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Sitcom creators mine laughs from their real lives
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. (AP) - Got a goofy older brother? Parents you still live with even though you're grown up? An unconventional friendship?
If so, you're too late to turn those ideas into a hit sitcom.
But while you comb your life for something else to fuel a comedy that a network will love, consider three fall sitcoms spawned from the personal lives of their creators.
CBS' "Partners" explores the lifelong friendship of Louis, who's gay, and Joe, who's straight, as they navigate their architecture business and their respective romantic ties. Their best-friends dynamic is inspired by the friendship of Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who met in high school and, after partnering as TV producers, co-created shows including the megahit "Will & Grace."
There's no attempt to hide the lineage of Fox's "Ben & Kate." It's the tale of a freewheeling brother, Ben, who comes back into the life of his single-mother younger sister, Kate, to serve as a surrogate dad while continuing his lifelong role as a mischievous child. The show is based on the relationship of its creator, Dana Fox, with her own big brother, whose name is, yes, Ben.
Meanwhile, ABC's "How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life" finds a young mom from a broken marriage seeking refuge at her parents' with her young daughter. It was drawn from the domestic situation of creator Claudia Lonow, who well into adulthood and despite career success (including producing the sitcom "Less than Perfect"), continues to live with parents she describes as "charismatic," "super entertaining" and "very weird."
"I've been living there for 15 years, and I've been (developing) the show for about 12," Lonow told reporters this week at the Television Critics Association conference.
Like Polly (played by Sarah Chalke), who descends on TV parents Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins, "I did show up at their doorstep and say, `I hope this isn't a bad time for YOU, because it is for ME.'
"They reacted like any loving mother and stepfather would," Lenow recalled, and took her and her daughter in.
"We slept in the weight room on a cot for a while. And then, when it was time for my daughter to go to grammar school, I bought a house with them. I know it was crazy," she said with a laugh. "It's like there should be a show about it!"
Sitcoms that smack of autobiography are nothing new, of course. "I Love Lucy" 60 years ago took its cue from the show-biz-infused marital life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
But Dana Fox has been gathering material for "Ben and Kate" since the cradle thanks to her brother, Ben, who's two years her senior.
She describes him as a "Ferris Bueller-type guy ... a really, really smart guy who intentionally does incredibly dumb things that would get us into so much trouble.
"He doesn't think a lot before he jumps," she said, "but he usually has a totally bizarre logic to all of his behavior."
Item: Once when they were kids, their mom came home to find the whole house smelling like a dead animal. Ben had put his down-feather pillow in the microwave for 10 minutes on low, "to heat it up because he was cold."
Fox took pains to say that on "Ben and Kate" the siblings' relationship (portrayed by Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson) more closely mirrors her connection with Ben Fox when they were somewhat younger. She stressed that, in truth, her brother grew up, married, had two children and has become a responsible father, though she added, "I give a ton of credit to his wife, who's a psychologist."
But if real-life Ben settled down a bit _ with a successful career in advertising _ he remains a cutup. He still calls his sister "Phlegm-er," she reports, "which is totally disgusting and super humiliating." And she says that, while he's delighted about the show, he's not surprised he earned such a tribute. Instead, he marvels "that it hasn't happened before now."
"The Partners" is a buddy comedy about a gay guy and a straight guy (played by Michael Urie and David Krumholtz) who are best friends. It was created by a gay guy and a straight guy who have been best friends since they were teens.
"I think every gay man should have a straight man in his life," said Mutchnick, who, on realizing in high school he was gay, had a friend in Kohan he could talk about it with. "I was lucky enough that I was able to create a life and a great career with him, too."
But how true-to-life are the sitcom versions of these partners? Mutchnick was asked if, for instance, he's as self-obsessed as the volatile, comical character Louis.
"Absolutely!" Mutchnick fired back, and added instantly, "Do you have any OTHER questions about me?"
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier
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