RAISING HOPE: Hilarity ensued as the was celebrated at PaleyFest (2011)

For its last hurrah, on the final night of PaleyFest, the William S. Paley Television Festival chose to celebrate the Fox comedy sensation “Raising Hope.” For that spectacular evening, in attendance were: creator Greg Garcia, along with cast members Garret Dillahunt, Martha Plimpton, Lucas Neff, and Shannon Woodward. Coming off its electrifying first season, “Raising Hope” was not only the first new Fall series to receive a full season pick-up, it is also the only new comedy series poised to attain long-term success. With an average of 7 million viewers tuning in each week, the freshman drama has surprised critics and fans alike. Based on the premise of a young man, Jimmy Chance, finding himself saddled with a baby after a one-night stand with serial killer who was subsequently executed, the show focuses on the charming and hilarious tribulations of unexpected fatherhood along with the fun-filled familial backdrop of Jimmy’s zany yet warm-hearted family adding to the insanity.

For fans of the comedy “My Name is Earl,” Greg Garcia’s unique blend of humor, poignancy and absurdity is deftly woven throughout “Raising Hope” is no surprise. But what was a surprise was the decision to provide fans with a sneak peek at the season finale of “Raising Hope,” nearly two months before it is scheduled to air. Apparently because the finale had just wrapped shooting, the cast and crew were justifiably proud of their fine achievement and chose to reward the fans with an accelerated and very special preview. In what will be surely a landmark episode of the series, as the lights dimmed in the 2,000-seat auditorium at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, fans held their breath in anticipation. When the lights finally rose again, there was a roar of joy and thunderous applause. The first season finale was indeed a rare treat offering a new look at each of the characters as the episode flashed-back to five years earlier. Without divulging any further spoilers out of fear that one of the dozen swarthy looking security that accompanied the special screening shall track me down, suffice it to say that the season finale of “Raising Hope” scheduled to air on May 17th should not be missed!

As the evening’s moderator, Steve Edwards from KTTV Fox 11’s Good Day L.A. introduced Greg Garcia and the cast, the room erupted again with appreciation and applause. Looking slightly dazed and very pleased at the warm reception, there were beaming faces all around. When asked where the more notorious cast member Cloris Leachman was after her absence was noted, Lucas Neff humorously replied, “She was with us when we came in!”

Right off the bat, one got the impression that this cast thoroughly enjoys working together and is appreciative of the extraordinary opportunity they have been blessed with having landed a hit comedy series. As success on television has become increasingly elusive, the success of “Raising Hope” has made this group of talent feel like they won the lottery. In addition to plucking up star Lucas Neff right off the path of surviving by cleaning houses, the show has also provided enough financial security that Martha Plimpton paid off her debt. She did not even hesitate to happily share, “I certainly don’t mind being out of debt — for the first ever!” Greg chimed-in to tease Lucas by saying, “I like to say we plucked Lucas out of obscurity and then when we’re done we’re going to put him back!” But Lucas, clearly used to the good-natured ribbing, responded, “It was a miraculous sort of nexus point. I’d scrubbed my first two toilets like the week before I got this audition, and when you’re elbow deep in someone else’s toilet, you know, you just got to imagine things are going to go up from there.” Greg also explained that after he saw Lucas’ audition tape that he knew he had found the perfect actor to play Jimmy Chance. The fact Lucas was literally in awe of the movie posters on the hallway walls and taking pictures of himself with each one when he was flown out to Los Angeles for an in-person meeting that solidified Greg’s decision that he was the right guy for the role. Fortunately, the studio agreed and the rest is history.

In describing where the show germinated from, creator Greg Garcia explained that the show was based on the idea of parents getting a second chance to raise a child, but with more of a “bent” story-telling style like having the baby’s mama be a serial killer. So in creating “Raising Hope” (originally entitled “Keep Hope Alive”), he created the Chance family with all its foibles and flaws. However, Greg further explained, “The people in this family may not have all the tools they need — and even though they had no idea what they were doing, their hearts are in the right place.”

It was only after putting the finish pilot before a test audience that Greg and the cast realized that they had struck gold. The show resonated with the audience so positively that he knew it was going to be greenlit to series. It was the combination of relatable family adventures that draws in the audience and then hooks them with a cleverly embedded emotional undertone that captivates them. In fact, for each of the cast members, that is what also drew them to the show as well. Shannon even revealed, “I watched the show and I thought it was so moving — I was crying just watching a 22-minute comedy pilot!” (For those unaware, Shannon Woodward was originally offered the part of Sabrina, but turned it down out of fear that she would not be very good at comedy. It was only after some significant wooing that Greg was able to convince her that the role was perfect for her – and he was right again!)

It is important to Greg and everyone working on the show that they have created a show that their viewers truly care about. In fact, Shannon Woodward said that it makes her feel like she is making a difference. She explained that when she is recognized by fans of the show, “It wasn’t like they were recognizing me, it’s like they saw a part of something they really loved . . . I felt proud, you know, almost like I worked for a great charity or something.” Greg enthusiastically added, “It’s wonderful that people care about it so much. I think that a lot of people who watch the show do love the show – [though] I think the network would like a few more people to like it and a few more million!” Then adding her perspective, Martha Plimpton shared, “People have been so kind about the show. They respond to it in a way that is very warm and genuine . . . and they remember scenes and they remember lines. It’s great!”

