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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

‘Fat Actress’ Producer Knows Whims of Hollywood

With its newest television program, “Fat Actress,” having recently finished a seven-episode run on Showtime, Burbank-based production house Production Partners Inc. is anxiously awaiting word of whether or not the show will be renewed. Such is the life of a small boutique production house which lives by the whims and tastes of Hollywood. But Production Partners has hung in there for the past 15 years, even managing to win an Emmy in the process. Besides “Fat Actress,” the company is perhaps best known for producing the first two seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the critically acclaimed HBO program. Under Production Partner’s aegis, “Curb” received its first Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Comedy Series.” Another notable project that the company produced was Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain” comedy special, which earned PPI the 1997 Primetime Emmy for “Outstanding Music, Variety or Comedy Special.” But it was the splashy debut of “Fat Actress” that has had the company’s name in the news of late. Heavily promoted, the program was the first series developed entirely by Bob Greenblatt, who took over as president of Showtime Entertainment in July 2003. It was Greenblatt who brought in the PPI team to produce “Fat Actress.” “Bob Greenblatt told me that he might have something for us to produce, given that we had also produced the first two seasons of ‘Curb,”‘ Sandy Chanley, the president and executive director of PPI said. “I didn’t believe him but lo and behold, shortly afterwards I got a phone call saying that they wanted me to meet with Kirstie Alley and Brenda Hampton (the co-creator of Fat Actress and WB Show “7th Heaven”). The project was unofficially green lit when we came aboard.” Fat Actress debuted on March 7 of this year to tremendous amounts of buzz. Showtime has stated that it estimates the dollar value of all the stories written about “Fat Actress” in broadcast TV and print, from last July to the March debut, to be worth $50 million, twice the annual marketing/PR budget of the entire network. The press seemed to have paid off when the show ended up attracting more viewers than any series premiere in Showtime’s history, if you combined the 944,000 total viewers who watch the March 7 cablecast and the approximately 900,000 Yahoo subscribers who downloaded the episode for free. Yet by week two, the audience had dwindled to 315,000 viewers. By week three, the number had shrunk to 270,000. Executives from Showtime refused to comment for this story, though Showtime has previously claimed that “Fat Actress” had attracted large numbers of viewers via its Showtime On Demand service. Attention grabber Deana Myers, an analyst at Kagan Research LLC, stated that while the show’s numbers dropped markedly after week one, the attention that it drew was very positive for Showtime. “Showtime has said they are satisfied with the performance of Fat Actress. The goal of pay networks is to get new subs and keep the old ones so the buzz around the show was good for them,” Myers said. “(Despite critics saying otherwise) I believe Showtime does have the resources to make hit originals. They have done so in the past with ‘The L Word’ and ‘Queer as Folk.'” Another issue that hovered about the show was criticism from parties who disliked the show’s portrayal of overweight people. Critics also pointed out that the show wouldn’t have much to stand on if Alley managed to lose weight. However, Chanley refutes such complaints. “Kirstie’s character has so many issues that she wants to express that I don’t think creatively it relies on whether or not she’s still fat. As she continued to lose weight her world would shift and change,” Chanley said. “I think it adds more creativity to what story lines could be. A lot of people just didn’t get that we were making fun of everything. People often take things way too seriously.” With the network mum on the status of the project, Chanley maintains that her company is proud of the way the show turned out. “Collectively, all the creative parties involved are ecstatic with how the episodes turned out. That in my mind is a success. If everyone involved is thrilled with how it came together, then that’s a team of people that exercised the creative vision properly,” Chanley said. “It was extremely exciting to have a project receive so much attention, both positive and negative. At the very least, we had participated in something that made a lot of people either be entertained or angry.” Even if Showtime decides to pull the plug on “Fat Actress,” Chanley seems confident in the ability of the company to find another successful project. PPI does have experience in losing a marquee program when it and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” parted ways after “Curb’s” second season. In addition to these shows and the Rock stand-up, PPI has also produced stand-up comedy specials from nearly every comic in the business. While PPI’s immediate future might be uncertain, Chanley believes that there will always be a niche for the company’s twisted and dark humor. “We always have a few projects that are in development. When we get totally involved with production on something like Fat Actress, that stuff gets put off to the side until we’ve completed that run,” Chanley said. “If ‘Fat Actress’ isn’t renewed then we’ll move into the closing of the other deals and all the other stuff. We will keep moving the company business forward.”

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