The episode of “Anything but Love” that viewers will see at 9:30 tonight on ABC is anything but the show initially envisioned by creator Wendy Kout.
In the original pilot for the romantic comedy, Jamie Lee Curtis played Hannah Miller, a woman coping with two new developments in her life: a new job as managing editor of Chicago Monthly magazine and a several-months-old romance with attorney Marty Tills (D. W. Moffett).
Then, Hannah’s life got even more complicated: Chicago Monthly hired a brash young writer named Jack Burton (Richard Lewis). And Hannah soon found out that “Jack Burton” was really Jack Bukowsky, with whom she had had a torrid affair many years earlier--which Jack is more than eager to rekindle.
Which would Hannah choose--a predictable but stable relationship with Marty, or excitement and adventure with Jack, or both? Stay tuned for the next episode.
But there was to be no second episode of that story. The pilot, taped last summer, was scrapped by the production company after it received an edict from ABC: No love triangle.
In the new pilot airing tonight, Hannah Miller is a 29-year-old former teacher who had left her hometown of Chicago to move to Los Angeles with her boyfriend, an aspiring screenwriter named Jack. Now, that relationship has ended--and the plucky Hannah is returning to Chicago to start all over again and launch a writing career of her own. On the plane back to the Windy City, she meets Marty Gold (Richard Lewis), a noted writer for Chicago Monthly. Their friendship blooms as Marty helps Hannah land her first job in journalism--as a researcher for the magazine.
Although the screenwriter Jack will make a brief appearance in a later episode to try to win back Hannah, the series now focuses on the developing romance of Hannah and Marty, and Hannah’s efforts to apply the fierce social conscience she developed while teaching in Chicago’s tough neighborhoods to her journalistic work.
Why did ABC send series creator Kout, who shares executive producer credits on the show with Robert Myman and John Ritter (“Anything but Love” is from Ritter’s company, Adam Productions, in association with Lookout Inc. and 20th Century Fox Television), back to the writing table?
Stuart Bloomberg, ABC’s vice president for comedy and variety series development, explained that neither network executives nor test audiences liked the idea of Curtis’ character being involved with two men at the same time.
“It puts Jamie Lee’s character in an awkward position. Who are you rooting for?” Bloomberg said. “Make up your mind. Is she bad, is he bad, is she bad because she’s sleeping with him, is she leading him on? . . .
It was something that was harmful to her character. It becomes a trap, and in a series you’re required to deal with it.
“I think what we discovered or felt was that a triangle as a concept makes an interesting pilot, but becomes rather unwieldy for a series.”
Executive producer Myman acknowledged that the triangle aspect and the questions it begged about Hannah’s morality “was something the network thought should be softened.” He did not want to offer an opinion about whether the love triangle could have worked as a series.
“We don’t know: We never did a subsequent episode; nobody ever wrote a next script,” Myman said. “Clearly, in terms of TV comedy, a triangle is not a setup we’ve seen before, which is what interested Wendy Kout in writing about the subject. (But) they felt that as a continuing setup, it was not something that they wanted.”
Kout said ABC programming executives “were originally quite enthused” about the first pilot until they got the results of audience research.
“Basically, I had no problem with the original pilot,” she said. “However, given that I am in partnership with ABC and they did , I was requested to reconceptualize.”
Dennis Koenig was added to the staff as supervising producer, and he and Kout wrote a new pilot. ABC has ordered six episodes.
Kout said that, while changing the series concept was not her idea, the network gave Kout and Koenig free rein in deciding how to change it.
“What I did was basically (keep) the elements that I thought were outstanding in the first pilot, specifically in regards to Jamie and Richard’s chemistry. I loved the idea of watching two people meet and initally become friends--that was something I was delighted to do in the reconceptualization, a contemporary adult relationship that begins with friendship.”
Kout added that after seeing the first pilot she also wanted “to see Hannah in the role of someone who is bucking the system rather than managing the system,” as she was in her original editor’s role.
Although changing a series concept after filming a pilot is often a red flag indicating that the show is in trouble, ABC’s Bloomberg defended the practice.
"(Often) it just takes some reshaping to find a concept that will work,” he said. “One of the benefits of going on at midseason is, we had time to examine, retool, and come up with a much better, solid show.”
Although Kout has worked in series television before, “Anything But Love” is the first show she has created. She remains philosophical about having had to “reconceptualize.”
“You learn in this business that everything is a work in progress,” she said.