Ellen Gray: Jenkintown native's show premieres on Fox tonight

Christian Slater (center) stars on "Breaking In" with (from left) Odette Annable, Bret Harrison and Alphonso McAuley.
Christian Slater (center) stars on "Breaking In" with (from left) Odette Annable, Bret Harrison and Alphonso McAuley.
Posted: April 06, 2011

BREAKING IN. 9:30 tonight, Fox 29.

THERE AREN'T many better opportunities for a new show to break through than to launch on Fox in the half-hour that follows "American Idol."

That's just what "Breaking In" is doing tonight as the network takes a crack at that ever-elusive genre, the heist comedy.

Co-created by Penn Charter grad Adam F. Goldberg (Class of '94), the series stars Christian Slater as the head of a firm that specializes in exposing the flaws in all kinds of security systems and Bret Harrison as a hacker he coerces into joining a wacky office also staffed by Odette Annable as a safecracker and Alphonso McAuley as an ex-stalker in charge of logistics.

It's an arrangement that may not look all that different from the one that put Harrison's "Reaper" character in league with the devil, but Slater's seemingly omniscient Oz isn't so much Mephistopheles as he is uber-geek.

The actor, too, it seems.

After Slater, at a January news conference in Pasadena, Calif., mentioned successfully lobbying producers to incorporate his "Star Trek" captain's chair into the show, Goldberg said, "Once Christian started pitching 'Star Trek' to me, I'm like, 'It's a fit.' "

"I needed a place to put the chair, and this show came about at a perfect time," Slater said.

The timing could also prove perfect for Goldberg, who last spring reportedly saw his pilot passed over by Fox, only to be revived months later with a midseason order - and the post-"Idol" slot.

"This is my fourth pilot I've done with [Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions] and the first one to get on the air," Goldberg said in an interview after the news conference.

More than a bit of a geek himself, Goldberg's probably best known for the 2009 movie "Fanboys," in which a group of ex-high-school buddies plot in 1998 to break into George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and steal a copy of the not-yet-released "Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace."

He broke into the business, however, writing for TV.

After studying film and dramatic writing at New York University's Tisch school, "I basically moved out [to Los Angeles] and tried to pursue movie writing, but it was really hard to sell something," Goldberg recalled.

"I found TV was an easier way in, just because you could write a spec script of something that was on the air and show that you were funny and have someone put you on their writing staff.

"I started on a show called 'Still Standing,' which was on CBS for four years, and I worked my way up and started writing pilots and movies after that," he said.

After "Fanboys," Sandler's company came calling.

"I was looking for a place to develop a television show, and just as a comedy writer, all I wanted was Happy Madison. In college, you know, watching 'Billy Madison' a hundred times and all the Sandler movies, this was a place I wanted to be," he said.

Growing up in Jenkintown - "right across the street from Abington Friends" - Goldberg tried acting first.

"I acted at Penn Charter; I did local theater. I did 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' at the first theater that Grace Kelly performed at," he said, referring to East Falls' Old Academy Players.

"That show made me a writer. Because I wasn't very good, but I read that Neil Simon script so many times that I kind of learned what it meant to write a play. And after that I became a playwright and did Philadelphia Young Playwrights," which led to his work being performed at the Walnut Street and Annenberg theaters.

The program also brought him together with "like the biggest Philadelphia playwright," Bruce Graham, who mentored him, he said.

"I still talk to him all the time," and they hung out in 2008 when Goldberg won the Philadelphia Film Festival's "Set in Philadelphia" screenwriting contest, he said.

The settings may change, but Goldberg's stories have tended to remain true to his fanboy interests - his credits include a script for a prospective live-action version of "The Jetsons" and a "Revenge of the Nerds" remake that "ultimately fell apart."

Just don't look to him for a straight-up romantic comedy.

"Not interested," he said. "My wife will drag me to a romantic comedy, and I'll enjoy it. But it's not what I want to spend a year of my life doing. I'd rather do a heist show for Adam Sandler." *

Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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