Ed Begley Jr.'s wife, Rachelle Carson, was freezing inside the couple's 1,700-square-foot Home last week. "He's like the Marquis de Sade," she said of her energy efficiency-minded husband, who refused to turn on the natural gas despite plunging temperatures inside the Begleys' Studio City house. "What about the warmth that I'm sending you right now, honey?" Begley asked. Carson smirked, and then embraced her husband.
Welcome to life at the Begleys. Next month, HGTV's new reality show "Living With Ed" (sneak preview, Monday at 1 p.m.) will chronicle Begley's often extreme environmental rules, which sometimes impede his actress wife's desire to live more like her Hollywood peers.
In the pilot episode, for example, Begley times Carson with a stopwatch during what he considers a lengthy hot shower, reprimands her over not recycling properly and lectures her on how to save energy.
While the premise sounds gimmicky, the show rarely becomes mired in petty arguments between the two. HGTV executives are hoping Begley's personality, coupled with energy-saving tips on how to have a truly "green" home, will turn into a reality hit next year.
"Ed is so green, and green seems to be an increasing part of the national consciousness," said Andy Singer, vice president of original programming at HGTV.
"Living With Ed" is the Nashville-based cable network's first celebrity-driven project, and subsequently HGTV is pulling out all the promotional stops next month. "What's paramount to HGTV is that viewers learn something from our show," Singer said. " 'Living With Ed' is a docu-soap, but you are getting information on how to live green through watching an entertaining show."
Indeed, the show and its corresponding website offer tips for aspiring eco-friendly homeowners, including simple tricks like using fluorescent lightbulbs and more esoteric ways to save energy.
"This seemed like a good outlet for me because it's entertaining," Begley said of "Living With Ed," which he was initially reluctant to do. "How else are you going to get people's ear and get them to maybe try a solar oven or start up a compost bin?"
Begley said he and Carson have essentially been doing the show for years whenever guests visit their modest home.
"We can't help but do our 'Bickersons' routine when people come over," he said, "but will others find it funny? I don't know."
HGTV apparently found them funny enough to order an initial six episodes of the show, and already is keen on ordering more if "Living With Ed" performs well.
For now, Begley and Carson are excited to have the opportunity to reach viewers with their pro-environment message.
"Everything that I've done since 1970 has been not just good for the environment, but it's also been good for my bottom line," said Begley. "It will be great to reach the environmental crowd, but we don't want to preach to the converted. We want to reach people who maybe just want to save money."
Of course, it's not as easy as it seems for the layman to boast a $600-a-year electricity bill like Begley's -- it takes big cash up front to shell out for the expensive solar panels that are hooked up to batteries in his garage. But once he starts talking about solar energy, it's easy to see why stars such as Larry David, Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow and Leonardo DiCaprio call him for advice.
"I'd say we're about 90% solar," he began, as he gestured to a cluster of 117 60-watt panels positioned on his roof. "When I was single, my electricity bill was only about $100 a year."
Carson rolled her eyes, no doubt having heard her husband say that many times since they wed in 2000.
Solar power isn't enough for Begley, who can't resist an illustrative power-saving device that makes up a key scene in the pilot episode -- people-powered toast.
Begley pedals furiously on his stationary bicycle in the first episode of "Living With Ed," to make his morning toast. The bespectacled thespian is keen to show just how simply his daily workout generates the amps needed to power his toaster.
"All panels lead to the batteries ... the batteries lead to the inverter," he points out.
"The inverter then turns that DC power into AC. Because I have these batteries, I hooked this right up to my stationary bike," he says.
"This puts power into the plug down into the batteries. To make toast takes two minutes. I generate about two amps at 120 volts, so you figure about 15 minutes on the bike to make toast."
Somehow, Begley doesn't come off as holier-than-thou during the reality show -- no small feat given his near-perfect energy efficiency that precious few Americans can match.
"I don't curse the darkness, I light the candles," he said. Begley himself never asked for the role of an environmental hero. He said: "I don't know if it's trust, or just that I appeal to common sense. I try not to focus too much on the environmental impact of it. I generally say things like, for example, 'You're going to save money right away with a compact fluorescent bulb and here's why.' "
Carson, who doesn't share the same level of enthusiasm for the environment as Begley does ("I have things to do during the day," she said), offered up a sincere "I haven't heard you say that in that way before, honey -- that's good!"
"My God ... praise from my tormentor ... now this is exciting," said Begley.