Ellen Gray: 'Hot in Cleveland,' TV Land's new show, is not so hot

Associated PressTV Land's "Hot in Cleveland" cast includes (from left) Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves.
Associated PressTV Land's "Hot in Cleveland" cast includes (from left) Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves.
Posted: June 16, 2010

HOT IN CLEVELAND. 10 tonight, TV Land.

PERHAPS NOT even Drew Carey could have predicted it, but one of the hottest shows of the season is set in Ohio.

It is not, alas, TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland."

Not even Betty White, the 88-year-old actress who's lately done everything short of leap a tall building in a single bound - or sing on Fox's Ohio show, "Glee" - could push this cheesy dish past warm.

And yet the "Golden Girls" alum has pretty decent company in a show written by "Frasier" vet Suzanne Martin and produced by Tony host (and "Will & Grace" star) Sean Hayes and co-starring three other actresses who've done their time in comedies (and have the timing to prove it): Wendie Malick ("Just Shoot Me"), Valerie Bertinelli ("One Day at a Time") and Jane Leeves ("Frasier").

The premise: Three West Coast women of a certain age get stranded overnight in Cleveland on their way to Paris and discover that to men in a flyover state they're actually - visible.

Sort of the way women in Alaska were to those "Men in Trees."

So naturally, they decide to stay awhile, with Bertinelli's character renting a house that comes with its own crotchety caretaker - enter White - to pursue a chancy romance with a guy she met in a bar (John Schneider, who's been killed off better shows than this and is listed only as a guest star).

This is a cast that for the most part has experienced good, even great, writing in the past, and while I'm not saying Martin's pilot is laugh-free, it's a sight closer to her deservedly short-lived ABC sitcom "Hot Properties" than it is to "Frasier."

("Properties," too, had actresses who deserved better, including "NYPD Blue's" Gail O'Grady and Sofia Vergara, who went on, of course, to become one hot - and very funny - member of ABC's "Modern Family.")

With the recent death of Rue McClanahan, White became the last surviving star of "Golden Girls," a series it's easy to feel nostalgic about (though, as my movie critic colleague Gary Thompson pointed out to me last week, they might be replaced by the women of "Sex and the City," one of whom is now older than McClanahan was when she first played Blanche).

But even if Martin's script were more golden than it is, it would still represent a step backward for actresses who, at any age, deserve better than this kind of stunt casting.

TNT's given us Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula as we've never seen them before in "Men of a Certain Age."

Surely someone can do the same - together or separately - for Malick, Leeves and Bertinelli.

Not to mention White.

Grizzlies & 'La Danse'

In some parts of the country tonight, PBS stations will be airing documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's beautifully choreographed look at the Paris Opera Ballet on "Great Performances."

Here in Philadelphia, your opportunities to see Wiseman's "La Danse - Le Ballet de L'Opera de Paris" are slightly less convenient - it premieres at 8 a.m. Friday on the Y Info channel of WHYY (Comcast 258) and at 3 p.m. Sunday on the main (Channel 12) - as the station tonight has opted instead for back-to-back documentaries about Alaska. One appears to be about the state's bears, the other about its bridges.

Don't assume grizzlies are automatically more interesting than "La Danse," which takes viewers into the belly of a very different beast.

There's no narrative. Instead, Wiseman plays fly on the wall at classes and rehearsals and in the room where costumes are sewn. He watches a beekeeper at work on the roof and follows people into the ballet's cafeteria (like so many of the French, dancers aren't necessarily as abstemious as their waistlines might indicate). He takes us into a business meeting where the ballet's administrators try to figure out how to please some visiting Americans "friends" of the opera's ballet company.

At one point, they debate whether it's feasible to grant access to a rehearsal to a group whose members have given at least $25,000 to the ballet and there's clearly resistance to the idea from the artistic director.

But what those deep-pocketed visitors probably ended up catching only a glimpse of forms the most interesting part of this episode of "Great Performances," which focuses less on any one performance than on the endless preparation that precedes them all.

Yes, there are subtitles. And, OK, it may not be Alaska.

But what's offered instead is a close-up on athleticism and artistry that you don't have to know a plie from a pirouette to appreciate. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com or join the live TV chat at noon tomorrow at go.philly.com/tvchat.

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