- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

NEW YORK
On her new sitcom, Bonnie Hunt glories in a frenzied composure, an agitated calm. Playing Chicago's busiest wife, mother and local talk-show host, she hurtles through life outpaced by its demands but no less amused.
Miss Hunt's longtime fans will realize that Bonnie Molloy, the blond, fresh-faced heroine of ABC's "Life with Bonnie" (airing Tuesdays 9 p.m. EDT), has a striking similarity to TV reporter Bonnie Kelly of "The Bonnie Hunt Show" and to would-be actress Bonnie Kennedy of "The Building" two short-lived past series that charmed the viewers there just weren't enough of.
But this time things are different. Besides critics' raves, Miss Hunt is snaring healthy ratings; already "Life with Bonnie" is renewed for the full season.
"As far as television goes, it feels like the best combination for me as an actress and writer," Miss Hunt (who handles both duties, as well as producing) said recently, even before getting ABC's happy news.
Miss Hunt has enjoyed solid success in films such as "Jerry Maguire," the "Beethoven" comedies and (as director-writer-actress) her much-praised romance "Return to Me," which starred David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.
She also was courted for a shot as host of a daily TV talk show.
"But I love storytelling and working with actors," she says. "So I thought, what if I played a talk-show host in a sitcom? Then we could improvise the talk-show part, and I could also have the family life that I love to write about."
Better yet, this Chicago gal could be reunited with longtime chums, some of whom go back to her Second City improv days. They include Holly Wortell (the "talk show's" makeup artist, who gives first priority to her own makeup) and Don Lake (who will appear as various "guests" on the "talk show," besides serving as Miss Hunt's real-life co-producer, co-writer and best friend).
"If you can have kindness and talent surrounding you, you've succeeded," sums up Miss Hunt, who can say things like that without sounding corny.
She also gets valuable input from the so-called "Chicago connection," her family. The sixth of seven children from a working-class neighborhood near Wrigley Field, she remains close to her mom and siblings. They help account for her authenticity and help her maintain it.
"My family meets on Sunday nights to brainstorm ideas, then fax them to me," she says. "The ringing of the doorbell and cleaning up the living room, that was theirs. And when the squirrel gets loose in the house, that really happened to us, too."
Meanwhile, on Sunday nights in Santa Monica, where Miss Hunt lives with her investment-banker husband, John Murphy, she arranges flowers to take to everyone at work Monday morning.
Not only does Miss Hunt grow them (her begonias and impatiens are in bloom right now, she reports), but also admits splurging on the purchase of lots more. A preferred source: her nearest Costco.
Among those who enjoy Miss Hunt's floral bounty is Mark Derwin, who plays her doctor-husband.
"I wrote the part for him," says Miss Hunt, who in 1995 cast Mr. Derwin as her news director on "The Bonnie Hunt Show." But since 1999 he had been a regular on the daytime soap "One Life to Live." When he was unable to break free, she signed another actor for the pilot episode.
"Then the network came to me and said, 'We think there might be more chemistry with someone else as the husband.' And I said, 'That would be Mark Derwin.' So I called him again and he said, 'It's perfect timing. I'm in a coma.' And I said, 'What are the odds?' And he said, 'You better have them call before I wake up!'"
Miss Hunt is also pleased with the casting of her character's grade-school-age children, played by Samantha Browne-Walters and Charlie Stewart.
"We wanted the least 'actor-y' kids we could find," Miss Hunt explains. "When Charlie came in, he saw this bowl of candy in the office and said, 'Who's eating those candy bars because I've been out there a while and I'm starving.' No 'Hello, nice to meet you, I think you're funny' or any of that stuff.
"I said, 'You are so hired!'"
The show's unorthodox production routine calls for filming at-home scenes on Mondays, then, on Tuesdays, winging Bonnie Molloy's "talk show" in front of a studio audience.
It seems to be a winning hand for "Life with Bonnie," not to mention a long-sought TV victory for Miss Hunt.
"But I've always worked," she notes, dismissing the idea she had anything to prove. "I've always done things I've been proud of. Is there a better form of success? Maybe there is, where you're more popular. But even in high school that was never my thing."
It's never too late to start.

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