Jere Burns, <EM>Help Me Help You</EM> Jere Burns, Help Me Help You

Sure, that gal named Betty has Thursday taken care of, but as the premiere of Donal Logue's The Knights of Prosperity gets postponed yet again, it remains up to Help Me Help You to show ABC the funny on Tuesday nights (at 8:30 pm/ET). Playing Michael, a workaholic with serious anger issues, is Jere Burns, familiar to many viewers from his previous stint in a support group as Dear John's Kirk. spoke with the veteran actor about "re-grouping" for this promising new comedy. I imagine you've heard plenty along these lines, but here you are playing another smarmy guy in group therapy. Was there any hesitation to retread "Kirk" territory?
Jere Burns: Well, they're completely different characters, you know. Kirk wasn't angry, and this guy is angry. Kirk was clueless, just clueless, and he wanted everyone to love him. Michael has serious anger problems. Plus, Michael's already bedding one of his fellow patients, whereas Kirk...
Burns: Yeah, I don't think we ever saw him get lucky. He kept making plays for Kate, the redhead, though....
Burns: Yes, which never happened. Was Ted Danson already on board when you first saw the script, or did he join up later?
Burns: By the time I was midway into my process with them, they got him interested. They looked at me, and then they found Ted. Did that at all validate your decision, demonstrating how ABC was putting extra effort into the show?
Burns: Yeah, if they're going to shell out the money for Ted, and if Ted gets on board, that is a real shot in the arm for any show, in terms of his talent and in terms of his draw. Ted's probably one of the most successful guys in television working right now. But I think we're seeing that Help Me Help You is not so much about the patients interacting with him [Danson's a group therapist], as with each other....
Burns: And in our lives, yeah. The format is going to be that you see us independent of each other in our lives more often than I think on Dear John, where we were always coupled up to go on an adventure. That will happen on this show, but you will also get to see us in our lives. Typically, an episode will follow Ted, and two of us. Now, this "thing" between Michael and Darlene... is it just for kicks? There doesn't seem to be anything really substantial to their relationship.
Burns: The fun of their relationship is she is completely dependent on Michael for affirmation, and she to him is nothing more than a convenience. Over the years, what has been your most unusual guest-starring experience?
Burns: If you go back to the '80s when Stephen J. Cannell was around, that era was full of really schlocky hour serials and lots of crazy characters. Like, I remember I played an American Nazi in an episode of Riptide. In your opinion, how has TV comedy changed in the 20some years you've been on the clock?
Burns: You see a lot more single-camera [shows]. In the last couple of years, four-camera, traditional sitcoms have kind of gone away, with the advent of reality television. Reality is so in our face right now that that [traditional] format starts to look really stagy and artificial, unless it's brilliantly constructed and executed. Single camera brings you into the reality of a situation more than four camera, where you have to buy the conceit that, "Yeah, it looks like a living room, but it's obviously a set," there are no close-ups, the lighting stays the same, it's formulaic in terms of the rhythms and the beats  beat, beat, joke, three jokes a page, laugh track.... [The new trend] started with, what, Scrubs, which had no laugh track, and was single camera, and now [My Name Is] Earl and The Office, us.... And I think we beat [both Earl and Office] last week in terms of our numbers. Do you get wrapped up at all in the ratings?
Burns: Oh, of course you do. You try not to and just do your job, but you live or die by those numbers. We have always felt really supported by ABC, and that's really important. When you're on a show they're not behind it's palpable, and I feel like ABC and [Entertainment president] Steve McPherson want the show to succeed. But if a show, after it premieres, if the numbers continue to decline for five or six episodes, there's not much they can do. The networks these days are not willing to lose that money, for that long. So yeah, we're really optimistic. Would we like the numbers to come up? Sure.... If it stays the same, will we stay on the air? Probably.... But I don't know. What on TV these days is making you laugh?
Burns: Know what? I don't watch TV, and I have to start making myself watch this stuff. I think TV is almost better than TV has a right to be these days. It's just gotten so good, and it's attracting a caliber of writer and director and actor these days that it hasn't in the past. The shows I've been inspired by in the last few years were Arrested Development, no longer with us, [Da] Ali G [Show], and I was obsessed with the British version of The Office. I never thought it was possible for this [American] version to succeed, and they've done an amazing job. An amazing job.

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