The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kathleen Robertson (“Boss”)

Although I get plenty of opportunities to do in-person interviews when I’m out on the west coast for the Television Critics Association press tours, I very rarely get the chance while I’m here at Virginia, so when I was offered the chance to meet Kathleen Robertson for coffee, one of the stars of a show I already have a lot of love for (“Boss”), you can imagine that I didn’t have to think twice before answering, “Absolutely!” Indeed, I didn’t even blink an eye when it was casually mentioned that it might be nice if I managed to find a way to bring up Starz’s new app for Cox subscribers, Starz Play, because, what, like it’s such a bad thing to hype something that helps more people see some of my favorite series? (As you hopefully recall, I’m a big “Magic City” fan, too.) As I was assured in advance, Kathleen was a total sweetheart, and as we chatted over the course of a half-hour, the topics included the series that brought us together in the first place, of course, but also “Maniac Mansion,” “90210,” “Tin Man,” and even the hilarious-but-underrated IFC series, “The Business.” Read on…but don’t forget that the “Boss” Season 2 finale airs Friday night on Starz!

Bullz-Eye: So the second season of “Boss” is coming to a close…

Kathleen Robertson: Yep!

BE: Your character, Kitty O’Neill, had a decidedly different dynamic in Season 2 than she did in Season 1. How much forewarning did you have about how Kitty’s storyline was going to play out during this season? Did you know from the get-go, or was it only doled out to you on an episode-by-episode basis?

KR: I knew from the get-go. I sat down with the writers at the very beginning of the season, and they sort of explained to me what the storyline was for her. With the exception of the finale. They were very secretive about the finale, and I didn’t know what was going to happen until the week before we shot it and I read the script. Have you seen the finale?

BE: I have not yet.

KR: [Tries and fails to disguise her giddiness.] It’s so good. It’s so good. They kept saying to me all through the year, “Just be patient. Just be patient and wait for (episode)10.” I said, “What does that mean, though? Like, am I gonna get killed? What are you…what happens in 10?” “Just be patient.” And then they’d say, “10 is your episode, and you’re gonna be really happy with it.” So I was. And I am really happy with 10. It’s amazing.

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BE: 10 may be “your episode,” but it’s arguable that you’ve had a lot of episodes. Kitty’s evolved throughout the season, at least in a certain sense. At the same time, though, she also ends up making it pretty clear that she doesn’t really know who she is unless she has someone to serve.

KR: Yeah, that’s true.

BE: Did you see that as being a part of her character from the very beginning, or was that something you discovered as time went on?

KR: Well, with Season 1… [Hesitates.] Farhad (Safinia) said to me at the beginning of the series, “For Season 1, Kitty almost has a reverse arc.” She kind of starts here… [Holds hand up and then begins lowering it.] …and ends here. And it’s kind of like that in Season 2 as well, because from the moment we meet her in this season, she’s pregnant, she’s sort of deciding if she even wants to be in politics anymore…she’s deciding who she is. So the journey for her over Season 2 was a much more internal one, and it was much more a case of asking, “Who am I without my identity?” And for her, the identity isn’t just working for Kane. It’s being in this whole world that she’s sacrificed everything for. So she sort of flirts with the idea of trying to be an alternate Kitty throughout the season, and by the end… [Smiles knowingly.] When you see the finale, I think she ends up where she belongs.

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From the Big Screen to the Small Screen: TV Series Inspired By Movies

Given that NBC’s new series, “Parenthood,” was inspired by the 1989 Ron Howard film of the same name, it was hard to resist the opportunity to take a look back at some other programs which originated on the silver screen. Obviously, Hollywood has never been afraid to recycle its properties – because, y’know, it’s just so much easier – but when you’ve got a good (and familiar) premise and you’ve got writers who know how to build on it, then why not take advantage of it? Not every film deserves to be turned into a television series, a fact which is borne out by this list of 15 such shows that never got past the pilot stage (and sometimes it worked just as badly in reverse, as you can see here), but looking back on the television landscape and seeing what classic series have emerged as a result, it’s hard to complain.

First up, a list of our 20 favorite series inspired by movies. You’ll likely disagree with some of our choices, but…well, frankly, you always disagree with some of our choices, and we’ve learned to live with that.

1. The Odd Couple (ABC, 1970 – 1975): Yeah, we know it’s technically a TV series inspired by a play, but it never would’ve been made if the movie version hadn’t been a success first. Believe it or not, Tony Randall actually wanted Mickey Rooney to play the Oscar Madison to his Felix Unger, due to the success they’d had together when they played the roles together on Broadway, but the series’ executive producer, Garry Marshall, fought for Jack Klugman and won.

Nice one, Garry: the chemistry between Randall as the fastidious Felix and Klugman as the slovenly Oscar proved so strong that it’s now hard to imagine anyone else playing either role. They also each won Emmy awards for their performances: Klugman won twice – in ’71 and ’73 – and Randall won in ’75, observing in his speech how he wished he had a job. (The show had since been canceled!)

