Reza Aslan is like family.
That’s what legendary television writer and producer Norman Lear (“All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons”) assures the room at the Television Critics Assn. winter media tour Tuesday in Pasadena: “Spend three minutes with him and you’ll love him.”
Lear is the first guest on Aslan’s new Ovation talk show “Rough Draft With Reza Aslan,” which features the author and religious scholar hosting writers of every stripe -- film, television, music or literature, as well as an accompanying musical guest, an audience in the round, and a dash of alcohol, in the hopes of loosening tongues.
What Aslan is attempting to do is take a model that worked in a live version and translate it to the screen.
“This started because producer David Andreone and I are huge fans of ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ but wanted to do that with writers and a live band and everyone’s drunk,” Aslan says of the impetus for the series, going on to clarify that the show originally took place in Silver Lake but interest grew so high that he was determined to begin taping it to reach a broader audience.
The first-season lineup of “Rough Draft” makes it clear why Aslan was so interested in making the jump to television, featuring not just television luminaries like Lear and “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway in the first two episodes, but also Mike White (“Enlightened”), Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”), Tim Kring (“Heroes”) and Gideon Raff (“Homeland.”)
“Television is where I learned what America was,” Aslan, an Iranian immigrant, says. “I learned English from ‘CHiPS,’ from ‘Sesame Street.’ I watched so much ‘CHiPS’ that I thought cars flipped over on ramps on the freeway every day.”
In fact, TV may play too big of a role in Aslan’s life now that he’s an adult.
“Now that I’m older and have kids of my own, I’m much more wary about how much TV I allow in the house,” Aslan says, though he doesn’t think the medium is without value. “There’s so much to be learned about family and cultural dynamics from TV like ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘All in the Family.’ There are still shows that do that, but far fewer than they used to be.”
As for family, Aslan is most anxious for Muslims to finally break through the ultimate television glass ceiling.
“I’m waiting for a Muslim ‘All in the Family.’ Muslims are never going to feel like a part of the American family until people start to make fun of them on TV. That’s how minds have always been changed in this country.”
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