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Christopher Titus Talks About Working with Fox, Round Two, and a 'Special Unit' Movie

by Nick Zaino, posted Jun 17th 2010 1:30PM
Christopher Titus on working with Fox and a 'Special Unit' movieIn 2000, Christopher Titus had an unexpected hit with 'Titus,' a dark sitcom based on his troubled family life. The show was taken mostly from his one-man show, 'Normal Rockwell Is Bleeding,' which he honed both in theaters, for the quieter, less funny moments, and in comedy clubs, to make sure it made people laugh out loud.

But Titus was used to the creative process as a stand-up comedian, where he was writer, director, performer, and everything else, and he butted heads with Fox and its rotation of network presidents over the three-year span of his show. 'Titus' was eventually canceled after Titus got into an argument with network head Gail Berman.

Since then, Titus has worked as a successful stand-up comedian, but hasn't been able to make a sitcom stick. He was in the corporate comedy 'Big Shots' on ABC, which was sunk partly by the Writers Guild of America strike. He also pitched a show called 'Special Unit' to Comedy Central, which featured Titus as a cop heading a squad of little people and people with disabilities. That show didn't get picked up, but Titus is dedicated to bringing it to the big screen, and is writing a script for possible financiers now.

Now Titus is getting a second chance at Fox with a new comedy based on his Comedy Central special, 'Love Is Evol.' He is working on the script with former NBC head Warren Littlefield, and it's a 'Titus' sequel of sorts, picking up with the same semi-autobiographical character years later as he is going through a divorce and finding true love.

TV Squad spoke with Titus by phone last week about working with Fox again and the prospects of 'Special Unit.'

Did you have trouble selling Fox on the more serious points for the original 'Titus'? I know that throughout the series, you had your disagreements and a bit of censorship with Fox.

Yeah. My disagreements were about youthful exuberance, trying to quote-unquote protect the show, to protect my crew. At the beginning there was a lot of, "Are people going to buy this? Are people going to go with this?" Then the first show hit and Time magazine wrote a good review of it, then Rolling Stone wrote a really good review. The one thing that cures all sins is heat, and if you can get people to laugh out loud and you get good reviews, Hollywood, they just take the credit for it. "Yeah, we knew."

Was that a good time for you, those three years, or were there too many headaches marring it?

You know, I was kind of stupid during that time. I took on that everybody was going to screw my show up. So I took on so much stuff that [in] the third year of the show, I walked into a friend's business, and he stops and goes, "Oh god, what happened to you? Are you sick?" And I said why, and he said, "Because you look like a vampire. You look like you're dead." And I was writing, producing, and starring in the show, and we had 14 writers, but I was in the writers' room.

I'd get there at nine, and rehearse with the cast up until two. Then we'd take notes from the network. And then we'd be in the writers' rooms from three until midnight. Every night. On top of doing press, on top of doing 'The Tonight Show,' and then I would be doing comedy. I think by year three I was a little nuts.

That being said, Fox also had four presidents in the time I was there, in three years. The one thing about a new president, they want to put their own scent on it. They want to come in and give you notes on what they think your show should be. Then Gail Berman came in and gave me some stuff that she expected, and the show was already doing a fourteen share, which would be like a top five show right now. I got into an argument with her. And that killed the show in the third year.

So what's different this time around? You're back with Fox to do a show, which I read picks up where 'Titus' left off.

What happened was I signed with this company called The Collective, a really good management company, and they sent it over to Warren Littlefield, who used to be president of NBC. He's the one who approved 'Seinfeld.' He watched 'Love Is Evol,' my last comedy special, all 90 minutes of it, and he called us back and said, "He can't talk to anybody else until he talks to me." So I went to his office and he said, "This is a TV show. I want to do this." We went to Fox, and Fox [gave us] a script deal. We have a lot of steps to go, but we're writing a script for Fox.

So it's just in the script stage now, you haven't shot anything yet?

Not yet. I'm one of the first guys to knee-jerk to an executive, but Warren Littlefield is one of the smartest guys I ever sat with. This was the guy who was running NBC, and he ran it for a long time, when NBC was number one. So he gets what works and doesn't. So yeah, man, it's really cool. I'm really blessed.

Where does the show start?

It starts at the beginning of my divorce, me hating love, realizing that love doesn't exist, and then meeting "the one."

How true to life will it be?

Fairly true. It's fairly true.

And people would recognize a lot from 'Love Is Evol,' I would expect.

[Laughs] Yeah. Probably. It seems I can't write something funny unless I've gone through a lot of pain to get to it.

I know you've played other roles, but would you ever be able to play someone other than yourself in a sitcom for an extended period of time?

