EDtv: About The Production

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EDtv marks a reunion for Ron Howard and screenwriting partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who have written four previous pictures for Howard but have not collaborated with the acclaimed director since penning his 1989 comedy hit, Parenthood. Since that $100 million blockbuster, the duo has scripted such comedy hits as City Slickers, A League of Their Own and Multiplicity, among others, after first achieving individual success in the television sitcom arena in the 1970s.

"Weíve been looking for something to do with Ron since Parenthood which was the best working experience that Babaloo and I ever had," Ganz enthuses. The writers were attracted to the project, based on an obscure 1994 French-Canadian film called Louis XIX: Le Roi des Ondes (Louis 19: King of the Airwaves), "because of the filmís concept and Ronís enthusiasm for the project."

Howardís production company, Imagine Entertainment, in which he has been partnered with producer Brian Grazer since 1986, uncovered the little movie gem upon its release in 1994.

Producer Grazer heard about the movie and called it to Howardís attention. "Heíd heard about it, had not seen it, but had a one paragraph description. Immediately, instantly, I wanted to work on the project," Howard recalls. "Iím not always that spontaneous in my decision making, but I just loved the idea."

"Practically speaking, we were inspired by this one-line concept from the original film," Ganz relates. "Almost every movie weíve written, for Ron or someone else, was based on a sentence somebody said to us. Thatís kind of our m.o....move on a pitch sentence, a one-liner. That happened with this project as well."

"The premise here is a man whose life is going nowhere," co-writer Mandel explains. Adds partner Ganz, "Nobody wants to be nobody in America. Ed is the apotheosis of a prevailing American syndrome. It used to be that someone became famous because they were special. Now people are considered special just for being famous. Fame, itself, is its own virtue."

"Thereís a character in the movie, played by Martin Landau, who says that in the old days, people were put on the covers of magazines for doing something great," Mandel notes, then allows Ganz to finish the thought. "He was talking about Norman Rockwell, who would paint a picture of a mailman on his rounds. That would be a cover. He then says that for a mail man to make the cover of a magazine (today), heíd have to kill somebody."

"I just loved the premise of this movie," producer Grazer exclaims. "Essentially, itís about fame, the aphrodisiac of fame, how you want it so badly for all the things you think it can produce. As a producer, there arenít too many drawbacks to having fame because youíre not that famous."

"Iím not enormously famous, but I have a little sense of what fame is," Grazer continues. "I have many famous movie star friends, and there you get to see all the negatives. It shows all the backlash to fame. How people want to be your friend because youíre famous. I think everybody wants to be famous. Itís fascinating, and funny. So, from a first-person point-of-view, I was able to identify with what fame can get you."

"I related to it on some levels," director Howard admits. "Not necessarily Edís whole story because he is a guy who believes in his heart of hearts that being famous would be cool. Iíve grown up in the public (eye), so my relationship with the media, with the public, is very different. You know, dealing with people who donít know you but feel they do can be pretty awkward, sometimes funny, sometimes weird. So, certainly, there are a lot of moments I can relate to."

"I think (the film) is just a very funny situation that portrays a lot of peopleís personal fantasies," Howard continues. "What would it be like to be famous? What would it be like to be the person on a magazine cover, or starring in a TV show? The real question is - is it success or just celebrity for celebrityís sake? We deal with those questions both semi-seriously and comedically throughout the movie. It deals with fame as the most coveted achievement. But is it an achievement, or just happenstance, the luck of the draw?"

Matthew McConaughey, who embodies the filmís title character of Ed, was drawn to the role because "this story, EDtv and the story of whatís happened to me, Matthew McConaughey, thereís a parallel there. Ed is sort of an overnight success. He goes from anonymity and obscurity to being a recognizable face on everyoneís television overnight. It sort of happened like that for me after I did A Time to Kill, but probably not to the extreme it does for Ed."

McConaugheyís own leap from virtual unknown to overnight sensation may have been a dress rehearsal for the personable Texan in tackling one of those quirky "art-imitates-life" roles. In just one weekend in the summer of 1996 (when A Time to Kill opened in theatres nationwide), the actor "walked through the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica (CA) on Friday, unrecognizable to people. By Monday, all heads were turning, and my anonymity was gone."

