Things you may not know about ABC’s “Better Off Ted”:
1) The season’s best new comedy has been airing new episodes this summer. Occasionally. Without promotion. Often changing at the last minute. Occasionally confusing your DVR, or at least my DVR.
2) Tuesday (Aug. 11) marks the first season finale, which could truthfully be called the second first season finale, since ABC aired what it was previously calling the “Better Off Ted” finale back in the spring, though at the time it appeared that it could very plausibly be a series finale as well.
3) ABC is airing two episodes on Tuesday night and the second, the actual finale, features guest star Rachelle Lefevre. Wait. Rachelle Lefevre? The “Twilight” star? The recently recast “Twilight” star? The beloved “Twilight” star whose recasting launched a thousand online petitions? Don’t you think this is something ABC could have used as a publicity hook? Apparently not. ABC’s press site has several pictures from the finale, none featuring Lefevre.
Asked about the oddball summer run of “Better Off Ted” during Saturday’s Television Critics Association press tour session, ABC President Stephen McPherson hemmed and hawed a little bit.
“You know, summer was tough in general. We felt like where we wanted to go creatively with the show, we really wanted to get that start,” McPherson said. “And we”ve tabled a couple episodes and feel like we”re in really good shape there. So I don”t know. Hindsight is 20/20. We would have definitely liked a better performance, but I do think we”re going to put on really good shows in the fall or, you know, after the ‘Dancing’ run. And I think that”s going to speak – that”s going to be what is going to determine whether the show works or not.”
Because McPherson was so non-commital, Sepinwall and I caught up with “Better Off Ted” creator Victor Fresco at the ABC party.
Some choice quotes after the break…
The first thing we asked Fresco was whether, to the best of his knowledge, ABC had any intention of promoting Lefevre’s “Better Off Ted” appearance.
“No,” Fresco said simply.
When we noted that the network didn’t necessarily need to call it a “Life on a Stick” reunion (for those who remember Fresco and Lefevre’s short-lived 2005 FOX sitcom), but could instead use the magic words “‘Twilight’ star drops by ‘Better Off Ted,'” Fresco still seemed skeptical.
“Let’s see if that happens,” Fresco laughed. “She did a nice job. She’s a love interest for Jay in that episode. She’s a lot of fun and she’s one of those actresses who can do drama and comedy and is beautiful and all of those things.”
Fresco also seemed a bit confused when we mentioned McPherson’s intimations that the summer run was necessary because “Better Off Ted” might be moving in a slightly different direction in its second season.
“I liked being on in the summer,” Fresco insisted. “I think that they felt like, ‘Let’s get more eyeballs and put it out there and see who watches and if we can get some other people who haven’t seen it yet, great.’ So when we come back in November, hopefully there’s another group out there. The show at its core knows what it is and it’s going to continue to be that. As with any second season show, it expands a little bit. We’ve got some semi-regulars who we like who are going to come back a little bit.”
Those semi-regulars include Maz Jobrani (another “Life on a Stick” veteran) as Dr. Bhamba, plus familiar faces Patricia Belcher and Terry Rhoads.
Given the show’s first season ratings, “Better Off Ted” was ABC’s version of “Chuck” or “Dollhouse,” a surprise renewal based more on a passionate fanbase than any sort of mainstream embrace. Fresco says he never lost faith.
“I stupidly am always optimistic and I felt like the show was well-received by the core group who watched it,” he said. “We got good notices, the blogosphere likes us, so I felt like, considering were were only on seven episodes and two of those were preempted and people like it internally, I felt like they would be crazy not to bring it back. So I felt like our chances were pretty good. But on the other side of it, once we were brought back, the press was like ‘Wow, they’re bringing this back?’ It’s like, ‘Well, yeah! People liked it.’ So I felt optimistic. I wish that ABC had a night of comedy. I’m glad that they’re growing a night of comedy, so you can put something in there and just let it grow.”
While the universe of “Better Off Ted” may expand very slightly in Season Two, the show will continue to mostly focus on the struggles of the core group of characters navigating within the faceless bureaucracy of Veridian Dynamics.
“I think it’s based in reality, but it’s about 15 percent expanded from that,” Fresco said. “It’s about a 15 percent hyper-reality show. When I pitched the show to ABC, I said, ‘If I were to pick up the paper and see that Raytheon was cryogenically freezing someone, I wouldn’t freak out. I would think, ‘Eh. I didn’t know we were here yet, but I guess so.” And I feel like our show is like that. Nothing we do is… I mean, they’re not reading each other’s minds. They’re doing stuff that, frankly, the US military’s probably working on.”
One thing viewers probably shouldn’t expect to see move forward with any urgency is the relationship between Jay Harrington’s Ted and Andrea Anders’ Linda.
“We sort of put the ‘Are they/Aren’t they’ thing to rest for a little while,” Fresco promised. “I think what it is is they like each other, they flirt with each other, but they’re not going to happen right now. They’re both going to have their independent lives. I think Ted feels that Linda is probably a little too flakey, the fact that Ted is a single parent and a little straighter than she is, he just feels that she’s a little too flaky and I don’t think that’s going to happen for now.”
A few other tidbits from the conversation Sepinwall and I had with Fresco…
On star Jay Harrington’s potential going forward: “We haven’t found the limits yet. He can do drama, obviously, and he’s very good at comedy. He’s very charming. He’s like a comedic James Bond. It’s interesting. He does play a straight-man really well and we are in a crazy environment, so it’s nice to have somebody grounded in that environment. He’s also incredibly charming and can do comedy, so we’re going to get him out dating a little bit more and getting him to do stupid things, which we haven’t done a lot of last season, but he’s really capable of it.”
On leading ladies Andrea Anders and Portia de Rossi: “Andrea and Portia, I feel really lucky to have these talented women at the center of the show, very different characters, very different skills, but both attractive and comedy monsters. I watched ‘The Class,’ because I’m friends with David Crane and I watched it because I like David and then I really got hooked on it and Andrea, I thought, was just really good on it, so I was always a fan of hers. Actually, I knew Andrea’s work more than Portia’s work. I wasn’t that familiar with Portia. I didn’t watch the David Kelley show that she did, ‘Ally McBeal,’ as I said to her, outside my demographic. Portia to me was more of a surprise. I obviously knew she was gifted, but I didn’t know her work that well.” [NOTE: Fresco said he was only an occasional “Arrested Development” viewer and that the episodes he saw just weren’t Portia-heavy.]
On the number of Season One episodes that ABC may or may not have aired out of sequence: “That’s a problem with trying to do story arcs. We don’t really know the schedule for us. So we try to do every episode free-standing and they’ve basically aired them in the right order. There have only been a couple that have aired out of order, but it’s pretty sequential. Your hardcore fanbase, which is the most important to any show, is that base, and you’re most appreciative of them, they’re the ones that get pissed off, and rightfully so, if it’s not aired in the right order. And the writers, we all feel the same way. We want shows to air in the order in which they were shot. And it can be big things, but it’s often just little things, just little lines that reference something where if it’s out of order, it just throws you.”
“Better Off Ted” ends its season with two new episodes on Tuesday (Aug. 11) night. We think Rachelle Lefevre’s in the second episode, but we wouldn’t put money on it.