BONNIE HUNT : Building a Sitcom
Not only does funny lady Bonnie Hunt star in the new sitcom “The Building,” premiering Friday on CBS, she also is the writer and executive producer. And none other than David Letterman is sharing executive-producing chores with her.
“The Building” finds Hunt playing Bonnie, a young actress living in an apartment building across the street from the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field. The inhabitants of “The Building” are all played by Hunt’s friends from Chicago’s famed Second City theater company.
Born and raised in Chicago, Hunt, who also is a registered nurse, began her career at Second City. Her film credits include “Rain Man,” “Beethoven” and “Vice Versa.” She also was a regular on NBC’s “Grand” and “Davis Rules,” which aired on both ABC and CBS.
Hunt discussed “The Building,” Doris Day, David Letterman and “Beethoven” with Times Saff Writer Susan King.
How did “The Building” come about? Were you thinking of doing your own series after “Davis Rules” was canceled last year?
I was having meetings with (CBS President) Jeff Sagansky during my days on “Davis Rules.” We formed a relationship--kind of an open-door policy where I could talk with him about what I wanted to do.
I wrote the show in 1989. I thought some day if I was in a position where somebody would listen to me, I would bring the script in. So once I left “Davis Rules” and CBS was interested in me, I told them I was interested in doing this show. They read it. Jeff said it was OK, but it is not very funny joke-wise. I said I don’t write jokes. It’s more situational. You need to see it on its feet. So he let me do it as a play. We did it one night in the basement of CBS in an empty rehearsal hall. They bought the show about 10 minutes after they saw the presentation.
Did you have the same cast as you do now?
Exactly. They wanted to recast it after that presentation. But they saw the chemistry was everything. We are old pals. I was lucky enough to get the first big break. It could have been any one of us. We are all equally talented.
What was your big break?
Barry Levinson saw me on a tape and put me in “Rain Man” as the waitress who dropped the tooth picks. The scene was talked about a lot. Then all of a sudden, I started to get more auditions. I moved out to L.A. with Second City to open their theater out here (in Santa Monica). I did the first show and the producer decided he wanted to sell out. He wanted to do a television series and said, “Why don’t we start writing our Second City shows more like TV?” Don Lake (who appears in “The Building”) and I both said no. We just pulled out. I got “Grand” about two weeks later.
Are your scripts for “The Building” more like traditional Second City shows?
I’m writing it more like a story. Each episode is a story about a slice of life. That’s how I approach it, just from my heart. I wrote 13 in 1989. Some of them are good, some of them are not so good. The ones that we are using are really great. We’re shooting six altogether.
Do you think if you hadn’t been brought up in Chicago you could have written “The Building”?
Definitely not. I think what happens is that some writers, who are so great in television or whatever, once they become successful, they get out of the loop of real life. It’s real hard to draw on something to write. I really appreciate the everyday stuff as far as material.
Did you live in a apartment next to Wrigley Field?
I lived in an apartment near Wrigley Field. I was single and I loved everybody in the building. I didn’t live across the street, but boy I tried. It’s real hard to get in those buildings. It’s like a three-year waiting list. That’s why, in order to make the pilot believable, I had to be moving back in after my cousin was staying there. They do keep the apartments in the family.
Is Bonnie a lot like Bonnie Hunt?
A lot of me is in that character, probably when I was younger. I really was so idealistic and wanted everything to be like a musical, because that’s what I thought would happen. The character is a big Doris Day fan. I love Doris Day.
So what’s your favorite Doris Day flick?
I love “Pillow Talk.” “Teacher’s Pet” is way up on my list. When she faints after Clark Gable kisses her, I just die. Those scenes with Gig Young and Clark Gable competing for her affection in that bar--oh my God! I have all of her CDs. In fact, Dave Letterman was on the phone with me today and he said what is that (in the background)? I said Doris Day. I used to try to sing like her.
Speaking of David Letterman, how did he become involved in the show?
I was on Dave’s show. We became friends. I sold the show to CBS and they asked me to get a partner because I had never run a show before, so I called Dave. He had already done his deal with CBS, and I called and said I need someone to be in my corner, to give advice and help me fight my battles. He said sure. He had already known about the show and loved the prospect of it. He loved the pilot before I even edited it. He was given the whole rough cut and we talked back and forth about what to cut out and what to leave in.
What’s happening in the sequel to “Beethoven”?
He meets a girlfriend and has puppies. The kids are hiding them in the basement from us and raising them behind our backs. They’re so cute. I can’t wait to get to work every day because I love the puppies. We have 10 to 20 puppies on the set at one time. It’s no big creative coup, but it’s the greatest joy because I feel like it is a Doris Day movie. That’s why I love it.
“The Building” premieres Friday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.