS: I'd be interested in hearing how this scene looks from each of your
points of view. Like, Lisa Kudrow, have you ever been in a situation where
your part was shortened--it was, like, diminished--and went from, like, star
to, like, minor character and you were told that by the writer?

Ms. KUDROW: Not--sort of and not exactly. I've seen those things happen,
and, I mean, I know for me that if something's not working, you know, the
writers, God bless them, always come up with other ways of letting me know,
you know, that they're going to change something, you know. I don't know.
It's just that scene feels really real, very, very real to me in that, you
know, there's an actress who signs on for a role of--she's going to be one of
four 30-somethings; shows up and the network felt pressure to cast everyone
else a little younger--a lot younger. And then, of course, it doesn't work.
It's as if, like, people aren't paying attention to the intention of the
writers and what they were writing in the first place, which was four
30-something women. And the network said, `Yeah, but for demographics, we
need younger people.' And then you have--it's, you know, cast differently,
and it doesn't work anymore, so they have to make changes, and, you know,
Valerie ends up being this older joke.

Mr. KING: This scene is interesting to me because it's everything in a
nutshell that you need to know about Valerie. She comes in in denial,
pretending that she's just going to get a new joke. She, underneath the
surface, knows that things aren't good. She gets thrown. She's greatly
disappointed. Yet within a matter of two minutes she's decided to spin it to
be, `Oh, I own the building. Oh, I know, this'll be fun.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KING: In two minutes they tell her the truth, and she decides to hear
what she wants to hear and keep going in a bad situation. Maybe a healthier
person would have said, `Hey, you know what? Not for me. This whole thing
changed.' But Valerie's too needy. And, on the other hand, the thing I like
about Valerie is you can hand her a plate of crap, and she goes, `OK, mm-hmm.
Well, I was hoping someone would hand this to me later. I just didn't expect
it so soon. And isn't it a pretty plate?' And...

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. `And it's a rich color.'

Mr. KING: It's a...

Ms. KUDROW: `Look at that rich brown and'--it's good.

Mr. KING: Yeah. I love that about Valerie.

Ms. KUDROW: That's what--yeah, that's what I actually like about her. To me,
her flaw is not how quickly she tries to adapt; that's the good part about
her. You know, she wants what she wants; that's her flaw. She wants to be
the star again, and it's not possible. It's not a possibility...

Mr. KING: And no...

Ms. KUDROW: ...in this environment she's in.

Mr. KING: And no matter how good her scene is, no matter how good she manages
them, over the next 12 episodes to create a scene for her, she's always going
to be standing next to a blonde 22-year-old in a bikini.

GROSS: My guests are Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King, the co-creators
and executive producers of the new HBO comedy series "The Comeback." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King, the co-creators
and executive producers of the new HBO comedy series "The Comeback." It stars
Kudrow as an actress starring in a reality show about her attempt to make a
comeback in a new sitcom. Kudrow also played Phoebe on "Friends." King was
a writer and executive producer on "Sex and the City."

Lisa Kudrow, one of the things I really love about your performance in "The
Comeback" is that although your character often doesn't get it--she doesn't
get that she's as important--that she's not as important as she hopes she is
or thinks she is, and she's not really picking up on some of the obvious clues
people are giving her. But she still registers the hurt, she registers the
pain. And to be able to do that as subtly as you do it in a comedy is,
really, just fascinating to watch. Could you talk a little bit about trying
to register subtle reactions in what's basically a comedy? It's not a drama.

Ms. KUDROW: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, what's funny to me is someone who has no
idea how they're coming off. And, you know, the registering the
disappointment or the horror or whatever it is, she thinks she's covering it
so fast that you didn't even see that crack. And, you know, with a reality
camera in your face, you know, all day long, they're not going to miss a
thing. She just doesn't have a clue. She thinks she's covering really well.

GROSS: I want to play another short scene from the first episode of "The
Comeback." And this is during the shoot for the pilot episode, and this is
Valerie Cherish's big scene and I think her only scene in the pilot.

Mr. KING: Yeah. Scary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And what's happening is that two of the young, attractive,
20-something roommates are on a couch. The guy is beneath the woman. The
woman is--they're both wearing, like, shorts and T-shirts. She's kind of
straddling him playfully. And as they're like this on the couch, Valerie
Cherish walks in. So here's the scene.

