Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Saturday, July 11, 2009

“Drop Dead Diva,” shot in Peachtree City, nab, Liza Minnelli, Rosie O’Donnell, Paula Abdul,in guest roles

8:13 am July 8, 2009, by Rodney Ho

PEACHTREE CITY — Paula Abdul, in a black judge’s robe, listens to Jane Bingum’s singing talent and calls it “effortless, passionate,” but then insults her outfit as “monochromatic microfiber.”
“You’re the nice one!” Jane protests. “You tell everyone they look good!”
Abdul will be back in Atlanta soon to critique “American Idol” contestants for season nine, but this sequence was pure fiction. Shot in Peachtree City earlier this week, the “Idol” judge played a spoof of herself in a dream sequence for a new Lifetime dramedy “Drop Dead Diva,” debuting Sunday at 9 p.m.
The show is bit like “Heaven Can Wait” meets “Legally Blonde,” with a elements of “Freaky Friday” and “Ally McBeal” thrown in for good measure.

Deb, a ditzy model, dies and while awaiting her fate at the Pearly Gates, she demands to go back to Earth. She accidentally ends up in the body of Jane Bingham, a lawyer with self-esteem and weight issues.
Fortunately, Deb, played by theater actress Brooke Elliott, maintains Jane’s legal knowledge so she can still function as a lawyer. Her sassy assistant is played by the only big name on the show: comedienne Margaret Cho.
The pilot for “Diva” was shot earlier this year, mostly in Midtown and Decatur. Once Lifetime gave the the show a thumbs up for 13 episodes, it began taping in Peachtree City in April.

The show’s premise may sound goofy, but it confronts serious issues about female body image.
“We are conditioned that beauty comes in a specific package,” said Elliott, who was on the same national tour of “Wicked” as “Idol” runner up Adam Lambert. “That’s not the reality out there. Middle America looks like me. We hope the audience gets that beauty is everywhere and that you don’t have to be size zero to be beautiful.”
While shows such as “Will and Grace” and “30 Rock” became known as guest star magnets, that reputation had to be earned. “Diva” is attracting attention before a single episode has even hit the airwaves. And it’s on a network that a few years ago was known primarily for its oft-mocked “women in peril” films.
But show producers have been showing the pilot around Hollywood circles and the buzz has been so good, they’ve enticed a coterie of big-name stars. Among those who have already flown into Peachtree City to act: Delta Burke (”Designing Women,”), Liza Minnelli, game show host Chuck Woolery, Elliott Gould, Tim Gunn (”Project Runway”) , Kathy Najimy (”Sister Act”), Jorja Fox (”CSI”) and Rosie O’Donnell.
“It’s unheard of,” said co-executive producer Josh Berman, who has similar duties on the hit shows “Bones” and “CSI.” “It’s the most gratifying thing you can imagine as a creator of a show. The first couple of days, writers come up with a list of dream stars. You know you have no money and it never works out. We have literally been able to get every dream actor we’ve wanted for this show.”
While there is a gimmicky aspect to guest stars, the extra publicity is a godsend to hopefully draw an audience beyond the core Lifetime viewer, said Craig Zadan, a co-executive producer whose credits include the film versions of “Hairspray” and “Chicago.”
Lifetime is making a major move into original series and is hoping to amp up its “cool” cred. Already, it has one highly touted series under its belt in “Army Wives.” And after a lengthy court battle, former Bravo stalwart “Project Runway” will debut next month on the network.
Abdul heard about the show through the “Idol” music director, who had a good friend attached to “Diva.” She watched the pilot and wanted in.
“It’s charming as can be,” she said between takes. “It has this magical pixie dust spread all over it. It’s really really well written and very endearing. I don’t know why they picked me because I’m none of that!” (Her episode will air in September.)
Lifetime has also been buoyed by early reviews “It’s hardly a new idea… (b)ut this new show actually makes it work, with both humor and heart,” wrote Star magazine, which gave the show 3.5 stars.
Sony Television built three major set pieces near Peachtree City’s private airport Falcon Field for a show that is supposedly set in Los Angeles: a well-heeled law firm, a decked-out Santa Monica beach pad and a courtroom modeled after a vintage one in Decatur, save for the marble, which is not earthquake-code compliant.
The area may lack palm trees, but the show’s location manager Mitch Harbeson has found places to shoot such as Newnan’s Oak Hill Cemetery and Peachtree City restaurants Thai Spice restaurant and Maguire’s Family and Friends Irish pub.
Taking advantage of improved tax incentives, TV shows and movies have flooded into Georgia. “I love shooting there,” Berman said. “I’d love to shoot everything there. The crews have been wonderful. And we could never do sets like that in Los Angeles. There’s not enough space and everything is so expensive.”
“Diva” employs 120 people, mostly local. The 13 episodes wrap in August.

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