NBC, 8-9 p.m.
Debuts October 17
When the credits rolled on the first season ender of Ed, the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Ed (Tom Cavanagh) and Carol (Julie Bowen) was soaring to an almost ridiculous high. A person would be crazy not to take a $10 bet that something’s gotta happen soon, right?
”In the second episode, Carol jumps Ed, and the baby comes in the fourth show,” jokes exec producer Rob Burnett, who has facetiously declared that the characters — who locked lips in the pilot — won’t get it on until his children (ages 6 and 4) have graduated from college.
”Looking at last season, some of the strongest episodes did not revolve around Ed and Carol,” says executive producer Jon Beckerman, who along with Burnett wrote all of last year’s scripts. ”It doesn’t have to involve sexual tension or romance.” Or the central couple at all, for that matter. Northern Exposure comparisons be damned, the producers are determined to increase the spotlight on Stuckeyville’s resident pool of oddballs — including the enterprising (and horny) Stuckeybowl manager Phil (Spy TV host Michael Ian Black), and sharp-tongued science teacher Molly (Lesley Boone), who will finally get her shot at a real relationship. ”Of course we need to use them more!” rallies Cavanagh. ”We’ve been exceptionally lucky to have that reservoir of talent. Do you know how rare that is not to have a weak link?” Adds Beckerman: ”We don’t sit around and say, ‘Let’s be quirky!’ Quirky can be annoying. Maybe our sense of humor is just a little different than what you’re used to seeing.”
One gal you are used to seeing — Rena Sofer — will resume her spot (at least for the season premiere) as the hottie hypotenuse of Ed’s Stuckeyville love triangle, while Carol generates different kinds of sparks with a new guy: salt-and-pepper-haired theater veteran John Slattery (he played the politician with the pee fetish on Sex and the City), who guests as the principal of Stuckeyville High. ”Acting with Tom [Cavanagh] is comfortable, like a warm cashmere blanket,” says Bowen. ”But acting with John [Slattery] is like getting into a sexy bed of nails.” Or as Burnett puts it: The principal ”is gonna butt heads with Carol…and doesn’t exactly fit in to Stuckeyville.”
Although Ed did manage to slip comfortably into NBC’s Wednesday-night lineup, it never quite bowled a Nielsen strike. That’s where the other will-they-or-won’t-they issue emerges: Can the dramedy keep up with its lead-out smash The West Wing? ”Oh, come on,” says Bowen. ”That show is a phenomenon, and we’re not expected to get numbers like that. I’m more than happy to ride their coattails, and I’m much more comfortable being on a word-of-mouth show anyway.”
But with a beefed-up staff of writers and a clear game plan, the Ed folks haven’t completely vetoed the concept of attracting a West Wing-size constituency. ”You have to find new obstacles constantly [to keep Ed and Carol apart],” vows Burnett. Adds Beckerman, ”Eventually, we’ll just have them standing on opposite sides of a pit of alligators.”