Two years later, with such high-profile hits as Contact and Amistad now atop his resume, McConaughey still turns heads. Walking through the Universal Studios backlot one day talking to a local reporter, the actor stepped aside when one of the ubiquitous studio tour buses rolled past. The tour-guide, pointing out a sound stage where EDtv was filming, spotted the star and quickly ad-libbed his identity to the scores of tourists who snapped his picture. The irony of the moment was not lost on McConaughey, evoking laughter from the bonafide movie star.

In portraying the filmís charmed hero, that incident helped McConaughey "to relive and recapture those moments of the first time you see yourself on the cover of a magazine, or the first time someone asks you for an autograph. I remember my reaction when I first saw myself on the cover of Vanity Fairñsurreal. I went back and looked at a diary to get that feeling. There was a lot of laughter, how cool it really was, but there was also something a bit spooky about it."

Co-star Woody Harrelson, who plays Edís envious brother, Ray, echoes McConaugheyís thoughts about the filmís subject of fame and celebrity, saying "It was pretty interesting just to see his meteoric rise to fame, which is appropriate knowing Matthewís life, the good old boy from Texas that just hit it as big as you can. Itís apt for him to play this part."

"A lot of people aspire to become famous," Harrelson adds. "I know I did once upon a time. Yet, you canít really know what itís like until it happens. Itís interesting to make a movie about it. I think itís a great subject, a fascinating subject, this story about a guy who goes from working in a video store to ultimately becoming famous for no other reason than people watch his life (on TV)."

Harrelson, also a native Texan, was unknown and understudying on the Broadway stage in Neil Simonís comedy, Biloxi Blues when fame tapped him for an audition. "Iíd gone to school with a guy in Hanover, Indiana. He told me there was this part of a guy named Woody on this show called ëCheersí. I wasnít really interested in doing television then. I just wanted to do theatre."

"The long-and-short of the story is I got the part, and like the song says, ëeverybody knows your nameí," the Emmy-winning actor smiles. "You can do a lot of movies, a lot of theatre, but if people watch you on television, suddenly youíre famous. And, the shift from being poor and anonymous to being rich and famous is quite an adjustment...absolutely mindbending."

Elizabeth Hurley, the Brit beauty who is no stranger to the onslaught of tabloid headlines both in the U.S. and her native England, calls the film "a satire on the cult of celebrity in America, and how the media goes insane and intrudes on peopleís lives."

"We donít quite have the amount of mass media in England that you have here," the actress-producer concedes. "We have eleven national newspapers, so our print media is massive, huge, everybody sees every headline. I know people here...turn on the TV, so it is slightly different."

"Thereís also a love story here," McConaughey notes. "Itís about what your final priorities are. Edtvís got a love story and it shows how he is torn between fame and a woman, Shari. It becomes a choice between the two. And Ed grows up a lot through the fame. Thatís one of the great journeys that Ed has."

Actress Jenna Elfman, who plays Shari, the endearing UPS driver who becomes Edís love interest, finds a dichotomy in the story of EDtv. "Itís about what celebrity does to someoneís life and what it really means. The story of what it really means is told through Edís journey. The film is about someone discovering their life."

Elfman, one of TVís current crop of rising stars who has witnessed her own brush with fame as the Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning star of ABC-TVís sitcom hit, Dharma & Greg, adds, "The other story is what celebrity is and does to people in America. Edís too old to work in a video store, yet Americaís fascinated with his life, just because heís on TV. So, we mock the whole celebrity phenomenon, which is a nice statement for the time weíre in right now."

Comedic actress Ellen DeGeneres amplifies her co-starís statements by saying, "There are a lot of people who become celebrities just because theyíre on television. Kato Kaelin became (one) because he was a witness in the O.J. Simpson thing. Our weather man (in LA) is a celebrity. Itís weird because celebrity does not have anything to do with talent...nothing to do with longevity, with any kind of substance."

"What attracted me to this film was the point that you can have no talent whatsoever, but if youíre on television, and people see you on television, they get caught up in your life, and feel like they know you," the Emmy winner notes. "In this case, they do know (Ed) because theyíre watching his life on this television show."

"I based (my character) on people that I have met in this industry who appear to be your friend and pretend to really care about you when itís basically just about the ratings. As soon as they no longer need you, they toss you aside. I didnít even have to do any research. Unlike those people, my character actually has a conscience. So, itís a fun role for me to play," she laughs.