(Soundbite of "The Comeback"; scream; laughter)

Unidentified Actress: Oh, wait. Just because we're kissing and I'm on top of
you does not mean that I'm open to a relationship.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Actor #3: Damn, forget the relationship. Just open my shirt.

Unidentified Actress: OK.

(Soundbite of `oohs')

Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Note to self: I don't need to see that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I love that scene. It's so bad. It's just--I think that scene just
perfectly embodies what's really bad about a certain type of sitcom.

Mr. KING: You know, it's true that it's bad, but here's the thing. That
line, `Note to self: I don't need to see that'...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. KING: ...the original line that Lisa had--and I wrote in the pilot script
was, `Get a room.' And Lisa said to me, `I think let's'--you know, I mean,
`Let's try to make this really a better, better, better sitcom joke,' you
know, because there's a thing called a clam in sitcoms, which is when you do a
phrase and every show then does the same thing. And it's called a comedy clam
because it's overused. And so we were thinking, like, `What could it be?'
And then we came up with, `Note to self: I don't need to see that.' And we
started laughing so hard. But the fact of the matter is that is a
realistically good sitcom joke entrance line. And the sitcom itself, all
those things and the audience `ooh'...

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. KING: ...it's accurate to me. And it's really fun because we actually
are writing a sitcom within this half-hour comedy. And it's fun to sort of
say, `And this is a potential 'nother type of comedy that you can see within
our show,' you know, this, as you said, awful show.

GROSS: Because you're...

Mr. KING: Thank you, by the way.

GROSS: ...writing a sitcom that you'd never want to write. And, Lisa Kudrow,
your character is starring in this sitcom that Lisa Kudrow would never want to
star in.

Mr. KING: Oh, Lisa...

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, my God.

Mr. KING: Oh, my God. Here's the story.

Ms. KUDROW: Ohh...

Mr. KING: That scene right before she comes in and says, `I don't want to see
that,' I directed the pilot--we were shooting the pilot, and Lisa's standing
out there waiting to make an entrance. And I look out there, and she's
completely transformed into this other sort of fraught-with-emotion person.
And I said, `What's the matter?' And she said, `I hate stupid, stupid joke
and saying this stupid line.'

Ms. KUDROW: I--yeah...

Mr. KING: And then she thought she had to make it funny...

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, a little disoriented.

Mr. KING: ...like she was...

Ms. KUDROW: I was, you know, on a sitcom set about to make an entrance and
didn't believe in the line I was about to say. And...

Mr. KING: And a file downloaded.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. And I just like--obscenities are flying out of my mouth,
and, you know--`All right. Well, now--so how do you want me to do
it?'--'cause he kept wanted me, like...

Mr. KING: I kept wanting to do it more like a sitcom.

Ms. KUDROW: ...do it with a certain of energy and...

Mr. KING: And we tapped...

Ms. KUDROW: `But that won't be fun--that's not good.'

Mr. KING: We tapped into the cellular memory, just like the very first day I
walked onto our stage and saw the sitcom set and thought, `Somebody just put a
piece of concrete on my chest. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.' And then
I realized, `Oh, oh, no, we're making fun of the jobs that we have been
trapped in.'

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

Mr. KING: We're not actually doing them. We're trying to eviscerate our
feelings about them.

Ms. KUDROW: And make no mistake, that had nothing to do with "Friends," by
the way, 'cause it was really well written. And those--our writers on
"Friends" were really sensitive to if a line wasn't that great. Yeah, they
would change it. They'd change stuff on show night. So it wasn't that. It
was just...

Mr. KING: Making something out of nothing.

Ms. KUDROW: ...`Oh, my God.'

Mr. KING: Using your thing to make something out of nothing.

Ms. KUDROW: And I hadn't had to do that in, like, 10 years.

Mr. KING: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The sitcom within a sitcom in "The Comeback" reminds me of the
post-"Three's Company" kind of program.

Mr. KING: Yes. Boy, you--yeah, exactly. What these two writers, by the way,
think they're writing is a post-modernist "Laverne & Shirley," "Three's
Company" da-da, funny, `The joke's on you' show. That's how they've justified
it. They think they're actually right doing a spin on "Three's Company," but
in reality they're writing "Three's Company."

GROSS: Thirty years too late (laughs).

Mr. KING: Well, yeah, but the bikinis are current...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KING: ...and the girls are young.

GROSS: So what's it like...

Mr. KING: So it's relevant.

