Drescher bor­rows from life for new sit­com

The Daily Herald - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOHN CROOK

Life with Mr. Sh­effield was never like this.

For­mer Emmy nom­i­nee Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”) re­turns to se­ries tele­vi­sion in “Hap­pily Di­vorced,” a new TV Land sit­com pre­mier­ing Wed­nes­day,. Loosely drawn from her real-life re­la­tion­ship with ex-hus­band Peter Marc Ja­cob­son, the show stars Drescher as Fran, a Los An­ge­les florist whose life is turned up­side down when Peter ( John Michael Hig­gins, “Best in Show”), her hus­band of 18 years, sud­denly an­nounces that he is gay.

They agree to split, but with the real es­tate mar­ket cra­ter­ing, Fran and Peter de­cide to keep shar­ing their home un­til they can sell it, which prob­a­bly won’t be hap­pen­ing any­time soon. That leaves each strug­gling com­i­cally to step into a new iden­tity — she as a newly sin­gle woman, he as a mid­dle-age gay man — while con- tin­u­ing to live to­gether.

“This show is in­spired by our story, be­cause Peter is now liv­ing as an openly gay man, but Peter and I split up be­fore he came out,” Drescher ex­plains. “That wasn’t the rea­son why we split up, and I was the one who ended the mar­riage, and he didn’t want it to end. It was only af­ter that, and (“The Nanny”) ended, and he moved 3,000 miles away and went into ther­apy that he started to con­nect with his true ori­en­ta­tion.”

Drescher had lunch with a TV Land ex­ec­u­tive who wanted the ac­tress to pitch some se­ries ideas, but when she tried to pitch shows that she would write and pro­duce but not star in, the ex­ec­u­tive asked what show would get her back in front of the cam­eras.

“I said, ‘Oh, that’s easy; that would have to be this sit­u­a­tion that I am in right now, where I am sin­gle, my ex-hus­band is gay, and I am dat­ing a guy, and some­how my ex-hus­band helps me make the new re­la­tion­ship more of a suc­cess,’ ” Drescher re­calls.

With Ja­cob­son on board as co-writer and pro­duc­ing part­ner, the pro­duc­ers cast a wide net for an ac­tor to play Peter, but Drescher was con­vinced Hig­gins was the right guy for the part. There was just one prob­lem: Hig­gins had gone through a pe­riod of be­ing type­cast in gay roles af­ter “Best in Show” and his phe­nom­e­nal stage suc­cess in Paul Rud­nick’s com­edy “Jef­frey,” so he wasn’t es­pe­cially ea­ger to crawl back into that pi­geon­hole.

“But now it’s been quite some time since ‘Best in Show,’ and when Fran called, and it looked like a good sit­com — and I am a big fan of Fran’s — I thought, ‘This will be great.’ And the thing is, all my gay char­ac­ters are very dif­fer­ent, just as gay peo­ple are dif­fer­ent in real life. But it’s all about who I am work­ing with and what kind of scripts there are. Fran’s one of the greats, and we had a re­ally good time do­ing the pilot.”

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