Drama, subtle humor want-'Ed' for NBC's new series

For years they’ve toiled for Dave, but now Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman are spending all their time with Ed.

As in “Ed,” the quirky new NBC drama the network has skedded at 8 p.m. Sundays.

Burnett, exec producer on “Late Night With David Letterman” and prexy of Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production outfit, and Beckerman, a former “Late Show” writer and producer, are putting their creative juices into this “Northern Exposure”-esque series.

“We would love that comparison,” says Burnett, who joined Letterman back when the comedian was doing his latenight thing for NBC. But, Beckerman adds quickly, “We’re interested in being funnier than they were. They didn’t go for the big laughs.”

There may not be any huge guffaws to be found on “Ed” either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny or warm. On the contrary, the humor here is often subtle and emotionally on target. Of all the new series this fall, critics have voted “Ed” as one of the best — if not the best — of the season.

“Ed” stars Tom Cavanagh (“Providence”) as a Manhattan lawyer doing dead-end work and coming home one day to find his wife bedding the mailman. Looking to simplify his life, he returns to his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio, pursues a girl (Julie Bowen) he sought after in high school and buys a bowling alley.

The question now is whether “Ed” can attract an audience that will give Burnett and Beckerman a chance to flush out their characters for an entire season.

“It’s certainly a difficult timeslot but they didn’t have a great deal of hourlong timeslots available,” says Burnett, who is painfully aware of another NBC show that was critically praised but canceled in its first season, “Freaks and Geeks.” “They’ve been tremendously supportive and have lowered the bar for us.”

As long as auds check in every week, the bar can be completely discarded.

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