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Significant Others Joins the Party (of Five)

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Three years ago, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch — the grand pooh-bah of the Fox network — leaned back in his throne and scratched his head, trying to figure out how to rescue his net’s struggling new depressed-family-of-orphans drama, Party of Five. He dialed then-entertainment president John Matoian and pointed out that fires seemed to sell newspapers, so, hey, why not torch PO5‘s Salinger house? Matoian met with the show’s creators, Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman, who listened to the suggestion and then did what any sensible rookie producers eager to stay on the air would do.

They said no — and sent Matoian a fire extinguisher for good measure.

”Chris and Amy were always so unflinching about sticking with the vision,” chuckles Matoian. ”It was frustrating at times, but you’d think, Wow, these guys have an idea and are willing to go down with the ship if necessary. And then you’d want to say, ‘Well, maybe this ship is worth saving.”’

Thanks to the pair’s unwavering convictions — not to mention the show’s refreshingly honest dialogue and engaging cast — PO5 eventually did catch on (imagine, a gushy family drama with coveted demographics and cool cred among Gen-Xers!). Now Keyser and Lippman are heating up a new Fox drama, Significant Others, debuting March 11 in the Party time slot (PO5 returns in late April). So how do the producers plan to entice eyeballs to the screen this time? Obnoxiously high-stakes plots? Triple-crossed murders? Incestuous amnesiac doctors? ”We’ll deal with what friendship and love mean to people in their 20s,” says Lippman with typical thoughtfulness. ”How it’s kind of nebulous and the dynamics change all the time.” (This must be the point in the pitch meeting when the twitching Fox exec asks hopefully, ”So…when do we get to the menage a trois?”)

Tag the show as you wish — we suggest The So-Called Relativity of My Twentysomething Life Goes On — but Others seems to resemble its older sister only in broad strokes: intricately woven story lines, realistically damaged characters, generous helpings of angst, a damn fine-looking cast. ”The tone of this show is a little lighter and zanier, which opens us up to people who don’t want a drama that drives them to drink,” notes Keyser. ”It’s about that inevitable passage you go through from not being responsible to having to be responsible.”

If you’re looking for a hearty rite-of-passage story, check out the resumes of Keyser, 37, and Lippman, 34. The writer-producers first met at Harvard in 1985, and a few years later, after moving to L.A. with their future spouses, they became business partners — to mixed results (good: wrote episodes for L.A. Law and Equal Justice; bad: passed up jobs on Law & Order to work on a Jaclyn Smith TV movie). After three seasons on NBC’s menopausal drama Sisters, it was Big Break time: Fox asked them to create a kids-on-their-own series. Of course, the network was thinking along the lines of 90210. Instead it got Nietzsche for Neophytes.

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