as Michael (Patrick King) puts it, the best minefield
for that person is to make her an actress around
forty on television. That's where you get the
most torture, I think."
What was the genesis of The Comeback ?
I had been thinking about doing a show about a
woman, an actress who was desperate to be back
in the limelight after a ten-year absence. After
kicking the idea around with my producing partner,
Dan Bucatinsky, I met with Michael Patrick King
for lunch. I said, you know, there is one and
only one show that I would do. And I did the character
for Michael and he not only got it, he shaped
it and organized it and fleshed it out and turned
it into something more compelling than I was even
thinking about. Three hours later we were still
laughing, and Michael said, well I think we've
outlined the pilot. [LAUGHS]
What was the inspiration for the main character,
Valerie Cherish. Is she based on anyone you've
come across in Hollywood?
She's not based on any one person in particular,
it's more about people who have their goals and
their sights on the wrong thing. This is about
a woman who has a husband and a nice home and
is financially set. She doesn't really need anything,
except what she thinks her endlessly needy ego
wants is to be in the spotlight. And it's just
like anybody we all know, who hasn't done work
on themselves and needs permission from the outside
to like themselves. So it's that person who is
still looking for the rest of the world to tell
them they're OK. And as Michael (Patrick King)
puts it, the best minefield for that person is
to make her an actress around forty on television.
That's where you get the most torture, I think.
So is there a list of things that Valerie Cherish
has learned in Hollywood -- like the do's and
don'ts of how to handle yourself, how to orchestrate
your comeback, your image?
I don't know if she's learned how to orchestrate
her comeback, because she'd have to first acknowledge
that she needs one. But I think she has certain
rules that everything's OK, you know what you
know, and you have to take care of yourself. You
just have to be confident and you might be wrong,
but sell it anyway. [LAUGHS]
One of the comedic highlights of the show is the
spoofing of reality TV. How do you feel about
the concept of reality shows?
I do like reality shows, and I watch some of them
because they're high drama. It's also just fun
to watch people have honest reactions-I think
they're honest reactions-to things going on around
We wanted to do a woman on a reality show because
that's what's happening right now-it's part of
our culture. So it's not spoofing it really, it's
just incorporating that next step of what we want
to talk about in a television show. There are
things in our pilot that we thought we'd have
to really explain, and it turns out people know
reality shows so well that they get it. Real fast.
We just thought, we all see reality shows, but
to see the raw footage of a reality show-the moments
where there's absolutely nothing at all happening
(and when they're shooting a real reality show
that's probably most of the time)-that's where
you get some of the real agony and comedy. We
wanted to see the moments in between stuff happening,
and capture the subject of the show's response
to it-the look in their eyes when they're panicking
that not enough is happening.
We purposely chose a character who believes she's
very in control. She didn't fully realize when
she signed up for it that she and the reality
show are at cross-purposes, and that she would
have little control over her "image" or "persona"
in the process. And most of the time she's gonna
be caught saying something and then realize, 'Oh,
that's right, there's a camera on me.' And then
to see her looking at the producers and wonder,
'Did you get that? Well, I'm sure you won't use
it!' [LAUGHS] You get to see these things that
are so completely out of her control that she
feels very in control. For me it's fun to play
with that little battle in a person. So we will
watch her struggle to appear as dignified as possible
while the goal of the reality show is to create
as humiliating a picture as possible.
The show is not just a comedy. There are a lot
of sad moments, a lot of layering in the show
that makes it interesting.
Yeah, there are lots of funny things in this show
because it's mostly a comedy, but it's also very
uncomfortable. We wanted to get the feel for how
intrusive those reality cameras are, and what
its really like when those cameras are trained
on someone in a very intimate, private, emotional
moment. So those moments are sometimes sad - and
definitely uncomfortable - but that's what we
The show looks improvised but it's fully scripted.
Do you improvise at all?
The show is completely scripted, so there really
isn't a lot of improvising at all. It has to be
scripted because there's already too much chaos
with the [LAUGHS] reality cameras, the constant
movement. So this whole thing has to look spontaneous,
and has to be very choreographed and controlled.
So basically there's a lot of work that goes into
making it look like there's no work?
Yeah, it takes so much planning. The first instinct
of anyone on a scripted show is, 'Oh I know that's
coming up.' But we have to make it look spontaneous,
reality TV spontaneous. We have to make it look
like someone is speaking off-the-cuff, and a reality
producer is suddenly thinking, 'Oh yeah, let me
catch that!' The camera gets so close that it
can read bullsh**. You can see it on every level.
