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I am – Hercules!!

Larry Gelbart is the real deal, a man still in possession of one of the 10 keenest comedy minds on the planet. Put him right up there with guys like Albert Brooks, Woody Allen, John Cleese, Norm Macdonald, Steve Martin and Bill Murray. Not everything with which he’s been associated, frankly, is worthy of his name - but such is the nature of collaboration, right? If you’ve ever seen Gelbart speak extemporaneously at a seminar or on “Politically Incorrect,” you get the distinct impression that any shortfalls in his work are almost certainly somebody else’s fault.

Now Gelbart’s behind a hourlong soap pilot that sounds like a cross between “Citizen Kane” and “Pasadena.” The bad news is, it’s on ABC, a network Americans – “Alias” notwithstanding – stopping watching about the time it passed on “Mulholland Drive.”

Here’s Her Royal Punditry:

“Untitled Larry Gelbart Project”/Touchstone TV/ABC

The pilot for the potential new Larry Gelbart one-hour drama series from Touchstone and ABC is entitled “Rosebud, My Ass”, and everything you need to know is summed up in that title. It’s a gleefully wicked prime time soap opera about a Murdoch-esque multi-media dynasty. Okay, so its not that wicked yet, but you get the sense it really could be, if they’d just take the gloves off. Tensions, ambitions, and rivalries lurk barely beneath the surface, just waiting to bubble up. But for now, this is more “Gosford Park” than “Dallas”. Purely civilized, what. Smiles around clenched teeth, don’t you know. Until the head of this family empire kicks the bucket, everyone remains on their best behavior. Once Daddy’s out of the picture, and the kids start scrapping over the spoils of the kill, the fun will really start.

In the fantastic opening scene in the pilot, patriarch BRANDON CORSAIR (John Larroquette) suffers a massive heart attack. As the life ebbs out of him, the remote control slips from his fingers in slow motion, crashing to the floor, spilling out the batteries onto the rug. But before you can say “Jerry Springer”, Brandon’s crack security team has bundled him into his ensuite operating room, and flown in the top heart surgeon in the country to keep him alive. (Ahhh, to be a bazillionaire!)

As Brandon fights for life, his long-time associate JARVIS WAINWRIGHT (Martin Landau) calls the Corsair family together. There’s ERIC, first-born, who runs the movie studio; SHELBY, who runs the publishing interests; and PETER, the music guru and family flake. Standing to the side, separate, yet part, of the family is RUSSELL WAINWRIGHT (Robert Sean Leonard) . More on Russell later.

For every Good empire, there must be an Evil empire, right? Right. This is America, so there must be competition! Corsair Communications greatest rival is Quarles Communications, headed by the nefarious troll CAMERON QUARLES. Where Brandon is dignified, Cameron is disgusting. Where Brandon is honorable, Cameron is duplicitous. Where Corsair is a democracy, Quarles is a dictatorship. Cameron Quarles. He’ll do everything and anything to break apart the Corsair Communications group, and this little problem with Pappy Corsair may be just the ticket.

You see, Corsair is at a pivotal point. For one, they’re thisclose to finishing a huge deal in Africa. For another, Eric is tens of millions of dollars over budget on a Mars epic. For last, there is no real heir apparent to the Corsair throne. Daddy never made clear who would take over the reins, so if Daddy goes the bloodbath for control will begin. At this critical juncture, dissention could weaken the company, and wouldn’t Quarles love that. Oh yeah. Bring it on, baby.

I too, am rubbing my hands with glee, waiting for some true dirty work, but it never comes. Brandon pulls through. I’m happy, I guess, but all the kids’ knives go right back into the sheaves. Bummer, because they never really come all the way out. The whole crisis is handled with much civility. Pooh on civility, let’s have a catfight in the fountain!

Although there’s a couple of crafty chess moves between Brandon and Cameron, the majority of the pilot is spent setting up everyone’s relationships (it’s a soap, assume everyone has an agenda). There are also a couple of wives in the mix. Brandon married one for love, the second for children, the first again for love. The second might be trouble. Turns out she’s a friend of Quarles and a bit of a daft dope with a weakness for shoes. (Ahhh, shoes….)

So back to Russell. As the son of Jarvis Wainwright, Russell grew up with the Corsair kids. He lives with them; works with them, even secretly loves one of them. He’s smart, diplomatic, charming, and incredibly talented. The biggest reason Brandon has never named his successor is because he cannot publicly claim the one child who should lead the company. Yep, you guessed it, Russell. Russell Wainwright is the product of an affair Brandon had with….yes….his own stepmother! Yowza. The short story is that sometime after Grandpappy Corsair died, Brandon knocked up his stepmother. Jarvis, the ever-faithful CEO of Corsair Communications, married said stepmother and raised the child as his own. (Now that’s a company man!).

This a project that could turn to cheese in another man’s hands. But in the strong paws of Mr. Larry Gelbart, the script toes the line between sophistication and tantalization. Although the relationships are necessarily dramatically heightened I believe them. I believe that Shelby, Peter, and Eric Corsair all have the same ambitions, weaknesses, and family loyalty issues that Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James Murdoch do. The Corsair’s world feels real, yet it feels like a smart soap opera with class, which is what it is.

Michael Dinner directs the all-star cast of Philip Baker Hall (Cameron Quarles), John Laroquette (Brandon Corsair), Gretchen Egolf (Shelby), Balthazar Getty, Patrick Dempsey, Martin Landau (Jarvis Wainwright), Robert Sean Leonard (Russell Wainwright)

Pilot should be shooting now in Los Angeles.

Princess X

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