Even Garret is relieved at how much more warmly he is greeted by fans these days. He noted after years of playing rough-and-tough bad guys, it is nice to not have fans scared of him. He also noted that this is a huge departure in his career as, “You know, because I’m not killing people.” His deadpan delivery got a roar out the audience for this sly comment. Not quite able to top that, Martha just happily shared that she is thrilled whenever she is approached by fans quoting lines from the show. It shows that they have not only embraced the show, but also to such a degree that they have made the show a part of their lives – and there is nothing more rewarding than discovering that your work has become a part of the everyday lexicon and is touching people’s lives.

Gushing further about her love for “Raising Hope,” Martha also gave shout-outs to the crew who she said were simply phenomenal, all being so fun, smart and knowledgeable – which, for her, makes going to work such a pleasure. She also loves that she has been given a role with such a wide range, which has tapped into her many years of experience having played everything from a cancer patient to a terrorist. Tweaking her own long career, she mischievously added, “As you know I’m really quite old . . . ” More laughter ensued as the fans joined in her nod to such a lengthy and labyrinthine career path over her short lifetime.

The one cast member with a resume perhaps longer than all the other four cast members put together, and who could not be in attendance for the panel, Cloris Leachman was recalled fondly by her cast mates. Greg cheerily noted that working with her was “an absolute adventure! He then mischievously added, “I wish [Cloris] was here tonight as well . . . none of us would have had to talk!” On a slightly more serious note, he added, “Cloris is a true professional — you give her a script and she does it.” He also noted that while Cloris was not credited as a series regular for the first season she is being added to the regular credits for the second season. Talking briefly about the senior member of their cast, Greg also recalled how when he first approached her about the role, her concern was whether the show could go on for a number of seasons.  So when he told her it could go for over 8 years, which would make her 92 at that time, Cloris then, upon thinking it over, firmly replied, “I can do that.” Talk about dedication to the craft!

From his perspective, Garret noted, “I like to do stuff that interests me and something that I’m proud of – and hope I’m still working when I’m Cloris’ age!” Garret also appreciated how the writers make sure of physicality to give his character something to do in scenes and which bring out the more comedic aspects of each character. He explained, “I feel like we make a 22-minute comic film every week. . . and there’s stuff going on out of focus in the back that’s funny.” Though in doing such antics, it can inspire fits of giggles on the set. Martha sheepishly confessed, “We do, constantly. It’s very unprofessional.” To demonstrate how funny Garret is without really even trying, Martha had him recite the line: “Heidi? How is Heidi” from the germaphobe episode and, as Garret said the line a variety of different ways, it was easy to see how each of the cast members were having a hard time containing their laughter – and after witnessing it firsthand, it is apparent that there is simply something about Garret that invokes laughter even if he is trying to be serious.

Talking briefly about the charming twins who play Baby Hope on the show, Greg was quick to reassure fans that the show will allow her to age naturally and that there would not be any big age jumps. Lucas also insightfully noted that for the babies, Bailey and Riley, “They think it’s real — think about that.” Because of their young age, they cannot distinguish between a make-believe world and the real world. Fortunately, the parents are super cool and Bailey and Riley are very comfortable with all the cast. Greg also revealed that after the pilot they have made a point of not placing Hope in jeopardy that frequently. That would be too hard for people to watch, though he did note, “For the most part we save that for flashbacks of young Jimmy because we know he’s okay now… plus he’s played by my son.”

Another cool aspect was learning that Greg did not write any of the existing characters in the “Raising Hope” universe as one-offs. Instead, he always planned that characters like Shelly, Frank and Barney would continue to exist and have recurring roles in the Chances’ lives. Each has been carefully constructed to fit a specific piece of the puzzle and shall continue to pop up as they would naturally in that world.

Then talking about what are their favorite moments from the first season, Garret readily admitted that he had a blast filming the “snip, snip” episode and he loves the fun relationship with his “fake wife.” Martha then chimed in that she loves the tiny tings that Garret does with his character that makes it feel more real – for humor is born out of the authentic relationships and small moments between the characters. She also happily noted, “We’re so good at being fake married!” Lucas also thought that the show has such screwball comedy with really affecting moments – he loves that the show balances funny with “warm, gooey stuff.” Shannon’s favorite part was the scene in the pilot where Virginia and Burt sing for Hope – that scene felt particularly beautiful and emotionally deep, and then humorously went right back into being screwball. That perfect balance of touching emotion combined with quirky humor gets them all.

Lastly, Greg shared, “I wake up every morning terrified I’m going to do a bad episode of TV . . . and that just drives me — and I’m very conscious of the fact these people up here in front of you have signed on to do this show. They signed on kind of as a leap of faith on the one script that I wrote — and I take that very seriously. . . . We’re all here to make the best show possible.” To which Garret deadpanned, “The network would like more people to love it and a few more million people to tolerate it!” However as Greg happily noted, “Most people that watch the show, do love the show.” And as the moderator cheekily noted, “The show is so good, I worry it’s almost too good,” Greg laughed and admitted, “We’re gonna work on that!”

While doubtful that “Raising Hope” will dare to lower the bar on its top-notch comedy, one thing is certain: they all love working on the show and consider it to be a rare and special opportunity to bring such a heart-warming and fun show to life. It is for them: the time of their lives and they will continue to share that infectious joy with the fans. On a high note of mutual love and jubilation, the cast concluded their panel and then stayed until the last fan received autographs before bidding everyone adieu. And so ended the final night of the PaleyFest, with hearts full of happiness and unshed tears of joy. As like so many years before, it was a time of celebration and adulation – and memories created for a lifetime. ‘Til next year. . .

Where to find this article: http://nicegirlstv.com/2011/03/29/raising-hope-at-paley-fest/


“Laugh Break: Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimtpon Talk RAISING HOPE (video)”

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