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Generations X-Press : ENGLISH/SHUKOVSKY SITCOM LEADS WITH BIKE MESSENGERS AND ‘MURPHY’S’ FORMER PAINTER

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In her latest CBS series, Diane English, the Emmy-winning creator of “Murphy Brown” and “Love & War,” takes viewers into the offbeat world of New York City bicycle messengers.

And it is a world the former Big Apple resident knows quite well. “It is sort of hard to be in New York and not be aware of these very fascinating people,” she says.

During the 1970s, “Diane was a free-lance writer and I worked in advertising,” says Joel Shukovsky, English’s husband and producing partner. “We used a lot of messengers. Every day you’d open the door and you’d be surprised at what walked in. There was always someone new or different.”

“Double Rush,” which premiered last Wednesday, stars “Murphy Brown” alum Robert Pastorelli as Johnny Verona, a former rock musician and ‘60s idealist who owns and operates the struggling Double Rush messenger service. His employees are a wild and crazy bunch: Hunter (David Arquette), a daredevil on wheels; Leo (Adam Goldberg), a cynical, wisecracking ex-juvenile delinquent; Zoe (Corinne Bohrer), a Harvard Business School grad; The Kid (Phil Leeds), a 78-year-old career foot messenger; Marlon (D.L. Hughley), a charmer with a growing family, and Barkley (Sam Lloyd), the philosophizing dispatcher.

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Stephen Nathan, executive producer of the series along with English and Shukovsky, spent time with real New York messengers before creating the series with English. That experience, says the former co-supervising producer of “Love & War,” was “unbelievable.”

The messengers he met, Nathan says, were from all age groups and backgrounds. “It was a microcosm of the whole society, and it mirrored the difficulties that we were having economically.”

Still, he says, “They are in a good mood all the time because their endorphins are always pumping. It was really a fascinating group of characters.”

English and Nathan strived to make that world translate onto the small screen. “We tried to closely approximate this wonderful group of misfits,” Nathan says. “They are all fringe people, people who really live on the edge. They actually risk their lives to keep the city going. It is exactly like the Pony Express.”

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Messengers, Nathan adds, also become a family. “These people really hang together. They really take care of each other. That’s the most important thing to translate to the audience.”

“Double Rush” is visually and aurally unique. The graffiti-covered grungy set features ramps for the bikes. The rapid-paced title sequence was shot on the streets in New York by hot music-video director Spike Jonze. Jonathan Wolff’s theme and incidental music utilizes bicycle sounds. And each episode features numerous exterior scenes.

“We are making it a point to open the show up because it is about bicycle messengers,” Nathan says. “It is all movement. It is much more difficult, but it gives (the show) a richness and a look.”

The cast of “Double Rush” was in place for an entire year while the producers searched for their lead.

“I was the last person cast,” says Pastorelli, nursing an upset stomach in his dressing room. “They had everybody else cast except the lead. They were looking at a lot of different actors for over a year. All the other cast members had been on hold, so when things came to a halt for me over at ‘Murphy Brown,’ I stepped into this.”

Pastorelli says “contractual” difficulties were the reason he left his role as housepainter/nanny Eldin on “Murphy.”

“It was all very amicable,” he says. “I wasn’t really ready to do another half-hour show, but Diane asked me to read the script. I thought about it for a while and, you know, like they say, ‘God doesn’t close one door without opening another door.’ So I said, ‘Let’s make some funny.’ ”

Casting the right actor, English explains, was difficult because, “when you are casting a role in a TV series who is between 40 and 50 years old, that’s a very difficult age range. If you are looking for somebody as good as we needed this person to be, the chances were pretty good they already had a feature film career. Bobby just filled the bill. You have to find somebody charming, somebody you would really get your arms around. That is Bobby in spades.”

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Verona, Nathan explains, may be the father figure of the group, but he is “not a wonderful guy who has all the answers. He’s still finding himself, just as these younger people are finding themselves. It’s a generation gap we haven’t seen before. The older generation gap has been the old wise guy telling the young kids how to lead their lives. This is a guy who is trying to do that, but when he comes up with the ultimate answer, he goes: ‘I don’t know. Can you help me out here?’ ”

CBS has ordered 13 episodes of “Double Rush,” which is going up against the still-potent ABC sitcom “Roseanne.”

“No big deal,” Pastorelli says with a smile.

“I’ve heard of that show,” Nathan quips.

“I don’t think anyone is really expecting us to go out there and cream the competition,” Shukovksy says. “I think CBS would be very happy if we found our own audience. We are going to put out a welcome mat and hope to find an audience.”

“Double Rush” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.


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