Devilishly handsome Steven Weber was delighted when his new sitcom was titled "Cursed" (Thursdays, 8:30-9 p.m., NBC). He fought like hell when producers, network executives and studio officials put their heads together and renamed it "The Steven Weber Show."
If it couldn`t be labeled "Friends 2" or "Friends Again," Weber didn`t want any part of it.
"As far as titles go, `The Steven Weber Show` was an unfortunate choice that had as much appeal as fungus," he says. "We went all around the barn, then came back to `Cursed.` I do understand why the network could be a little nervous about it, but I didn`t want to settle for something that sounded derivative."
Weber, who made his mark as the irresponsible pilot Brian Hackett on the long-running sitcom "Wings" (1990-97), was looking for something different than the run-of-the-mill comedy shows clogging the airwaves.
"There`s a glut of talk-based shows featuring fabulously good-looking people living together and I didn`t want to do another one," he explains. "Nor did I want anything involving too cute and cuddly kids. Ditto a chimp or a dog.
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"My idea of a good concept entailed a project being a little more free, abstract, physical and zany than the norm," the 39-year-old actor/writer continues. "Now I think we have a Rube Goldberg-esque show with more stress on physical comedy than dialogue-driven"
After much stress and strain involving a brief production shutdown and massive writer/producer changes, "Cursed" has been picked up for a full season as Weber portrays Jack Nagle - an average computer software geek unaware that a motor-mouth woman bent on revenge put a hex on him after a disastrous blind date.
The perplexed Nagle - whose life in Chicago is suddenly turned upside down and sideways by forces beyond his control - is surrounded by a cast of offbeat characters, including Melissa (Amy Pietz), his well-intentioned and often unsympathetic ex-girlfriend; Larry (Chris Elliott), a cheap, freeloading doctor friend; and Wendell (Wendell Pierce), a jovial co-worker exceedingly unlucky in love and life in general.
Before tackling "Cursed," Weber wrote, produced and starred in "Club Land," a cable TV movie set to air on the Showtime network in 2001.
"It`s finished now, after a long, humiliating process familiar to most writers," he sighs. "Everything is done by committee as you shop (the script) around and have to cave in to people`s contradictory notes and comments. It`s not recommended for the hot-tempered or faint-hearted."
"Club Land" revolves around a father-and-son talent agency team, loosely based on his own late father and grandfather in New York during the 1950s.
"I took a lot of liberties, with the crux of the story fictionalized, but it retains most biographical details and all the characters are based on real people," he explains. "I play Stuey Walters, based on my own father, Stuart Weber, and Alan Alda portrays my grandfather.
"They were Broadway Danny Rose-type guys who handled New York club singers and Borscht Belt comedians, including Jackie Gleason and Don Rickles during their early years," Weber continues. "There were a lot of seamy, shady deals going down among the Catskills resorts owners in those days and paychecks were always bouncing. My father and grandfather were always screaming over the phone about their performers not getting paid. It got ugly at times."
The Queens native learned a great deal about the crooked side of show business from his father and the romantic side from his mother, former torch singer and Copa Girl Fran Leslie.
"They didn`t push me and didn`t discourage me from show biz," he says. "I became an applause junkie in grade school and turned professional at the age of 5 because I was an obnoxious kid. My father was thrilled whenever my mother got me away from the house to do TV commercials. My first was for Gleam toothpaste, with Frances Sternhagen playing my mother."
By the time he entered New York`s famed High School of the Performing Arts in 1975, he had nearly 30 national and regional commercials under his belt. He enrolled at State University of New York, Purchase, four years later, then left two weeks before he was scheduled to pick up a bachelor`s degree in drama and theatre arts. Tired of a Shakespeare seminar, Weber elected instead to star in an American Playhouse television adaptation of Mark Twain`s "Pudd`n Head Wilson."
Soon scouring Manhattan for jobs, he wound up acting as an elevator operator for an exclusive gym, impersonating a good waiter in a fine restaurant and feigning interest in making sandwiches at a lunch counter. In 1985, the experience paid off with a short Broadway run in "The Real Thing" and nine-month gig on the daytime soap opera "As The World Turns" (where he met his first wife, actress Finn Carter).
Loads of episodic guest shots led to his feature film debut in "Hamburger Hill" (1987), followed by such big screen ventures as "At First Sight," "Break Up," "Leaving Las Vegas," "The Temp," "Single White Female" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It." In TV longforms, his credits include the miniseries "Stephen King`s The Shining," plus the telefilms "Love Letters," "Thanks to a Grateful Nation," "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" and "In the Company of Darkness."
Financially secure since "Wings" went on and off the air, Weber and his wife - producer/writer Juliette Hohnen - are finally set to populate their Los Angeles home with more than cats and dogs: They are expecting their first baby in January.
"I believe we`re having a boy, but it wouldn`t matter," he says, laughing. "We`re going to raise our child without any gender awareness at all. I want to give it a number, not a name, a letter or a color.
"It`s really cool and has settled me down," he continues, mock-seriously. "I enjoy quiet dinners at home and kicking back. I don`t jump out of airplanes anymore ... well, my wife and her mother made me stop. Instead, I`m buying kitchy toys like Mr. Machine and Mousetrap on E-bay. It`s really dumb. And, once in awhile, I exchange e-mail with my old `Wings` buddy Tim Daly. I hear he has a cranky little show called `The Fugitive.`"
(c) Copley News Service
Author: Eirik Knutzen
Heather Paige Kent
Serena Scott Thomas