Looking back at “The Odd Couple,” you may notice that the first season of the series looks notably different from the four seasons that followed. That’s because the decision was made to switch from single-camera to multi-camera, thereby giving the cast the opportunity to perform the show in front of a studio audience…not unlike a play, appropriately enough. No matter what season you happen upon, however, it’s still a TV classic. Sometimes it’s because of the guest stars (Oscar’s career as a sportswriter led to many an athlete being worked into the proceedings), sometimes it’s because of the situations the guys find themselves in (I’m thinking in particular of when Oscar invited Felix to be his partner on an episode of “Password”), but no matter what the scenario, it’s Randall and Klugman who bring home the laughs…so much so that, when you mention “The Odd Couple,” you immediately think of those two guys over Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Now that’s what I call a successful movie-to-TV adaptation!

2. M*A*S*H (CBS, 1972 – 1983): In the grand scheme of TV shows made from feature films, surely there’s none more commercially and artistically successful than “M*A*S*H.” Based on the 1970 Robert Altman film of the same name (which in turn was based on the book by Richard Hooker), it was an unlikely candidate for a hit series, and yet that’s exactly what it ended up being. Both movie and TV show showcased the frustrations of the Vietnam War through the lens of a group of Army medics operating during the Korean War (or conflict, depending on to whom you talk). Even though the series’ highpoint was the first three seasons, which displayed a far more madcap, almost anarchic vibe, the TV-viewing public couldn’t get enough. The show, enduring numerous cast changes along the way, ran for a whopping 11 seasons, effectively lasting four times as long as the Korean War itself. The series finale in February of ‘83 was, until recently, the most watched TV event in U.S. history, but Super Bowl XLIV came along and smashed that record. – Ross Ruediger

3. Alice (CBS, 1976 – 1985): If ever there was an oddball movie on which to base a TV show, 1974’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” directed by Martin Scorsese, was that movie. The relatively straightforward dramatic piece about a widowed mother of one struggling to make her way in the world was reimagined as a half-hour sitcom. By all counts, this series shouldn’t have made it past one season, and yet it lasted a mind-boggling nine years. Well, it’s really only mind-boggling to someone who hasn’t seen the show, because anyone who has, likely understands this sitcom’s place in TV history. Alice Hyatt (Linda Lavin), who in the series is divorced rather than widowed, travels across country with her son Tommy, seeking fame and fortune on L.A. as a singer, when her car breaks down in Phoenix. She’s forced to take a job at a local greasy spoon called Mel’s Diner owned by Mel Sharples (Vic Tayback, reprising his role from the film). There she finds friendship and zany antics amongst Mel’s employees and clientele. “Alice” was an ideal blue-collar premise for ‘70s TV viewers, particularly women, many of whom understood Alice all too well. The show also brought the catchphrase “Kiss my grits!” (thank you, Polly Holiday) to the table and its possible TV hasn’t recovered since. – Ross Ruediger

4. Logan’s Run (CBS, 1977 – 1978): It’s probably a little easier to buy into the idea of a “Logan’s Run” TV series when you realize that the author of the novel that inspired the film – William F. Nolan – actually wrote two sequel novels (“Logan’s World” and “Logan’s Search”) as well as a novelette (“Logan’s Return”), but as it happens, the series stands completely apart from Nolan’s written word. Starring Gregory Harrison as Logan, Heather Menzies as Jessica, and Donald Moffat as an android named REM, “Logan’s Run” sent its characters across post-apocalyptic America by hovercraft on a voyage to find Sanctuary. Given the era, the show was a relatively solid bit of sci-fi, thanks in no small part to having former “Star Trek” writer D.C. Fontana serving as the show’s story editor, but in a rather obnoxious move, Warner Brothers has released the complete series of “Logan’s Run” as iTunes downloads without making it available for purchase in a hard-copy form. Fingers crossed that the folks at Warner Archive will read this and take heed. Better to get a glorified DVD-R version that’s authorized and somewhat cleaned up than a crappy bootleg version.

5. The Paper Chase (CBS, 1978 – 1979 / Showtime, 1984 – 1986): James Bridges’ 1973 film version of John J. Osborn’s novel turned producer John Houseman, a film and theater legend but an unknown to the general public, into an Oscar-winning movie star at age 71. Later, Bridges, Osborn, and Houseman brought “The Paper Chase” to television with likable James Stephens starring as earnest law-student James Hart who, week by week, struggled with the enigmatic method and deep mind-games of the unapproachable Prof. Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. The idea of a show about extremely intelligent young people learning how to think and reason at a high level was a novelty in 1978 — not that it’s commonplace today — and it was canceled after one season. However, such was the affection for the series that the show was successfully rerun on PBS. That led to a TV first: “The Paper Chase” went back into production in 1983 for premium cable’s Showtime with author Osborn’s involvement as well as most, but not all, of the initial cast. Not that anyone seemed to noticed: with Stephens and the charismatic, coldly witty Houseman on board, by the time Hart finally graduated, many viewers had no idea there had ever been a movie. – Bob Westal

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