GROSS: What's it like to write this sitcom within a sitcom that's a kind of
sitcom that you don't like?

Mr. KING: It's brilliantly liberating because it's a skill and it's a
technique, and it's like making a sound. It's like speaking a language: `Oh,
that's what French sounds like'; `Oh, that's what that sitcom sounds like.'

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, and Michael wrote both scenes for "Room and Board," which
would take him, like, an hour, and they're great.

Mr. KING: But if I was actually working on a "Room and Board" that--we would
have been entrapped in a room for 14 hours to write those scenes.

Ms. KUDROW: And then they even--you know, in the writers room, they even came
up with how "Room and Board" would start each week...

Mr. KING: Yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: ...where Cassie says...

Ms. KUDROW and Mr. KING: (In unison) ...`I'm bored.'

Ms. KUDROW: `OK. Let's...'

Mr. KING: Blank. `Let's go to the Beverly Center dressed as nurses.
Let's--you know, it's--`I'm bored. Let's paint the apartment. I'm bored.
Let's get Aunt Sassy a date.' So the whole structure's in place, and we have
some really great comedy writers that have worked on sitcoms and also have
worked on, you know, one-camera shows. And so we all have a lot of fun trying
to create the show within a show. And the whole first season really does
track the development of that show and Valerie being mangled in that machine
and her personal journey with her show on that show. So it's been a lot of
fun.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King are the co-creators and executive
producers of the new HBO comedy series "The Comeback." They'll be back in the
second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, the most popular record in America and another that
deserves more play than it's getting. Ken Tucker reviews CDs by Coldplay and
Dressy Bessy. Also, a new biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and more with Lisa
Kudrow and Michael Patrick King.

(Soundbite of "The Hardest Part")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) The hardest part was letting go, not taking part.
It was the hardest part. And the strangest thing was waiting for that bell to
ring. It was the strangest start. I could feel it go down. Bittersweet I
could taste in my mouth. Silver lining the clouds. Oh, and I wish that I
could work it out.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lisa Kudrow and Michael
Patrick King. They're the co-creators and executive producers of the new HBO
comedy series "The Comeback." They created "The Comeback" after the end of
their own successful series. Kudrow played Phoebe on "Friends." King was a
writer and executive producer on "Sex and the City."

In "The Comeback," Kudrow plays an actress named Valerie Cherish, who's
starring in a reality show documenting her attempt to make a comeback on a new
sitcom called "Room and Board." Cherish's career had gone nowhere after the
end of her first sitcom, which ran in the late '80s and early '90s.

What do you both envision "I Am It" as having been like? And "I Am It" is the
sitcom that Lisa Kudrow's character...

Mr. KING: "I'm It!"

Ms. KUDROW: "I'm It!"

GROSS: "I'm It!" "I'm It!" Yes.

Mr. KING: It's much cuter than that, Terry.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. KING: It's "I'm It!" It's not "I Am It." That's not--that's a sitcom
created at Harvard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KING: It's "I'm It!"--exclamation point.

GROSS: "I'm It!"

Ms. KUDROW: "I'm It!"

Mr. KING: "I'm It!" That's how Lisa hears it in her head. You know what?

GROSS: So that's the sitcom this character used to be on before "Room and
Board." So what...

Mr. KING: Right.

GROSS: ...do you think of the sitcom as having been like?

Mr. KING: Well, you know, I think of--and actually, you know what is
interesting and another sort of fun thing for us is this week coming up, you
get to see actually a scene from "I'm It!"

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. KING: We created a scene from like 1992 from what Valerie's sitcom would
have been like, and when you see it, you get the sense that it's one of those
shows where the single girl ruled and she had an office and she was a lawyer
and there was a view of Manhattan and a cute guy in the office liked her and,
you know, it had a feeling of a low-rent "Designing Women," or, you know,
wants to be "Murphy Brown" and wants to be "Anything But Love." But that era,
you know, where the hair was a little bit bigger and the business suits were
bright. And the reason we put the actu--we attempted to do the scene is
because we wanted to show where she fell to, from the business suit and the
office to the running suit and the sitcom.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. And she was the A story and now she's the tag.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KING: Yeah. You know, and...

GROSS: Lisa--yeah, go ahead.

Mr. KING: No, no, it's--and it was really fun to do that, too...

