By Christopher Lisotta
David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, the creators and executive producers of the CBS comedy "The Class," were going for a different feel with their ensemble comedy. A co-creator of NBC's "Friends," Crane said one of the goals of the show was to make it feel more like a reality series, which have more characters than traditional sitcoms.
"The thing that was really exciting for us is to approach the show differently," Crane said, "to really make it feel more like life."
Klarik, his partner in the show and in life, showed Crane how many characters they were following and invested in as fans of reality series.
"Look at Janelle on 'Big Brother,'" Klarik said. "At first I thought she was a big floozy. But she's so interesting and smart. I love the idea of character that you can't pigeonhole."
Unlike most sitcoms, there will be no primary gathering place where the characters will congregate, and the characters will have various levels of involvement depending on the specific episode story line.
"This isn't one of those shows wherever everyone hangs out and talks," Klarik said. "There are eight separate storylines that do intersect."
Going in this direction was not an attempt to go in a different direction from the behemoth "Friends," Crane said.
"Once we decided there were going to be eight characters, and at least four major supporting characters, it was inevitable," he said.
That structure has been a nightmare for Crane and Klarik's line producer, who is responsible for setting up the logisitics of having numerous sets and no standing, central set to build around.
"That's part of the challenge," Crane said, nothing that there is a financial pressure on "The Class" for the studio producing the show. "How do we tell the story without totally freaking Warner Bros. out?"
One critic asked why "The Class," which profiles a group of people from the same third-grade class who are reunited as adults, has no people of color in the cast.
"It is something that is unfortunate," Crane said somewhat sheepishly. "It happened because when we wrote the script we wrote color blind. We auditioned for six months. We saw a huge range of diversity. At the end of the day these were the eight actors who were right for the parts."
Crane and Klarik are going to add more diversity in successive episodes. The sisters in the series, Kat and Lina, who are Caucasian, will have adoptive Korean parents. The gay character Sean's partner is Latino, and the character Nicole will have a biracial step-daughter.
Still, another critic pressed the issue of "color-blind" casting, which in many cases seems to produce all-white casts, who later on have to be forced to diversify. In hindsight, Crane said, not writing characters with a specific ethnicity might have helped in terms of diversity.
"If we had to do it over again we wouldn't," he said of color-blind casting. "But I wouldn't change out these eight actors."
One of the gags in the pilot surrounds the gay character Sean and his high school girlfriend Holly, who still holds anger over catching him with another guy. Holly introduces Sean to her husband, who can best be described as "nelly as the day is long."
A critic asked if the husband, Perry, is also gay.
"Don't you know some guys like that?" Crane asked, pointing out there are many happily married effeminate men.
"Some are probably like that in here," he added to a few guffaws and a substantial amount of nervous laughter from the married effeminate men who are in good supply at TCA.
"The fun of the character remains that he is one of those guys where you go, 'seriously?'"
On the witty TCA banter front, actors Lucy Punch and Sean Maguire have already set the bar high. When asked about why she would do a series in the U.S., the British Punch said that kind of work would only increase her professional profile. Maguire and Crane quickly jumped in:
Punch: I don't have a profile here.
Maguire: You have a lovely profile.
Crane: Like a Noel Coward play!
With that kind of reference, Crane himself is raising the bar high.