A `Fat' role on cable show for TV executive Jeff Zucker

Television

December 26, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - Is that Jeff Zucker playing with his Game Boy while chatting on the phone with one of Hollywood's top agents and then forgetting his name?

Is that him cursing in the hallways of NBC, in utter disbelief as Kirstie Alley walks by? Is that Zucker, the president of NBC Universal Television Group, yelling at her agent on the phone, "You are such a liar! She is so fat."

Yes, yes and yes.

When Showtime launches Fat Actress in March, a "fictional reality" comedy starring Alley, viewers will see Zucker playing himself in the improvisational show's pilot episode.

If it seems odd that a TV executive would take an acting gig, others have come before him.

Leslie Moonves, who oversees CBS for Viacom, has made a side career out of playing himself on television (The Practice and Chicago Hope). Former NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield gave it a shot a time or two in the 1990s.

"That he [Zucker] agreed to do it was not that surprising," said Fat Actress executive producer Brenda Hampton. "That we got such a great performance out of him was thrilling."

Fat Actress, which stars Alley as herself and other celebrities who sometimes play themselves, is an improvised comedy like HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the pilot, John Travolta plays himself, but his wife, Kelly Preston, plays a wacky healer.

Alley demands that her agent, Sam Rascal (a fictional version of William Morris' head of television, Sam Haskell), land her a meeting with a network executive to pitch her own show. Since Alley spent several years on the peacock network working on Cheers and Veronica's Closet, Zucker was a natural fit, said Haskell, who approached the executive about his small-screen debut.

"We've all been in those awkward network meetings, and people try to keep the conversation going and be nice to each other," said Bob Greenblatt, president of programming at Showtime. "He did it very realistically. He did a lot of asides, looks to other people, the rolling of the eyes."

Zucker declined an interview but issued a statement saying he found it most challenging to keep a straight face "when I was continually calling Kirstie a fat slob."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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