A visit with “Brothers”

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I’m no Hollywood insider. Nikki Finke does not rely on me for her tips and I don’t ever expect to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar after party. Nevertheless, there’s one thing I do know about show business: personality goes a very long way in “this town.” And so a few of us press people recently found ourselves the subject of a 50 megaton charm offensive by the four stars of the new Fox sitcom, “Brothers” — C.C.H. Pounder, Carl Weathers, and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, and one extremely enthusiastic newbie, former New York Giants Defensive End and Fox Sports commentator Michael Strahan. I haven’t seen the show itself yet, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m./7 central, but the visit was certainly a performance I won’t be forgetting.

From long-time writer-producer Don Reo, whose credits run from “M*A*S*H” to “Blossom” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Brothers” stars Strahan as a former NFL star who winds up moving in to the house he bought for his parents when a financial reversal puts him in the metaphorical poorhouse. Since this is a sitcom, naturally there will be conflict with his brother, played by Mitchell, and the usual issues with parents Weathers and Pounder. One ace the show will be playing will be guest appearances by some fairly big names playing themselves, including former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, hip-hop star T-Pain, celubutante Kim Kardashian, and the great Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band. Also appearing will be well actress Tichina Arnold from “Chris” and, not playing himself, rap superstar Snoop Dog. Stand-up comic Lenny Clarke will be playing a neighbor on the show.

The show has been getting some additional attention for a perhaps less fortunate reason, in that while African-American actors are featured in more diverse roles these days, it’s the only current show on the networks schedules with a predominantly black cast. That’s largely a reversal of the trend of the past when the vast bulk of decent TV parts for nonwhite actors were on shows like “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” as well as some of the later, more controversial shows aimed at black audiences like “Martin.”

The first to meet the press were Carl Weathers, perhaps still most famed as Rocky Balboa’s venerable opponent, Apollo Creed, and C.C.H. Pounder, who is taking a break from her usual intense, gravitas-laden, roles on shows like “The Shield” and seems to be enjoying every minute of it. In fact, I’m here to tell you that extremely skilled Ms. Pounder is downright bubbly in person. You heard me, “bubbly” — but in a very smart sort of way.

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The mood was light right off the bat with more than one of us entertainment journos confessing a complete lack of knowledge of sports and Ms. Pounder joining in. Weathers was the exception. “Well, I played for the Oakland Raiders so I hope I know a little bit about football.” And that somehow prompted an impersonation of Butterfly McQueen from “Gone with the Wind” from Pounder. I guess you had to be there.

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Fox: What’s New for Fall 2009

Glee (Wed., Sept. 9 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

The competition: “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” (ABC), “Criminal Minds” (CBS), “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” (NBC), “The Beautiful Life” (The CW)

Starring: Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Corey Monteith, Lea Michele, Dianna Agron, Matthew Morrison, Jessalyn Gilsig, Chris Colfer, Patrick Gallagher, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowitz, Amber Riley, Mark Salling
Producers: Bradley Buecker, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy (“Nip/Tuck”), Zachary Woodlee (“Eli Stone”)
Network’s Description: A one-hour musical comedy that follows an optimistic high school teacher as he tries to transform the school’s Glee Club and inspire a group of ragtag performers to make it to the biggest competition of them all: Nationals. McKinley High School’s Glee Club used to be at the top of the show choir world, but years later, a series of scandals have turned it into a haven for misfits and social outcasts. Will Schuester, a young optimistic teacher, has offered to take on the Herculean task of restoring McKinley’s Glee Club to its former glory with the help of fellow teacher Emma Pillsbury. It’s a tall order when the brightest stars of the pitch-imperfect club include Kurt, a nerdy soprano with a flair for the dramatic; Mercedes, a dynamic diva-in-training who refuses to sing back-up; Artie, a geeky guitarist who spends more time avoiding bullies than chasing girls; and Tina, an awkward girl who needs to suppress her stutter before she can take center stage. Will’s only hope lies with two true talents: Rachel Berry, a perfectionist firecracker who is convinced that show choir is her ticket to stardom; and Finn Hudson, the popular high school quarterback with movie star looks and a Motown voice who must protect his reputation with his holier-than-thou girlfriend, Quinn, and his arrogant teammate, Puck. Driven by his secret past, Will is determined to do whatever it takes to make Glee great again, even though everyone around him thinks he’s nuts. He’s out to prove them all wrong – from his tough-as-nails wife Terri Schuester to McKinley’s cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester to an über-hip world that thinks jazz hands and sequined tuxedos litter the road to infamy rather than pave the way to Hollywood dreams.
The Buzz: Crazy insane. (Insane? Crazy?) Fox’s decision to air the pilot for the show back in May and let it simmer for the summer was one of the strongest marketing moves in recent television history, as evidenced by the ridiculous amount of iTunes downloads of the songs from the show, and while having the cast turn up at Comic-Con might’ve seemed out of place at first, given how close the lines for “glee club members” and “comic book and sci-fi aficionados” lie on the geek flowchart, it shouldn’t have. And now they’re preparing to tour the malls of America…? The buzz buzz buzz you’re hearing in the drum of your ear is the sound of “Glee.”
Pilot Highlight: If you didn’t want to leap to your feet and applaud at the end of their performance of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” you are dead inside. Dead, I say.
Bottom Line: It’s going to be like having a new volume of “High School Musical” airing every single week, except with sensibilities falling closer to “Freaks and Geeks.” If it isn’t a huge hit, and if the soundtrack to the show isn’t one of the biggest selling albums of the holiday season, I will be shocked…and crestfallen, too, as I’m totally in the “Glee” club as well.

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