You know, when I did 'Big Shots,' I even had a problem. It's a sad thing that I've been a comic for so long, because when you're a comic ... I write it and I perform it and I know how it's supposed to look, I know how it's supposed to sound, I know what the audience is supposed to see. I did 'Big Shots' for ABC, but even then, I would take the scripts and I would go to the producer, and I would go, "I can't make this funny, but I have an idea of how to make it funny. Can I rewrite this?" At the beginning, they were really against it. The executive producer was like, "Who the hell do you think you are?" I said, "Look, I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I have a Writers Guild nomination for my show 'Titus' and I know I can make what you want to say funny, can I do it?" They let me do it a couple of times.

Could I adjust to a sitcom? I'm sure I could. But I would have to be creative with it. I'd have to have someone who understood that I'd want to say it in the way I would say it.

Are you girding yourself against any flak you might get with the network? Or do you have a healthier view of things?

I'll tell you what, that conversation with Gail Berman where she basically wanted me to change the show and I said, "Do you even watch the show?" and then I explained the show 'Titus' to her like she was a three year old? That conversation cost me $20 million. I don't need any other lessons. I got it. I understand diplomacy. My problem wasn't that I had a problem with contributions, because we had great writers on the show and amazing executive producers and an amazing team. My mistake was that I didn't make the network the team. I looked at the network as the enemy. And that was my biggest mistake. That won't happen again.

Christopher Titus talks about Fox and a 'Special Unit' movieSo what happens when they come in and try to force you to have a wacky neighbor?

I... you know... I will handle it diplomatically or I will call Warren Littlefield. [Laughs] "Warren, could you please deal with this because I'm about to shoot myself in the head. How 'bout you call these people?"

That must help, to have a former network head in your corner.

Really, because he works both ways, too, because he really wants to make sure that they get what they need out of the show, too. He's a really smart guy. He just got a show picked up called 'Generation Y,' and it's really amazing. ABC picked it up. And I asked him, who did you hire for this show, and he said, "It was my idea, I just hired a writer to write it." And it's brilliant. So he's a rare thing in this business, a very creative executive.

So did you really expect that 'Special Unit' would get picked up? I saw the scenes from it on your website.

I really did. Comedy Central was doing so much wild stuff I thought, OK, it's pushing it, but it's going to get picked up. So we're trying to do it as a movie. I'm writing a movie script for it right now.

From the clips, it seemed like something that, you should just write a couple hundred thousand angry letters to yourself to start with.

People so misunderstand. I have a friend named Michael Aronin who plays Morgan in the thing, and he's a comic, but he's got cerebral palsy. And the reason the show got written like it did was, I was in D.C. working at the Improv, he was my opener. And during the day, we went out to lunch. And we're at this restaurant, and this waitress comes over, and she asks me what I want, and then she looks at him, looks back at me, and goes, "What will he have?"

Cerebral palsy's not a mental deficiency. Mike's got a really high IQ. So Mike, instead of going, "Hey, look at me," he actually starts acting super retarded. He starts knocking shit off the table, he starts talking about her boobs out loud. And she gets so uncomfortable, and I can't sell him out because he's my bro, but I don't know what to do, and I'm trying not to laugh. And he made this woman's life a living hell for the whole time we were there. And she deserved every minute of it.

And then there was a protest in L.A. about a year after that where the little people and the disabled actors got together and they had this big protest that they don't get roles written for them. So I wrote 'Special Unit,' and I wrote it to show [that] people don't talk to Mike. They don't look at Mike when he's out in public. And Mike's funny as shit and he's really smart. And I wanted to write a show that would make people see them as they want to be, which is normal.

We're going to turn it into a movie. And it's going to help people see disabled people in a light that they need to be seen, that they want to be seen in, and that they're capable and competent. And they don't need to be treated with sympathy, just treat them like you'd treat anybody.

You'd have such a razor-thin wire you'd be walking.

People would get so mad, and then I would have Deborah Carrington who's the little person, and I'd have Mike, and I'd have the guy in the wheelchair go on 'The Tonight Show' and talk about it, and say, "Look, Titus is the only one who made us funny. Everybody else makes us a sad story." It's really about that, it's not about making fun. By the way, in the movie, and even in the pilot, they actually take down a drug dealer, and I didn't get there in time.

I would liked to have been in the pitch meeting for this to see how Comedy Central reacted.

I told them, "It's 'The Shield' with handicapped people."

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Such a big fan of Titus. Hopefully this stays on the air for as long as he wants to do it.

June 17 2010 at 4:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This new show better have Stacy Keach.

June 17 2010 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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