Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” needed a little publicity jolt to jumpstart season four, which returns Sunday night, June 3 at 9 p.m.
Two words: Kim Kardashian.
Creator Josh Berman said he heard through the grapevine that Khloe Kardashian was a fan of the show. So the show called Kim’s representative directly and it turned out she knew about the show, too. “I pitched the concept of her character,” Berman said. “She was intrigued. She liked the spirit of the show. So she flew in for three episodes.”
The divisive E! reality show impresario makes an appearance as a fictional coffee shop employee who fashions herself a relationships guru. (The writers have a sense of humor there, ahem.)
“You know you have quite the reputation,” said Stacy, played by April Bowlby.
“I hate when people talk about me,” replied Nicki, Kim’s character.
And later, Kardashian’s character utters a reference to 72 days, the length of her ill-fated marriage to Kris Humphries.
The pair eventually team up to create a new venture after Stacy accidentally blends a pie recipe with a cake recipe. So they create a “pake” business.
The “pake” was Berman’s idea. “Cupcakes feel a little passe,” he said. “I read an article about pies being the new cupcake. I didn’t quite buy it. So I came up with the pie/cake or pake. Kim says she wants to open a pakery in Beverly Hills!”
Berman said Kardashian was self deprecating and happy to make fun of herself. “She didn’t ask for any script changes. She did whatever we asked.”
Naturally, the actors said nothing but nice things about Kardashian.
“I had a great experience with Kim,” said Bowlby. “You already have in your mind what she might be. It was anything but! She was really serious. She had her acting coach. She wanted to do a good job. She showed up on time. She knew her lines. She’s beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at her face. I would watch the makeup artists. Why does she look so glowy?”
Berman acknowledged ratings for “Drop Dead Diva” had dropped a bit season three, citing increased competition and a late summer debut date that extended the show into September. He said Lifetime is starting the season earlier this year when “people are determining their summer viewing habits right after sweeps are over. We’re smack dab back in our old time slot on Sunday” at 9 p.m.
The drama was still the No. 2 scripted show on Lifetime last year behind “Army Wives,” averaging about 2.3 million viewers per original episode airing. This season again, Lifetime has given them 13 episodes. The season is just about to wrap up taping in Peachtree City.
He feels the characters this season have their “most clear-cut journeys yet.”
For those still unfamiliar with “Drop Dead Diva,” the concept evokes a bit of “Heaven Can Wait.” A shallow model named Deb dies and is accidentally inserted into the body of an attorney Jane. She is still Deb on the inside but captures Jane’s lawyerly smarts. So actress Brooke Elliott has created an unusually endearing character who is overweight but springy and cheerful. Each episode contains legal cases but also on-going storylines amongst the major characters.
“The viewers have responded to Brooke Elliott,” Berman said. “They love her so much. They want to follow her journey after three years of establishing who she is. We can give her a forward trajectory. I love some of the choices her character makes. She couldn’t have made these choices when she first discovered her body. She’s now confident and empowered, a firecracker. She goes off at any moment and you love her for it.”
Indeed, she’s no longer obsessed with Grayson (completely) and is dating schlubbier-looking judge Owen. There’s a scene at the end of episode two that plays off this seeming love triangle.
And for the unitiated, Jane also has a guardian angel. For the first three seaons, the caretaker was Ben Feldman’s Fred. He played a naive newbie to earthly ways who falls in love with Stacy. HIs job: make sure nobody but Stacy knew that Deb was Jane. And bad things happen if someone else (say, Deb’s former boyfriend Grayson) finds out, there are consequences.
And while Fred does leave town early in season four, replaced by a new guardian angel, Berman promises, “You haven’t seen the last of him yet.”
In fact, if you are a fan of “Mad Men,” Feldman is now a regular on that show as a very bright copy writer for Don Draper.
The new guardian angel Luke, played by Atlanta native Carter McIntyre, has a rascally Christian Slater quality about him. He enters Jane’s world by saving the law firm as a very active financial investor. “Fred was a boy. Luke is a man. He knows what he wants,” Berman said. “He would call Fred a wuss. Luke is ready to take on the world, enjoy his money and power. He wants to sink his teeth in life.”
“God gives him a lot of money,” mused McIntyre, who lived in Cabbagetown during the five-month shoot. “He gets a new hobby each episode. It could be electronics or golf or martial arts. I get to play with cool toys.”
He is also trying to push Jane to move beyond her past life as Deb. He promises that there will be plenty of fireworks between Luke and Jane.
Margaret Cho, whose character Teri is Jane’s assistant, gets to show off her singing ability this season. Cho herself has noted that she doesn’t get much romantic action on the show. Berman thinks: “She plays the field when no one’s looking.” (My wife and I saw her live in a surprise appearance at the Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown and Cho showed off new tattoos – on her buttocks. She said she now has 80 to 90 tattoos and is running out of space.)
“Drop Dead Diva,” which has had guest stars such as Tim Gunn, Paula Abdul and Liza Minnelli in past years, will bring in other guest stars besides Kardashian. Serena Williams, Patty Duke, Brandy and John Ratzenberger of “Cheers” will show up for single-episode stories as well. (Berman saw Serena tweet about “Drop Dead Diva’ and reached out to her. Score!)
Abdul, after five episodes the first three seasons, is being “creatively replaced” – by Joan Rivers, as Jane’s dream conscious.
Actors now approach “Drop Dead Diva” to be in the show. He said they’ve only turned down one but he wouldn’t allow me to say who. (Clue: he’s an actor with a messy track record with cops and alcohol. He’s anything but slick.)
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk