Tomlin's Edith Ann comes back to life in animation special

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Spring Preview

January 18, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Move over, Bart Simpson. An animated Edith Ann is coming to prime-time TV tonight in an ABC special. And, if the spiky 6-year-old clicks with viewers, she'll have her own series --

maybe airing head-to-head against "The Simpsons."

"Oh, we definitely want to do a series," says Lily Tomlin, the actress who first played Edith Ann some 20 years ago on "Laugh-In" and now has taken her to animation with writing partner Jane Wagner.

"I mean, what's the point of just doing specials? We want her to live.

"There's no girl character, anyway, on TV, and we want to put this little girl out there for people to see."

Tonight's special, "Edith Ann: A Few Pieces of the Puzzle," which airs at 8:30 on WJZ (Channel 13), takes place on her birthday.

Edith Ann wakes up convinced that no one has remembered her special day, and starts to feel unloved.

Her dad is preoccupied with trying to find a job. Her mom is preoccupied with trying to adjust to her new job as a security guard. As for Vic, Edith Ann's baby brother, whom she can't stand, "Well, let's just forget it," in the words of Edith Ann.

Things go downhill from there. When Edith Ann gets to school, she finds out her classmates have given her a lovely new nickname, "No-Neck."

But, as Tomlin says, "This is a great kid, because she's so spirited. . . . She has that kind of assertiveness, that self."

And, as a result, Edith Ann bounces back before the day is over.

In an interview with television critics to promote the special in Los Angeles, Tomlin said making the leap from that oversized rocking chair and playing Edith Ann as an actress on "Laugh-In" to creating the child in animation was not difficult. In fact, she says she had no other choice if she wanted Edith Ann to live on.

"You know, when I look at myself in that chair, even though sometimes it was quite good and fun to watch, it was limited. It was first of all limited by my own physicality," Tomlin says.

"With animation . . . you don't have this big woman trying to be 5 or 6 years old, and you don't have to create an environment that makes it look as though I am.

"When we went to animation, we had the chance to really make her live. . . . I mean, I did what I could in the chair, but I couldn't interact with other people, except other people who would pretend to be children."

Tomlin credits "The Simpsons" with opening up prime time to the likes of an animated Edith Ann.

"The writing in 'The Simpsons' is wonderful. And because they respected their audience and made such an entertaining and sophisticated show . . . it opened things up.

"It became a hit show, so, as in all things, people say, 'Well, gee, there's an area that we could, you know, violate,' " she says, going for the laugh.

But it's not the animation that makes a show a hit, Tomlin says.

"I don't think audiences embrace animation whole cloth. They're very discriminating. They like 'The Simpsons,' but they don't like 'Fish Police' . . . 'Capital Critters' . . . or 'Family Dog.' "

Will they love Edith Ann?

Absolutely, Tomlin says.

Why?

Because she's wonderful, Tomlin says.

Is she telling the truth or exaggerating just to get more viewers.

"I don't make things up; that is lies," Edith Ann says.

"But the truth can be made up if you know how. And that's the truth!"

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