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Comedies Display Strong Work Ethic

Jan 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Antics at the office make for some funny situations, so it’s not surprising that the workplace is the setting for three of the five shows nominated for performance by an ensemble in a comedy series at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The actors of “The Office,” “Ugly Betty” and “30 Rock” are vying for that honor along with the residents of “Desperate Housewives’” Wisteria Lane and the young Hollywood turks out for fame, fortune and respect in “Entourage.”
“Ugly Betty” and “30 Rock” are the newest shows of the comedic crop, having both premiered in fall 2006. Four of the five programs—all but “Desperate Housewives”—received Emmy nominations as outstanding comedy in 2007, with “30 Rock” winning the statuette.
“We try to have a lot of jokes per minute,” said Tina Fey, creator and star of “30 Rock.” “I think Alec [Baldwin] being so fantastic helped draw people, and he’s really delivering.” Both Ms. Fey, as sketch comedy head writer Liz Lemon, and Mr. Baldwin, as her boss Jack Donaghy, are nominated individually for their turns in the series, set behind the scenes at a “Saturday Night Live”-esque comedy show.
In “Ugly Betty’s” second season, several new recurring characters were added to the ensemble cast of a show set in the glamorous world of fashion magazine publishing, including Freddy Rodriguez, Illeana Douglas, Mo’Nique and Gina Gershon.
“I think the characters on the show are iconic,” said Judith Light, who plays Claire Meade. “Particularly the character of Betty, a young woman who looks like not the right stuff but turns out she’s the one with all the heart and soul and intelligence. It comes in a different package, and you see a character being themselves. It’s resonated around the world.”
A dominant motif in the ensemble cast of “Entourage” is their great affection and loyalty to each other in the face of seeking success in showbiz and all that entails. “It’s kind of what the whole Hollywood situation is about, what people go through to get a movie produced, and the whole fantasy element, to buy Maseratis for your friends,” said Kevin Dillon, who plays Johnny Drama, the older brother of Vince, who struggles to match his sibling’s accomplishments. “It’s kind of a dream come true, the friendship and how much the guys really care about each other. If not, you would get sick of them really fast.”
The employees of “The Office” won the comedy series ensemble statuette last year at the SAG Awards, a feat they hope to repeat this year. “A show like ‘The Office’ balances realism and absurdity so well,” said Rainn Wilson, who plays power-hungry Dwight Schrute, the assistant to the regional manager of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, Pa.
“We didn’t exactly start strong out of the gates. We had been almost canceled so many times. Then to go through all of that over a year and a half or two and finally come out and win was the ultimate validation,” Mr. Wilson said.
“Desperate Housewives” won ensemble acting honors in 2005 and 2006, at the 11th and 12th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Now in its fourth season, some of the series’ key storylines revolved around new cast member Dana Delany as Katherine Mayfair, who previously lived on Wisteria Lane with her daughter and her aunt, left mysteriously and moved back after a dozen years away. Now she’s and her second husband, played by Nathan Fillion, like most of the characters on the show, harbor dark secrets that are revealed as the season goes on.
Another suburban housewife, one who deals dope on the side, is one of the nominees for performance by a female actor in a comedy series. “It’s really flattering and I feel honored to be noticed because my show in many ways is quite dramatic and not full-on comedic. So it’s nice to be noticed in the comedy category,” said Mary-Louise Parker, who plays Nancy Botwin on “Weeds.” “Because she’s so damaged, she’s really ruthless and has little to lose except her children, and she loses sight of that. People who are that damaged are guileless, and would do almost anything. When I read a scene I think how far I can carry this. That’s when it’s most exciting for me.”
The other nominees are co-stars America Ferrera, as “Ugly Betty’s” lead character Betty Suarez—a part for which she won the SAG Award last year and the Emmy Award as actress in a comedy series—and Vanessa Williams as scheming Wilhelmina Slater, Ms. Fey and Christina Applegate, as amnesiac Samantha Newly in “Samantha Who?”
The five male actors up for their performance in a comedy series are all awards veterans. Mr. Baldwin took home the SAG statue last year, singling out the show’s focus puller in his acceptance speech for shaving six to eight years off his face in close-ups.
Contender Ricky Gervais of “Extras” won the Emmy Award in 2007. He has said his brand of comedy stems from embarrassment, combined with ego and desperation—and from being English.
Jeremy Piven also was awarded an Emmy last year for supporting actor as Ari Gold in “Entourage,” his second consecutive win there. “Monk’s” Tony Shalhoub took the podium at the SAG Awards in 2004 and ’05 to claim the SAG Award for his performance, and also took home the trophy for portraying Adrian Monk at the Emmys in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Steve Carell, who plays Dunder Mifflin boss Michael Scott in “The Office,” led the ensemble cast when it took home the SAG Award last year. He also won the 2006 Golden Globe for his performance.

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