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

Mr. KING: ...because we tried to make "I'm It!" as--or as Lisa says,
(shouting) "I'm It!"--as expressive and as authentic to that time as we could.
And Lisa, you know, is doing a whole nother sort of style of acting and it was
risky to show Valerie what Valerie thinks is good, but we went for it and I
think it turned out all right.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow, a couple of things that you do in the role of Valerie,
you know, Valerie wants to be assertive. She wants to show her power, but she
really doesn't have any power. So she has meetings with writers and directors
in which she's really humiliated. But she'll say, mustering up all of her
assertiveness, `I need to know that I'm being heard.' And it sounds like such
the weak person's way of asserting themselves. And then she'll often like
bow. She'll bow to the crew or you know, bow to the director or whatever, and
that's what somebody who is really powerful does. And she just doesn't
recognize her lack of power. And I love those little telling gestures that
you have like that. Can you talk a little bit about developing those for the
character?

Ms. KUDROW: Well, what--you know, the first thing that always came to mind
with her, she's like that bad old-time ad guy, that if you sell it and you
sell it well enough, they'll believe it even if there's absolutely no
substance there to support what you're trying to sell. And so that's one
thing that I was hoping would be really obvious, that she's just a little over
the top with her--very assertive and I, you know, demand respect, even though
no one--she never--it only comes up--she doesn't address it when she's
actually getting pummeled.

Mr. KING: I also want to mention something, Terry, that--about the hands.
You were talking about her bowing all the time earlier. We call those the
yoga blessing thank-you hands.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KING: And we laughed so hard, because that also is a little bit of a
virus that's running rampant in the actress community. Now you'll start
seeing it a lot. A lot of actresses do the yoga blessing thank-you hands, to
interviewers, to people bringing them their lattes. Suddenly the hands come
up, like I've had actresses do it to me about when I say, `That was a really
good scene.' They go--here come the hands--(whispers) `No, you, no, it's
about you.'

But it's never about you. It's about you saying `It's about you.' So what we
liked about the yoga blessing thank-you hands is that it was accurate and
goofy. And she'll try to squeeze them in as she's going out a door.
Sometimes you just see the tips of the hands as the door closes.

Ms. KUDROW: But it's also--and it's just--it's like a--it's a phony gesture
of grace.

Mr. KING: Yes.

GROSS: Yes, yes.

Mr. KING: And centered spirituality, which she wouldn't even know how to
spell.

GROSS: When you were preparing to write the reality parts of "The Comeback,"
did you hang out on reality shows behind the scenes? Did you watch a lot of
the reality shows? Like what did you do to get in focus and in character for
this?

Mr. KING: Well, the first thing we did, aside from watching what they put on
television as the finished product of reality shows, which God knows what that
is; it's just their manipulation of what they want to have on, as any sort of
piece of fiction is. But we got ahold of some bootleg copies, illegal bootleg
copies of outtakes of reality shows. And there were two things that stuck
with us. One was a show where--it was a decorating show, and they had
redecorated a before and after for a wellness center for women who had cancer.
And the think that struck me about that was they had all these women behind a
door and they were about to do the reveal, and they're yelling to them, `OK,
so when you come out, be very, very excited.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KING: And so the door opens and all these women with varying stages of
healing from cancer are oohing and ahhing in front of the cameras because
they've been cued to do that. Now they would have naturally done it, but the
whole thing seemed very false to me.

And the other thing was a show and what that gave us was the fact that the
first thing we heard--that was fascinating to me--was the producer saying,
`What are you feeling? Finish this sentence: You are feeling blank.' And I
thought, `Wow, they're really aggressive.' And that gave us permission to be
a little bit aggressive with the reality producer in our show, whose name is
Jane, right?

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, that's so great, yeah.

GROSS: You've both come off incredibly successful series, Lisa Kudrow from
"Friends," Michael Patrick King writing and executive producing "Sex and the
City." Can I ask you each to talk a little bit about the last episode of each
of your series and how much input you had into it? Michael Patrick King,
let's start with you and "Sex and the City." Like were you in--you must have
been in on the decision of who Sarah Jessica Parker should end up with.