So it's tough, but it's really fun figuring out
how to make it work. Our camera operators come
from a background of documentary filmmaking and
news camerawork, which helps give it the reality
feel. And luckily Michael Patrick King directed
the pilot, so he sort of set the stage for that
look. He was just inspired and got it; he was
able to not only translate the written part of
the script, but also the spontaneity and the dance
between Valerie and the cameras. It's really something.
And what's it like to work with Michael Patrick
It feels like I've worked with him for ten years,
that's what it feels like. We wrote this together,
pitched it together, plotted out the pilot and
then the first season. It was very exciting for
me, to have never written anything before and
for Michael Patrick King to let me know-this is
great and it's easy, which means it's good and
it's working. That was really exciting.
Working with him is like playing the trust game,
and you can just fall and he's gonna catch you.
And hopefully it works in reverse for him, too.
He doesn't just get it, he gets it in 3D. He feels
it inside and on every sense, all of his sensory
input and output is open, and he knows he can
feel and sense when it's working, when it's not
working. And you know he's inspired-and inspiring-to
Any memorable scenes so far that you've really
There's a lot. [LAUGHS] The good news is there's
a lot. Every scene is always a surprise, because
no matter what you envision when you're writing
it, there's so much more in there because of all
the cameras. You have the reality show cameras,
which move in tight, then pull back. Then it shifts
over to the "big picture" cameras, which are capturing
the reality show cameras. You see the reality
show crew and the producers and hear them talking,
and then it goes back to what they see in their
cameras. It adds so many layers.
Do people wonder if you are playing yourself in
Well, yeah, I mean I'm playing a character named
Valerie Cherish, who has long red hair, and the
style hasn't changed since about '85, when she
first got it cut and colored that way. [LAUGHS]
In her mind, a comedic actress has long hair.
Blonde is dumb comedy, red hair is smart, sexy
comedy. So it's all very precise and calculated.
And then the way she speaks, there's a little
of that bullsh**ty affectation in there. Um, so
very different from me. I have no bullsh**ty affectation.
At all. When I speak. No. I'm doing a bit. [LAUGHS]
One of my favorite things is people who end on
a sentence with a question mark - like when we're
That's the college freshman affectation. Where,
you know? You just came to college and you've
learned so much that now you're the smartest person
in the world? And you don't want others to feel
less than? So you throw a question at the end
of everything you're not sure of. But there's,
y'know, the Roman Empire? I'm not gonna assume
you're familiar with that because if you're not,
that's OK? Yeah. Humble. [LAUGHTER]
All of this has nothing to do with the show or
my character, but I'm enjoying the conversation.
OK back to you -
Her. Now, back to the show, actually. Are you
guys planning to have cameos, other people participating
in the show?
Yeah, we have a couple coming up. We have to stay
within the reality of who would be in Valerie
Cherish's life so... you know [LAUGHS] I don't
know that we have big, flashy cameos, but we do
have a couple.
So where is the show going to take us?
Well, in the pilot, it's Valerie's first day on
her reality show, and they go with her to an audition
and she gets the sitcom. She nails the audition
- or she's the last actress standing and by default
gets the audition - it's up for interpretation.
But now she has two years of TV ahead of her,
which she's thrilled about: her reality show and
the sitcom. And then we chronicle her trip to
the Upfronts, where the networks announce their
new fall schedule - and this new sitcom is one
of them. Of course, Valerie has expectations of
how that's gonna go, because she doesn't have
a realistic view of herself or who she is in this
business anymore. Then we're there for the first
day of rehearsal, because they're gonna start
shooting their series, Room and Bored .
They have their first photo shoot together as
a cast, and the night the show premieres on TV
- and again we see her inflated expectations about
it all. It follows from there.
Hollywood is the backdrop of The Comeback
. Could the show have been set in another
It could have been set in another world in that
the show is very character-driven. But this particular
character's interaction with this particular setting
is crucial. This show is set in the universe of
network television for a reason. Look, for me
personally, I do believe that TV de-sensitizes
us to things like violence, sex and now dignity
has gone out the window. Watching a person lose
their dignity used to be uncomfortable, and now
it's an expected part of the program that we're
becoming comfortable with. A loss of dignity can
be funny if no one notices it going except the
audience. When everyone can see it being taken
away, or handed over as payment for fame, it's