Every year the Paleyfest celebrates the best and brightest talent in the TV industry with a week-long series of panels and events in Beverly Hills. This year’s Paleyfest runs from March 4 to the 17, with panels featuring cast members, directors, and writers from shows as diverse as True Blood, American Idol, Parks and Recreation and Glee – and the hit TV Land series Hot in Cleveland. The sitcom is based on the unlikely but intriguing premise that three L.A. entertainment industry women get stranded in Cleveland on their way to Paris and decide to stay there.
Hot in Cleveland was created by Suzanne Martin, a former writer for Ellen and Fraiser. The sassy sitcom stars veteran actresses Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick, and TV icon /“It” Senior of the Moment, Betty White. Valerie Bertinelli plays Melanie Moretti, a recently-divorced author and the sensible, good-natured one, Wendie Malick is Victoria Chase, a self-absorbed, former soap opera star, Jane Leeves is Joy Scroggs, a neurotic stylist to the stars in search of a green card. They rent a house overseen by snarky octogenarian Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White). Her first line (to the real estate agent and her future housemates) is, “Why are you renting to prostitutes?”
The March 8th Hot in Cleveland Paleyfest panel played to an enthusiastic audience at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. It featured the show’s stars along with show creator Suzanne Martin. The crowd was mostly older couples, with the rest of the crowd divided between men and women of all ages. It wasn’t merely a crowd of older women, indicating the show appeals to more than “cougar”-aged women. Show creator Martin mentioned that she watched The Golden Girls when she was in her 20s, proving that younger audiences will watch older actresses. After all, the Golden Girls didn’t get to be such a beloved TV show by attracting only viewers in retirement homes.
Hot in Cleveland debuted on June 16, 2010. “Sometimes you do a pilot in February and you wait until May if you’ve been picked up. This show was picked up in three weeks. I’ve never heard of anything like that,” White noted during the panel discussion. Now in its second season, the show has been picked up for a third season.
The show’s episodes pack a lot of good laughs via not-so-subtle one-liners and a slew of guest stars. In “The Sex That Got Away” with Victoria pursuing an ex-rock star flame (Huey Lewis) while Melanie meets her female rock idol in a most unexpected way. Guest stars abound—Jon Lovitz as an opera-singing homeless man, Mary Tyler Moore as a boozer sharing a jail cell with Elka, Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice guy, as one of Melanie’s dates, and Susan Lucci and Melanie Griffith as themselves.
The camaraderie among the Cleveland co-stars, so evident on the show, is equally at play on the panel. Valerie and Jane are wearing short black dresses, and when the moderator mentions the moderator mentions the cast members’ leggy appearance. Betty gets in on the act by rolling up her pants legs an inch and showing a bit of ankle. When her co-stars chimed in about how anxious they were to get their scripts, Betty deadpanned, “They give you guys scripts?”
The cast discussed the warm reception to the show. Its debut episode attracted 4.75 million viewers while the season 2 premiere attracted 2.95 million viewers, proving that people will watch comedy fronted by women in their 40s and beyond. “There are so many of us out there over 40, 50, 60, 89,” (Betty White’s age),” says Malick, “and there’s no expiration date on being fabulous.”
Other tidbits: We learn that Leeves was a dancer and appeared in the Monty Python movie The Meaning of Life and as a “Hill’s Angel” on The Benny Hill Show before her sitcom fame in Fraiser, and that White received a letter from Robert Redford with a poem he penned for her.
All the cast members extolled the virtues of taping the show in front of a live audience.
“I cannot say enough (about it), White said. “It’s cliché. You’ve heard it a million times, but what that audience brings into that theater and what it does for us as far as giving us timing and energy and approval—those things that we’re after. We’re hams, and we need that approval.” Leeves adds, “It’s also the closest thing to live theater as an actress, to get that immediate response.”
Hot in Cleveland airs on TV Land Wednesdays at 10pm/9 Central,