Mr. KING: Yeah. I was--I actually knew who she was going to end up--I wrote
it, and I, you know, heralded or spearheaded the movement to be Mr. Big, of
course. Also I was in on the decision to end the series, so that was one of
my decisions as well. So it was very much a big deal to write the finale,
because I knew that I wanted to make the audience happy and I wanted to make
myself happy and I wanted to make, you know, mostly the audience happy. And
plus we were in Paris, so there was all sorts of other exciting drama around
that. And it was just a blast from beginning to end. It was a beautifully
realized script by the production people, and I felt really, really good about
it. And it was very emotional to write it and it was very emotional to film
it and it was--I felt very satisfied when we were finished. It was a great
goodbye.

Ms. KUDROW: It was great. That was a great finale.

Mr. KING: Thank you.

GROSS: And were the rumors true that there were alternate endings that were
filmed?

Mr. KING: There were. I wrote--just like I wrote "Room and Board" scripts, I
wrote three alternate endings, and we filmed all three because my big,
big--the press was kind of crazy and--about wanting to find the information
out, and I really didn't want the party to be ruined for anybody who was going
to be sitting and watching it on that Sunday night. So I filmed three
different endings. One, of course, is the one you saw. One was where she
married Petrovsky in Central Park. That was the TV Guide version that they
had said they were all going to get married in Central Park. And I was like,
`All right, that'll be that version.' And then the last one was she was a
single girl who was jilted and unhappy. And you know what? That was the
easiest and most accurate one to write, 'cause it was the truest to the show,
that she'd come back and have been betrayed, and the four girls would have
each other.

GROSS: And how come you didn't do that one?

Mr. KING: Because it wasn't the end of the road. It wasn't the journey I
wanted to leave people on. I wanted to have the feeling that love is
potentially possible. You can have a dream and it can come true, that people
can be in different places at the different time and then all of a sudden find
themselves together. But it was very important to me that they not be married
at the end, because I don't think that was the message of the show. The
message of the show, or the series, was find love in whatever form works for
you.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow, how much of a say, if any, did you have in how your
character ended up in "Friends"?

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, not much of a say, and I wasn't looking for much of a say, to
be honest, 'cause, you know, David Crane and Marta Kaufmann pretty much took
care of the show for the whole 10 years. And we all trusted them completely,
so...

GROSS: At what point did you find out? Like, at what point did they actually
tell you what the last episode was going to be?

Ms. KUDROW: I think we all kind of knew how it would end, but, you know,
exactly what scenes and how--you know, exactly how they'd make it happen, we
weren't sure, like how--if we would all just walk out of the apartment, and
there was a lot of talk about how we all walk out of the apartment, and should
someone take the--there was a frame around the peephole and...

Mr. KING: Yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: ...you know, there was a lot of...

Mr. KING: Did anyone take that...

Ms. KUDROW: ...discussion about that.

Mr. KING: ...peephole frame, or did it stay there?

Ms. KUDROW: As a gift one year, I think set dressing gave us all a frame,
which was funny. But...

Mr. KING: Did you destroy it with your other memories?

Ms. KUDROW: Oh. (Laughs) I know. No, I didn't. No, but one thing that I
got--Matthew Perry gave me something that is treasured, and it was something
that was in the kitchen. It was a cookie jar with the face of a clock on it.
And one year, one show a few years ago, we were shooting and Phoebe--no one
had really thought this through--Phoebe had to gesture to something that, `Oh,
look, it's time to go,' and there was no clock available. And I just pointed
to the first thing that looked like a clock, and it was this cookie jar with a
clock face on it. And we shot it, and afterward the script supervisor came
over and said, (in British accent) `You realize you just pointed at a cookie
jar. You didn't'--it was a British woman. Anyway, I don't know, it made us
laugh really hard, though; became our little joke. And then he gave me
the--`gave me'--asked someone if he could give me the actual prop. So that's
pretty prized.

GROSS: Well, I wish you good luck with the show, and thanks...

Mr. KING: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: ...so much for talking to us about it.

Ms. KUDROW: Thank you.

Mr. KING: Our pleasure.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King are the co-creators and executive
producers of the new comedy series "The Comeback," which stars Kudrow. The
fourth episode will premiere Sunday night on HBO.

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the most popular record in America and another
that deserves attention. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Albums "X&Y" by Coldplay and "Electrified" by Dressy Bessy
TERRY GROSS, host:

The most popular album in America and throughout most of the English-speaking
world right now is "X&Y" by the British band Coldplay. Our rock critic, Ken
Tucker, compares and contrasts "X&Y" with one of the lesser-known new releases
anywhere, "Electrified" by the Denver-based band Dressy Bessy.

