October 1, 2008

‘Kath & Kim’ Gets an American Makeover

By Mindy Farabee

HOLLYWOOD -- It's not the easiest assignment, to project earnest indignation in a bright fuchsia teddy, but Molly Shannon, the Kath to Selma Blair's Kim in NBC's new comedy "Kath & Kim," is working it. Gesturing emphatically with impeccably rendered French tips, she sends giant gold hoops swaying righteously from her earlobes, squinting with sincerity as she loses patience with her twentysomething TV daughter.

"Kim has been running amok for three episodes," says Michelle Nader, executive producer of the comedy. "I wanted to give her a real moment, to explain why she is the way she is.... We won't do it again."

With "Kath & Kim," the network takes a stab at one of Australia's most successful television programs, hoping for the same kind of success enjoyed by such foreign-born American hits as "Ugly Betty," from Colombia, and "The Office," from Britain. (Reveille serves as the U.S. production company for all three shows.)

Bringing "Kath & Kim" stateside first meant transposing the characters to Florida -- apparently, the center of all nuttiness in America. Then the producers went to work on paraphrasing the show's sensibility.

"It's cuckoo, crazy funny, but it's not like the Australian version," Nader says. "They didn't go for anything emotional."

As is typical of many Australian shows, the original series ran for eight episodes in each of its four seasons. Concerned that her forebears opted for a sketch-comedy approach that might wear thin over the course of 22 installments, Nader deepened the mother- daughter drama and chose to steer clear of the snark.

"I don't like that stance that 'we're smarter than them,'" says Nader, who also worked on "The King of Queens" and "Dharma & Greg.""The comedy I like most has pathos."

Hence, the big moment: Kim, poor lass, has searched the whole mall over, but somehow still lacks a direction in life. Nope, not even selling lingerie to housewives will fill the void. In Kim's own trenchant analysis, "It's too much work."

It's hot on set this August day, sweltering enough to melt the Pam Anderson-style barbed-wire tattoo right off Blair's left biceps. With a personal creed cut-and-pasted directly from celebrity rags, her Kim possesses almost Paris Hilton-like powers of self- absorption. But this caricature, she hopes, is not entirely devoid of a soul.

"It's a sophisticated show about common people," Blair says. "She's like a lot of girls you see at the mall. I have a soft spot for her."

Reveille and NBC have had "Kath & Kim" in development for a couple years, requiring some eight months to cast it. Nader was hired to overhaul another writer's work.

"This came around a few years before, and initially I passed on it," Shannon says. But Nader wrote her version with the "Saturday Night Live" alum in mind, and the actress says she "loves" the result. The show certainly appears to play to her strengths.

Nader has skewed the comedy toward exaggerated set pieces, such as a hip-hop dance Kath and her boyfriend perform in a gay club, a big hair show for salon owner Kath to showcase her skills and the full-on Sharon Stone-style romp she whipped out for this episode.

"Kath & Kim" is, after all, very much a female-driven comedy, albeit solidly supported. The women are joined by comedy veteran John Michael Higgins and newcomer Mikey Day, who portray Kath's suave-in-a-polyester-sort-of-way boyfriend Phil, and Kim's theatrically obtuse, on-again, off-again husband, respectively.

"I don't want to write a show I wouldn't want to watch," Nader says. "That's just lame."

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