By Ari Karpel
Updated March 09, 2008 at 05:00 AM EDT
Trae Patton

8:30-9 PM · NBC · Debuts Oct. 0

The Kath part was easy. NBC locked up Molly Shannon early to play the manic mother who reluctantly welcomes her grown but hardly grown-up daughter back into her home, in the network’s adaptation of the over-the-top Australian sitcom Kath & Kim. But finding the right Kim proved to be much trickier. ”That character is hard. She’s kind of unlikable,” says exec producer Michelle Nader (The King of Queens) of the ”undereducated, overly entitled, delusional brat.” Nader and NBC spent more than a year searching for the right actress when the name of Hellboy‘s Selma Blair finally popped up. ”I said, ‘Selma Blair, I don’t think so,”’ recalls Nader, who nonetheless got on the phone with the actress. It turns out Blair had the perfect assessment of Kim: ”She’s Britney Spears!” And just like that, Nader had her girl.

”Kim worships celebrities and really thinks she is one in a way,” explains Blair. ”She goes to the mall and buys everything she sees in the tabloids and puts it together all wrong.” SNL vet Shannon — who sports a strawberry blond wig as Kath — went through her own transformation. ”Certain things make you click into a character, like these nails,” she says, showing off her (fake) French manicure. ”As soon as I put them on, I feel much more feminine…. She’s the kind of woman who would put on white pants and perfume and say, ‘We’re going out for a baked potato and roast beef!”’

Even once the cast was in place, perfecting the tone was difficult. Several scenes from the pilot were reshot after original director Paul Feig (The Office) left the project. ”It looked more like real life before,” says Nader. ”Now it’s more heightened. It was too straightforward before.” Key elements of the Australian original also underwent a makeover: While Kim’s second-best friend from the Aussie version is gone, Kim’s husband (Mikey Day), from whom she’s separated, is now a more central character. And the new Kath has a new career — she’s a hairdresser (of course). Adding to the intentional awkwardness is the real-life closeness in age of the mother-daughter pair: Shannon is just 43, while Blair is 36. ”That’s part of the humor,” explains Blair. ”They’re interchangeable. You can’t tell if I’m 14 or 30 — it’s meant to be off-putting. So many times you walk around Disney World and you’re like, ‘Why is that 50-year-old woman dressed like she’s 13? Why is she in a halter top and short-shorts and heels?”’ In a way, that sums up the entire Kath & Kim experience. As Blair puts it, ”It’s an American tragedy.”