TV Preview: TV Land aims to reinvent itself with single-camera show ‘Younger’
The lead character in the coming TV Land comedy “Younger” wants to spread her wings and set a new course, not unlike the cable network that will use the single-camera series to push beyond its traditional filmed-before-a-live-audience sitcom roots.
“Younger” comes from Darren Star, creator of such zeitgeisty hits as “Sex and the City” and “Melrose Place” and is part of a new wave of original shows on TV Land, perhaps best known for “Hot in Cleveland” and repeats of classic half-hour comedies.
The channel has already broken ground with a single-camera show, the little-seen one-season “Jennifer Falls,” but plans to dive deeper into the format going forward. “Younger” and several other series launching this spring and summer — “Teachers,” “Impastor” and “The Jim Gaffigan Show” — aim to boost the network’s appeal to discerning 35- to 49-year-old women.
“Our challenge is to figure out a way to reinvent the comedy for a sophisticated female audience,” said Larry W. Jones, the network’s president. “These viewers are watching shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Revenge’ and ‘House of Cards,’ but that’s the drama side. Where are the sharp, edgy, funny options?”
Executives at the channel think that “Younger,” premiering March 31, is one of them. The show stars Sutton Foster, a two-time Tony winner, as a 40-year-old New Jersey housewife named Liza who’s jumping back into the work world after a hiatus to raise her daughter.
Her philandering husband has gambled away their savings and run off with a younger woman. Oh, the irony, then, when Liza passes herself off as 26 to land an entry-level job in the publishing industry where she’d once flourished.
She may have to sell the comfortable suburban home, so there are threads of the ragged economy running through the story. And she took the lowly assistant gig because it seemed like her only viable choice.
But the serialized comedy will focus more on how Liza manages to fit in with her millennial coworkers, including Hilary Duff, while keeping her true age a secret. There’s also the potential for other types of new relationships once hipsters start hitting on her in bars.
Foster, who starred in ABC Family’s beloved “Bunheads,” can’t help but draw parallels to the Dustin Hoffman movie “Tootsie.”
“That character took matters into his own hands, and that’s what Liza does,” Sutton said recently from the show’s New York set. “She’s a survivor, and she needs to reinvent herself.”
Even though Liza isn’t that much older, chronologically, than her office mates, she’s thrown for a loop at their differences. She has to covertly Google “how to set up a Twitter account,” for instance, but that’s not the half of it.
In a gym locker room scene in the show’s pilot, her new friends are horrified that she doesn’t practice their extreme waxing habits. “Nobody under 30 looks a day over 12,” her friend and makeover cohort, played by Debi Mazar, later tells her.
Foster, who’s turning 40 in a few months, said she can relate to being on the mature side of a generation gap.
“I’m the least-hip-cool person ever, and I have no clue about things, even the magic of Brooklyn where we’re shooting,” Foster said. “The way people talk, the way they dress. It’s been very eye-opening.”
Foster wasn’t necessarily in the market for another TV series when she read the “Younger” script but said she felt like she could get under the skin of the risk-taking character.
“It’s a chance to relive my 20s but retain the wisdom and experience of being 40,” she said. “This character is true to herself — she’s ultimately the same person — but she’s not being 100% truthful. She’s living a lie.”
The character’s transformation begins with a fake resume — suspend disbelief in the Internet age — and beachy hair with highlights. Also, a stylish new wardrobe courtesy of Patricia Field, costume designer on “Sex and the City” who’s reuniting with Star for the first time since that trend-setting show.
Jones wouldn’t specify how fat the production (or clothing) budget was for “Younger” or the other single-camera series but said TV Land had “considerably” bumped up its spending on originals.
“Single-camera shows are quite expensive, and we didn’t want to skimp,” Jones said. “We want them to look like they could’ve come from an HBO or another premium cable network.”
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