(Soundbite of song)

COLDPLAY: (Singing) How long before I get in, before it starts, before I
begin? How long before you decide, before I know what it feels like? Where
to? Where do I go? You never tried, and you'll never know. How long do I
have to climb up on the side of this mountain of mine?

KEN TUCKER reporting:

About Coldplay I am ambivalent. I am not one of those people who dislikes
them because they are hugely popular or because they make grand gestural music
and are fronted by the guy who's married to Gwyneth Paltrow. I like their big
hit "Yellow" from the band's previous album, no matter how many bazillion
times it was played on the radio or as background music at sad moments on
countless TV shows. In fact, the notion that a song could hold up to that
much overexposure just showed what strong music creators Chris Martin and his
Coldplay cohorts are.

The new album "X&Y" has been getting a lot of comparisons to U2 for what their
record company calls its, quote, "huge songs that build to massive layered
sound with lyrics that deal with life and death, love and loss." In other
words, this is music about everything and nothing. But I do like the way it
avoids U2's penchant for pomposity.

(Soundbite of song)

COLDPLAY: (Singing) When I was a young boy, I tried to listen, and I want to
feel like that. Little white shadows, blink and miss them, part of a system
I am.

TUCKER: Coldplay comes by its popularity honestly. The band's sincere
lyrics and meticulous craft is neither pretentious nor vainglorious. After
all, they did premiere one of their new cuts on an episode of "The O.C." The
only element I find annoying is that drummer Will Champion plays the same
fluttering drum fill on nearly every song. But as the soundtrack of
English-speaking pop music of the moment, stuff like this is attractively sad,
morose in an all-inclusive `we feel your pain' way.

(Soundbite of song)

COLDPLAY: (Singing) What if there was no light, nothing wrong, nothing right?
What if there was no time and no reason or rhyme? What if you should...

TUCKER: On the other hand, what person with a healthy heartbeat wouldn't
rather listen to this?

(Soundbite of song)

DRESSY BESSY: (Singing) 'Cause you're bringin' me down. You go on, freak
out. Friend, you're bringin' me down. So go on and get out, 'cause you're
bringin' me down. Go on, go on, go on, 'cause you're bringin' me down. Go
on, sit down. ...(Unintelligible) from you, ...(unintelligible) from me,
(unintelligible) from you...

TUCKER: That's Tammy Ealom, the sassy lead singer of the Denver band Dressy
Bessy. And the band's new album "Electrified" is electrifying. Dressy Bessy
makes zippy, wise, tart music. And listen to their drummer. This guy, unlike
Coldplay's guy, really mixes it up.

(Soundbite of song)

DRESSY BESSY: (Singing) Just because you shout out loud, it doesn't give you
the right of way. That's just ...(unintelligible) don't feel the same. If
you get angry and turn me away, who's gonna stay? When I call you out with my
less-than-perfect drop the ball, baby, now it's rolled out of my hand, where
it's stayed in a crooked place, yeah.

TUCKER: I listen to a band like Dressy Bessy after listening to Coldplay, and
I think that I must be living in an alternate universe where the spunkiest,
most life-affirming music is pushed to the margins to make room for the coldly
played stuff that announces its intention to be life-affirming and then can't
quite heave its huge ambitions into the position of making good on that
promise. In other words, I think Dressy Bessy is a far more efficient
pleasure machine than Coldplay. If Chris Martin's voice is earnest and
thoughtful, Tammy Ealom's tone is every bit as knowledgeable about the
vagaries of love and loss, and so much more varied and witty in its
expression.

(Soundbite of song)

DRESSY BESSY: (Singing) Keep here with me starving, oh, the diet girl. Let
them think you're sorry and know it to the world. Turn it up high in the
middle of the night. Turn it up right in the middle of the night.

TUCKER: So I'm not saying don't go out and consume the Coldplay album. I'm
not looking to put down something that gives nourishment to millions. But if
you've got the change, will you please cast a capitalist vote for Dressy
Bessy's "Electrified" as well? Because in the pop competition to dramatize
the joys and dangers of life, Coldplay makes all the right moves, but Dressy
Bessy really comes through with the right stuff.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is film critic for New York Magazine. He reviewed "X&Y" by
Coldplay and "Electrified" by Dressy Bessy.

