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In the television business, you are where you eat as much as you are what you eat.

TelevisionWeek Managing Editor Melissa Grego is tapping into Hollywood's penchant for the working meal with her TVWeek.com feature, Mel's Diner. Ms. Grego sits down with television industry players at their favorite restaurants, giving readers a window into the minds -- and appetites -- of industry heavyweights.

As each Mel's Diner guest dishes about what they're working on, planning and thinking about, Ms. Grego provides a unique view of the television business from the insiders perspective.

TVWeek.com invites fans of Mel's Diner to report back in the comments section on the meals, deals, or anything at all that is eating them about what the featured players have to say.

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Mel's Diner



Mel's Diner: Chuck LaBella

May 25, 2007 12:59 PM

Who: Chuck LaBella, executive producer, Starz’s “The Bronx Bunny”
When: Monday, April 23, lunch
Where: Pane e Vino

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The Dish: Chuck LaBella spent much of the week we met for lunch getting calls about actor Alec Baldwin’s infamous voicemail to his daughter. A native of Massapequa in Long Island, N.Y., Chuck went to high school with the Baldwin brothers. He’s particularly tight with Billy Baldwin, he said, and folks consider him a “Baldwin touchstone.”

He wasn’t exactly raring to offer his thoughts on Alec’s situation on the record, so I can’t tell ya his reaction to the voicemail.

A quirky coincidence that did come up on the record: Chuck’s obsession with the television business, which has been with him since he was 6 years old, focused quite early on NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. He was aware of 30 Rock, the source of many of his favorite shows, and just really, really wanted to work there someday. Of course, that’s what Alec’s character on, wellll, NBC series “30 Rock” does.

Chuck did get a gig there as an intern in development at the beginning of his career. He went on to work as a radio personality and producer and then became the first talent executive for “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher.”

Given his knack for getting to know people and the fact that Chuck has a nice way about him, he became one of the most sought-after talent and celebrity producers. He’s worked on “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn” and “Celebrity Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Recently he was talent producer on NBC’s “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” and “Thank God You’re Here” and ABC’s “The Next Big Thing” and “The Big Give.”

He continues booking shows, but what Chuck was most excited about at lunch was the fact that Starz was in the midst of debuting “The Bronx Bunny,” his first big show of his own.

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Part of the pay cabler’s new comedy block, “The Bronx Bunny” is a talk show led by two foul-mouthed puppets, Bronx Bunny and Teddy T. (“T” standing for Tourette’s syndrome).

The puppets are remarkably well prepared for celebrity interviews on the show and “take the piss” out of the guests, Chuck said. There’s puppet porn and lots and lots of language you won’t hear on “Sesame Street.”

‘It’s filthy, it’s filthy,” Chuck said. “But it’s funny, too. My mother saw it and said, ‘Honey, that’s filthy. But funny.’ She saw ‘Grease’ and liked that, then saw this, which was quite different.

“The show is funny aside from the crudeness,” he said. “You can get away with anything with puppets.”

When “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill was on the show, the puppets said they know everyone asks him the same questions over and over, Chuck said. Then the duo told him they were going to do the exact same effing thing.

Chuck’s partners on the show are a couple of Irish guys who were doing some work with these characters in the U.K., utilizing the Bronx accents.

“They created this because they loved ‘The Sopranos,’” Chuck said. “Being Irish, I guess they were raised with the same Catholic guilt.”

Chuck experienced the “whole spectrum of cliche experiences” getting the project on the air. He is really pleased to have wound up at Starz, which he said seems to be genuinely looking to emulate a young HBO with its new, edgy originals.

Dined On: Chuck picked Pane e Vino for its authenticity.

“I come here for the red sauce and garlic,” he said.

If you didn’t gather from his last name, or the name of the restaurant, we’re talking Italian cuisine.

Neither of us went the tomato route at this meal, however. Rather, Chuck suggested his regular lunch special option, paillard di pollo con rucola e asiago (aka pounded chicken breast with arugula and Asiago cheese). It was simple and light and I could see why he considers it whenever he comes here.

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An added bonus: While we sat outside, I personally enjoyed dining on a patio that was relatively free of bits of nature. I don’t know why this always is the case, but my favorite Italian restaurants in L.A. seem to come with the added danger of getting pelted in the head, the plate or both by things falling from trees. Pane e Vino steers clear of these hazards. Another of my favorite “real” Italian restaurants in L.A., Orso, gets me every single time.

There are lots and lots of options for good Italian fare in Los Angeles. Dare I ask, what is your favorite?

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Comments (10)

Ashmi:

Chuck is like the Dick Clark of Massapequa...hasn't aged a bit. Best of luck on the new series...Ashmi, HBO

Alabama Al:

Chuck is truly one of the best people in the biz to do biz with. I'm going to name my next son after him.

Well I don't know Chuck, but I'm impressed that he chose the word "sauce" rather then the ill-conceived and non-representative "gravy" that many Italiano wanna-bes use. The fact that's he's from "Lon Gyland" and still did not succumb to the "gravy" stain means he knows his food-stuff(s). Ok, I feel better now.

Oh, yeah, Bronx Bunny is a f#@%ing riot!

RP:

OK, I've discussed this with a colleague--

C&O Trattoria, Tarantino’s in Pasadena, Al Gelato, Palermo in Los Feliz, Dan Tana’s, Mazzarino’s (albeit closed for a few more months due to fire), Maggiano’s (chain be damned): red-sauce Italian.

Pane e Vino and Orso: Cal-i-talian. :)

Jimmy Cummings:

Chuck LaBella represents the very best when it comes to producing. I've been a fan of his for nearly fifteen years - I was there in the early days when he produced an off-broadway play in New York City that put Will Arnett on the map.

Thanks for all your comments about Chuck, his project and red-sauce Italian.

RP, you got me. Perhaps I have turned into a Cal-i-talian myself after all these years. ... I did, however, make my Mom's mean spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce in Tony Soprano's honor on Sunday.

Steve Mangiaracina:

Everything said in the previous posts about Chuck are all true. I don't know anyone else in the industry who has the instinct or the savvy that he has.

...and he makes the best sauce in LA.

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