- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Cortese’s ‘Baby’ talk

“Rock Me Baby’s” Dan Cortese and Bianca Kajlich finished each other’s sentences during a recent trip to the District to promote their new UPN show.

Mr. Cortese called his co-star “B” for short, and Miss Kajlich had no problem playfully swatting Mr. Cortese when the urge struck.

The stars of the new UPN sitcom, airing at 9 tonight, sure seem like a married couple. Executives at the underdog network hope that chemistry translates into a few more viewers.

So far, the ratings are on their side.

“Rock Me Baby” has bumped UPN’s Tuesday night ratings among adults 18 to 34 up 27 percent from the previous year and 19 percent among viewers overall, according to the network.

The show follows a trash-talking disc jockey and his new bride as they deal with the changes in their lives when baby Otis arrives.

Mr. Cortese, the married father of a 2-year-old with another child on the way, says his chemistry with Miss Kajlic is no accident. After signing onto the project, the actor screen-tested with several potential “brides” before the network chose Miss Kajlich.

“Either it’s there or it isn’t,” Mr. Cortese says of the bond between the two. “The show doesn’t work if that relationship doesn’t work … it doesn’t matter what the rest of the show is.”

Miss Kajlich, who previously worked on “Dawson’s Creek” and the big-screen “Halloween: Resurrection,” worried she didn’t have the maternal instinct needed to play Beth, mother of little Otis.

Apparently her read with Mr. Cortese trumped her current childless status.

The sitcom echoes Howard Stern’s autobiography “Private Parts” in some obvious ways — shock jock turns out to be a devoted daddy off-screen. Mr. Cortese acknowledges that Mr. Stern has been hammering the new show on the air for days, in part for its similarities.

He listens to both Mr. Stern and the L.A. radio team Kevin & Bean but admits what his radio character says can’t compare to what comes from the mouths of professional jocks.

“HBO might not even let you say some of the stuff Howard says,” notes Mr. Cortese, who first appeared on the public radar as MTV’s go-to sports reporter.

The first few episodes haven’t ratcheted up the radio raunch as of yet. In fact, the radio segments have been tame.

Meanwhile, Miss Kajlich says she gained a new level of understanding regarding morning disc jockeys and their work after she hit the radio circuit to promote the show.

“You have to talk about your life, and you have to talk about what’s going on because that’s what makes it interesting,” she says.

The show’s leads, however, want viewers to see it as a family story first and a DJ comedy second.

“Through thick and thin, family wins. That’s great. I’m proud of that fact,” she says.

For his part, Mr. Cortese says he understands why some may view his move to UPN — after co-starring on NBC’s “Veronica’s Closet” — as a career setback.

“A few years ago, if you would have asked me if I’d be happy to do a show on UPN, I’d be a little bit of a network snob,” he says. “But the landscape of the industry today, there’s so much reality TV … to me, as an actor, it’s about the material.”

Cleese says ‘Grace’

Monty Python’s John Cleese is bringing his silly walk to NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

The veteran comedian has signed on to do six episodes of the Emmy-winning NBC comedy, Reuters News Agency reports. The actor will play Lestor Finster, the father of Karen Walker’s (Megan Mullally) late husband’s mistress, Lorraine Finster (Minnie Driver).

Miss Driver also is returning to the show for as many as six episodes for more clashes with Miss Mullally after Lorraine’s attempted murder of Karen in the show’s season finale. To further complicate matters with the two, romantic sparks will start to fly between Karen and Lestor, putting Lorraine and Karen in the strange position of daughter and stepmother.

“The budding and perverse romance between (Lestor and Karen) is going to span the whole season,” “Will & Grace” executive producer Jeff Greenstein told Reuters.

The comedic potential in the height discrepancy between 6-foot-5-inch Mr. Cleese and 5-foot-4-inch Miss Mullally was one reason to go after the comedic actor for the role. Yet it was the producers’ great admiration for his work — including “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Fawlty Towers” and “A Fish Called Wanda” as well as his memorable Emmy-winning turn on an episode of NBC’s “Cheers” (directed by “Will & Grace” executive producer James Burrows) — that led to the casting decision.

“In terms of the comedic rhythms of ‘Will & Grace’ — we’re hyperverbal — it just seems like the kind of comedy that he would naturally fit with,” Mr. Greenstein said.

Mr. Cleese is the latest addition to the show’s top-notch guest-star roster, which last season included Demi Moore, Madonna and Gene Wilder, with Mr. Wilder winning an Emmy for his performance as Will Truman’s (Eric McCormack) insecure boss. Slated to appear on the show this season are Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino and former “Practice” heartthrob Dylan McDermott .

On the big screen, Mr. Cleese recently appeared in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Die Another Day” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” The actor next voices King Harold in “Shrek 2” and will co-star in “Around the World in 80 Days.”

‘Baby’ delivery

The Discovery Health Channel’s new reality series combines the poignancy of baby deliveries with the giddy triumphs of your standard home decorator show.

“Make Room for Baby,” debuting tonight at 9, challenges a team of designers to whip up the perfect baby room while mom’s giving birth at the local hospital.

Tonight’s episode features designer Gary Kelly turning a new mother’s home office into a nursery with a nautical theme.

Cameras track both the expectant mother’s final moments before delivery as well as the race to create the baby’s childproof nursery.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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