In setting EDtv in the world of television, scripters Ganz and Mandel sort of nibble on the hand that first fed their success back in the 1970s. Ganz wrote for such popular shows as The Odd Couple and Laverne and Shirley, and Mandel broke into the TV arena with a spec script for the long-running hit, MAS*H. They initially collaborated on Happy Days, where they began their long-standing friendship with Howard that led to their screenplay for Night Shift, which Howard directed when he departed the series in 1982.

In depicting the world of television, the film also brings Howard back to the medium with which he is so well identified. He spent fifteen years on the small screen as the star of two of TVís most endearing and enduring programsñThe Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s and the aforementioned Happy Days the following decade.

However, Grazer quickly notes that the film is not necessarily an allegory about the media and television. "We do show the power of the media in the movie, but this is not about the media. The media is just a mechanic, a device used to create the fame. It is not a black comedy, doesnít deal with the cynicism of the media. It just shows the power of the media to eject somebody into being famous."

"Ganz and Mandel are really great scene writers and really funny writers," Grazer goes on to say. "Thatís why we wanted them on this project. Some of their best work were our first movies (together), Night Shift and Splash. They later did Parenthood and this is very much in the spirit of Parenthood, which was a comedy about the American extended family, just as this deals with an extended family."

"The last picture we did with Ron was Parenthood," Ganz relates. "We love families. Our attitude is that every family is nuts. All you have to do is shine a light on ëem and see that every family, in some way, is just crazy. And this being on TV, is like the biggest possible light that you could turn on." Adds partner Mandel, "This story also debunks family myths, and shows what happens when a family takes a look at themselves for what they really are."

"One of the things that evolved as we started working on this story with Lowell and Babaloo was this idea that most of us go along not taking a hard look at ourselves," Howard chimes in. "Weíre not forced to really take stock of ourselves, to really see ourselves the way others do. Suddenly, that happens to Ed and all those around him, those he cares about. Theyíre forced to see themselves the way other people do because other people are talking about them non-stop. What happens when you put people under a magnifying glass?"

"What attracted me to EDtv in the end, more than anything else, was the opportunity to take this very unique, relatable, extreme look at a family," adds the father of four. "I love making movies about family dynamics and relationships. And being on TV kind of raises the stakes, raises the awareness. You shine that magnifying glass, you aim that magnifying glass on any family, youíre going to find a few warts, a few zits and some skeletons in the closet."

"Itís like one of those makeup mirrors, with the other side magnified, and every little pimple looks like a mountain," actress Elfman observes. "Well, thatís what itís like being on television." Adds McConaughey, "The spotlight of fame and the microscope that comes with that (shows) the different follies and dysfunctionís that were normally part of (Edís) day and no one really took notice. Now itís broadcast to everybody across the United States. So, it turns into a bit of a soap opera."

"People seem to be fascinated by watching other peopleís lives," DeGeneres offers. "Sort of whatís happening with talk shows right now, like Jerry Springer. We love to watch tragedy. Itís like the more screwed up somebodyís life is, the more interesting it is for us to watch."

"But, itís not real," she emphasizes. "They appear to be real and then they create these dramas between these supposed people on stage who are telling their darkest secrets on national television. It is interesting to watch human nature." Writer Ganz concurs by saying, "At the beginning of the movie, one of the characters says ëItís supposed to be an examination of someoneís real life, but once it gets on TV, itís not real anymoreí."

What Howard found real about the project was its comic appeal. In his return to the directorís chair for the first time in two years, the filmmaker offers that "It was time to go back to a comedy, since I hadnít done one in so long. What I liked about this script was the humor, but also the romantic aspect of Edís story."

"This movie definitely snuck up on me (when) I read the script," Howard confesses. "I loved it, and thought it would be fun to do a comedy again with the same team, Brian and Lowell and Babaloo and myself, that did Parenthood, Night Shift and Splash. Itís hard to find stories that are really cinematically interesting at the same time that they have a chance to be funny. Thatís one of the reasons I jumped on EDtv."

""This is a sister to Parenthood, producer Grazer adds. "It just has this bigger lightning rod concept in that itís about fame and works exponentially from something like A Face in the Crowd. It is also a flat out comedy with heart, a humanistic comedy...with this great potpourri of colorful characters."

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