There was more than a little grumbling from Hollywood’s creative community after a hitherto unknown series from ABC’s in-house unit turned up on the network’s schedule — without a pilot, presentation or even clearly defined concept — when the network announced its prime time lineup in May.
For that reason, “The Paula Poundstone Show” will face extra scrutiny when it premieres Oct. 30, although according to its star and driving creative force, the show’s roots were less Machiavellian — and its concept less vague — than initial reports have made it appear.
According to Poundstone, who has honed her stand-up comedy act with HBO specials and remotes from the Demo-cratic and Republican National Conventions on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” the new hour will be “sort of a primer for living in the ’90s.” The plan is to air the show live and rely on interaction with the studio audience as “a big player” in its humor.
There won’t be stand-up comics, and at this point the emphasis is on keeping the show live, avoiding taped pieces and sketches, though neither have been ruled out.
The series will originate from Los Angeles (there’s even discussion about simulcasting on ABC radio) with a couple of remote segments from different spots around the country. Poundstone doesn’t plan to do a monologue (“How many times has that been done by somebody else?”) and plans to have a guest band weekly.
She also said that the show will seek to be informative as well as humorous. Example: Having the audience, armed with Monopoly money, decide how they want to allocate the national budget while Poundstone goes over the issues with a leading economist.
There were even plans to talk to a Nielsen family and explain how that process works, until the producers discovered that such a segment would be greatly frowned upon by the ratings service. Now, Poundstone quipped, the goal is to find a family that likes the show, then try to get them to become a Nielsen household.
Workshops for the series begin next week, without cameras, on Carol Burnett’s old Stage 33 at CBS. A venue for actual production has yet to be chosen, but Poundstone and manager Bonnie Burns, the show’s exec producers, felt the workshops were vital to help define the show’s form.
As for the matter of the fin-syn-nurtured perception that ABC played favorites toward an ABC Prods. offering, Burns maintains that the connection was actually forged when ABC approached Poundstone about hosting one of its experimental Saturday series in development from HBO.
Poundstone wasn’t interested in that project but had been working on a similar concept for herself with Burns. The deal with ABC Prods. came later, she said, following “a path of least resistance.”
Because ABC has struggled for so long on Saturday, Burns hopes the show will benefit from modest expectations. She cited “Late Night With David Letterman” and “Saturday Night Live” as examples — shows that went into the previously dormant late night hours that were then left alone “to find their true voice.”
Most third parties seem to agree. In its annual survey, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising rated the show, sight unseen, a 3 on a 1-10 scale of new-series prospects, ranging from “long shot” to “hit.”
At this point, Poundstone said she’s only focusing on the first 13 episodes, the length of her initial commitment from ABC.