- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Laverne redux

Penny Marshall remembers the second season of “Laverne & Shirley” with fondness.

“This was a good year for us,” Miss Marshall says. “Better than the first group of episodes. We found our characters.”

They were characters, all right, from the prissy Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) to no-nonsense Laverne DiFazio, not to mention perpetual laugh getters Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David L. Lander).

“Laverne & Shirley: The Second Season” debuts on DVD this week with all 23 episodes.

Miss Marshall, who still gets called Laverne in public despite a long run of success as a film director (“Big,” “A League of Their Own”), says the show clicked because of its simple premise.

“It was about friendship, about earning money to pay the rent,” Miss Marshall says. “We weren’t hard to understand … it was plain funny.”

High art? Not exactly, but the show’s wholesome gags and pratfalls made it a top ratings getter for much of its eight-season run.

Miss Marshall says the show took a pragmatic turn when it spun off from the madly popular “Happy Days” in the mid-1970s.

“We were the girls who put out,” Miss Marshall says, her voice still grainy and Bronx-inflected, “but it was family hour then, and we weren’t allowed to say ‘it’ like ‘You did it.’ ”

The more chaste Laverne and Shirley would make their sitcom debut in 1976 as a midseason replacement.

Miss Marshall, who considers “Two and a Half Men” the best old-school sitcom today, appears frustrated by current movie trends. She says the foreign market demands comic-book movies filled with CGI splendor, not the character-driven pieces she has delivered, such as “Awakenings” and “The Preacher’s Wife.”

“Green screens are quite boring for me,” she says.

Some news accounts reported recently that Miss Marshall would re-team with Miss Williams for a new comedy for TV Land, but Miss Marshall says such talk is premature.

For now, fans will settle for Miss Marshall in her sitcom prime.

Grand plans from BET

BET is making the first scripted series in its 28-year history, a sitcom about a group of black slackers.

“Somebodies” is expected to premiere in October, Reginald Hudlin, BET’s entertainment president, said Wednesday.

Mr. Hudlin’s announcement of “Somebodies” was timed to coincide with the network’s presentation of its fall plans to advertisers Wednesday night.

As the first cable channel geared to blacks, BET featured a lot of music programming, syndicated fare and reality shows, but it was criticized for not spending money to produce original programs.

“Somebodies” is based on a 2006 film that was in the Sundance Film Festival. It will be produced by Pete Aronson and Warren Hutcherson, executive producers of “The Bernie Mac Show,” and it will be set and filmed in Athens, Ga.

“For years people have wanted BET to expand the range of its original programming,” Mr. Hudlin told Associated Press, “and now we are doing it.”

The network is developing several scripted shows, but this was the first deemed ready to go, he said.

A Diamond in the rough

If an appearance on an X-rated video didn’t send Dustin Diamond (known best as the geeky Screech from the teen sitcom “Saved by the Bell”) into hiding, perhaps a stint on VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club” will.

The once slender Mr. Diamond, who apparently has become quite the porker since his “Saved” days, will be among the new crop of C-listers attempting to shed a few pounds on the fifth season of the reality-show hit — this time dubbed “Celebrity Fit Club: Men vs. Women” — debuting Sunday evening at 9.

The other formerly (or fleetingly) famous participants joining Mr. Diamond on the treadmill include actress Maureen McCormick (“The Brady Bunch”), 1980s pop star Tiffany, hip-hop artist Da Brat, “American Idol” season two finalist Kimberley Locke, country music artist Cledus T. Judd, rapper Warren G and Ross “The Intern” Mathews from NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

They’ll be put through the paces by show host Ant, drill sergeant Harvey Walden IV and nutritional and diet expert Dr. Ian Smith (all back for season five), as well as newcomer psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser.

The Rivers run dry

Joan Rivers, once the queen of Hollywood’s red carpets, is being dropped by TV Guide Channel and replaced with Lisa Rinna, TVWeek.com reports.

Miss Rivers and her daughter Melissa moved to TV Guide Channel from E! Entertainment in 2005.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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