NBC holds a winning hand with new sitcom


Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 10:00 p.m.
Several seasons back, ABC got eight seasons out of "Full House," a track record NBC would love to beat with its "Four Kings."
A new sitcom from the creative team behind "Will & Grace," "Kings" - which premieres Thursday - chronicles the long friendship of a close-knit quartet of New Yorkers: Ben (Josh Cooke, "Committed"), a "serial monogamist" who wears his heart on his sleeve; Barry (Seth Green, the "Austin Powers" movies), a tightly wound and acerbic bundle of neuroses; Jason (newcomer Todd Grinnell), a dapper womanizer since shedding a ton of childhood fat; and Bobby (Shane McRae, "One Life to Live"), the group's resident Peter Pan who refuses to grow up and become responsible.
Pals since childhood, the four may bicker and snipe among themselves, but they're pretty much inseparable. So when Ben's grandmother, the woman who dubbed them the "Four Kings of New York," dies and leaves Ben her spacious and well-appointed apartment, he invites his buddies to share it with him.
As with "Will & Grace," this new sitcom is drawn in part from the real-life experiences of creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, who have been close friends since they were 14.
"It was time for us to come up with a new series, and Peter Roth, whom we work for at Paramount, really liked the story of our (personal) dynamic," Mutchnick explains. "Everything pretty much that goes on with us speaks to our history, and we thought this would really be a great place to write from, because we would just have an endless supply of stories to tell."
"There's a point in your life, now especially, that limbo period between childhood and adulthood, that just seems to be extending and extending," Kohan chimes in. "Once upon a time, your family was the family that you were born to and were raised by, and then on the other side of that is the family that you start yourself.
"In between that, who is your family? What is it and where are they? What constitutes a family when you're right sort of on the cusp of adulthood? That's sort of the question we wanted to answer."
Grinnell and McRae were cast early in the development project, then Green was added to the cast as part of a deal he had with NBC. The role of Ben was recast three times before Cooke, who had been committed to "Committed," became available for the role ("It was that 'Can you hear me?' guy at one point," Green jokes).
"I came in about three days before we shot (the pilot)," Cooke recalls. "But I have such a close-knit group of friends on the East Coast, where I'm from, and so everything felt right, chemistrywise. It's easy to fall into that when you have that kind of background of very good friends in your life."
"He's also modest," Green cuts in. "He's a really, really talented guy and jumped right into it without any effort."
In fact, virtually all four of the actors say they found their characters very easy to relate to, and they hope viewers react in the same way.
"I was dating a girl once who was, let's just say, not my perfect match," Grinnell says. "I was totally in love, and I did not see the red flags that my friends saw. Only a good friend will grab you by the shoulders and say, 'Dude, this girl is a train wreck! Run the other way!' "
"I think everybody's got an experience like that," Cooke adds. "I've been bailed out, and (I've) bailed out friends before, and that's what this show is really about."
It bears noting, at least in passing, that "Four Kings" may be the first sitcom to address the issue of "how are these young characters affording to live in this fabulous Manhattan apartment?"
"Actually, we have a friend who lives in the Apthorp (on New York's Upper West Side) because she inherited it, a 50-year lease, and she's paying $1,500 a month for the apartment that we kind of used as the jumping-off point (for 'Four Kings')," Mutchnick explains. "We wanted to ground this thing every way we could, and this was a way we could put them all in Manhattan, in an enormous apartment, and have a sense of it being real."
If the four main characters in the sitcom lucked out on a sweet real estate deal, Green - arguably the "star" of this ensemble via his work in the "Austin Powers" movies - insists that he and his co-stars feel very fortunate to be working with the writing and directing team that launched "Will & Grace" to Emmy-winning success. "One of the things we talked about when we all got the part is how excited (we are) to be doing a pilot with (director) Jim Burrows, and how awesome and competent these guys are," Green says. "It just, like, tightens the TV, so you don't have to do a lot except try to keep up. "I feel like I'm much stronger in an ensemble, and I think that's the strength of the show: There's not a competition to be funny," Green says.
"Which is a great metaphor for the show," Grinnell adds. "It's like you're looking at these four guys and, separately or alone, these guys are a little bit lost. But together they're able to take on whatever comes their way."

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