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new biography of the 18th-century
women's rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Lyndall Gordon's biography "Vindication: A Life of Mary
Wollstonecraft"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Lyndall Gordon has written prize-winning biographies of T.S. Eliot, Charlotte
Bronte and Virginia Woolf. Now she's turned her critical attention to Mary
Wollstonecraft, a woman scandalous in her own time who's now regarded as the
mother of modern feminism. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of
"Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft."

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

`I am not born to tread in the beaten path,' the young Mary Wollstonecraft
said of herself. `The peculiar bent of my nature pushes me on.' It's a rare
person who really does deviate in more than just a cosmetic way from the
received certainties of his or her time. But Mary Wollstonecraft was just
such a renegade. Born in 1759 into a middle-class English family who barely
took notice of her, Wollstonecraft was destined, like her sisters, to spend
her life working in the ladylike shade as a paid companion, teacher or
governess. And, in fact, she plugged away at all three of those professions
in her 20s. But in a miraculous act of self-creation, she broke through the
polite shackles of servitude to become, among other wonders, a social critic
who held her own with the likes of her friend Tom Paine, a foreign
correspondent who traveled to Paris to cover the French Revolution, a domestic
revolutionary who had a child out of wedlock and then fashioned a marriage of
equals with fellow political philosopher William Godwin, and the mother of
modern feminism.

Unfortunately, Wollstonecraft couldn't escape the most deadly of the master
plots governing women's lives in the 18th century. She died at 38, soon after
giving birth to her second child, a girl who would grow up to become Mary
Shelley, a renegade in her own right.

The larger tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft's death, as her latest biographer,
Lyndall Gordon, sees it, is twofold. First, there's the loss of all those
pioneering thoughts and books that she didn't live to generate. Second,
there's the devastating irony that this woman who spent her life sloughing off
conventional female labels became embalmed by them in the biographies written
about her after her death. The worst culprit, Gordon says, was the most
grief-stricken, namely Wollstonecraft's husband, William Godwin. In trying to
defend his wife from popular slanders that she was, as the contemporary
novelist Horace Walpole famously dubbed her, `a hyena in petticoats,' Godwin
downplayed Wollstonecraft's intellectual rigor and instead frankly stressed
her womanly hungering for intimacy. Soon enough, Godwin's full-blooded image
of his wife was vulgarized into the tenacious one of Mary Wollstonecraft as a
sex-starved hysteric doomed by her masculine genius.

Gordon's just-published biography is called "Vindication," and while that
title most obviously tips its hat to Wollstonecraft's most famous political
work, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," it's also clearly intended as a
retort to her critics, particularly those 19th-century feminists who found her
too lusty for respectability. One of the many triumphs of Gordon's biography
is that it makes Wollstonecraft's emerging life of the mind every bit as
thrilling as her belatedly tumultuous life of the body.

Gordon says Wollstonecraft found her voice in a brief moment of human optimism
during the American and particularly the French revolutions. Throughout the
first third of "Vindication," she pieces together the long apprenticeship
through which Wollstonecraft came to be, as she herself said, `a new genus of
human being.'

Some of Wollstonecraft's transformation process was jump-started by luck. She
taught school in a town there the leading figures were dissenters, political
and social progressives who inspired her. Other changes were brought about by
Wollstonecraft's own gutsy acts of determination. When she was dismissed in
1787 from a post as a governess, Wollstonecraft set out for London and gambled
her small savings on the hope that she could become a self-supporting author.

Aided by newly discovered documents and by her own acuity, Gordon gives
psychological nuance to the familiar outline of Wollstonecraft's personal
life, her tortured affair with her shifty American lover Gilbert Imlay and her
remarkable marriage to Godwin. The two lived not together but around the
corner from each other. As Wollstonecraft wrote to her new husband, `I wish
you, from my soul, to be riveted in my heart, but I do not desire to have you
always at my elbow.'

Wollstonecraft wasn't perfect. She was sometimes dragged down by inertia and
despair. And Gordon's biography isn't perfect either. It dwells too long on
Wollstonecraft's travels in Scandinavia and periodically halts the narrative
to fill readers in on wearying scholarship like, say, the Anglo-Saxon origins
of the name Godwin. But overall it presents a captivating portrait not of a
strident feminist nor a bluestocking but, as Gordon asserts, a rational and
vulnerable visionary who had the courage to try to map out, in her work and in
her life, a blueprint for human change.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University and is
the author of the forthcoming memoir "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading!" She
reviewed "Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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