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Normal, Ohio ran from November until December 2000 on FOX.
The setting for this short-lived sitcom was Normal, Ohio, a rural community near Cincinatti. In the series premiere big, friendly Butch ( John Goodman), who 4 years earlier had announced he was gay and moved to Santa Monica, returned home for his son Charlie's off-to-med-school party. At the party Charlie ( Greg Pitts), who had never forgiven his father for leaving, announced to the family that he really didn't want to be a doctor and wasn't going to medical school. Much to the chagrin of many in his conservative family, Butch decided to stay and try to rebuild a relationship with his son. He moved in with Pamela ( Joely Fisher), his slutty single-mom sister and her 2 kids-bookish insecure Kimberly ( Julia McIlvane) and worried Robbie ( Cody Kasch) ( " Am I Gay"). Butch's rude ex-wife, Elizabeth ( Mo Gaffney), who had married boring but straight Danny( Charles Rocket), tossed in occasional insults. Butch's mom Joan ( Anita Gillette), tried to accept things but hoped he was only going through a phase, while his cranky dad Bill ( Orson Bean), spewed a constant stream of dated gay jokes.
Although 12 episodes of Normal, Ohio, were produced, FOX pulled the plug after the seventh episode.
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were the Executive Producers.
A Review from variety
October 30, 2000 11:00PM PT
By Phil Gallo
Yes, Fox has joined the bandwagon — it now has a show headlined by a gay character. No, Fox is not getting soft — it remains its usual raw and titillating self. John Goodman’s Butch, who returns home in “Normal, Ohio” after having lived in the more gay-friendly climes of Santa Monica, is ostensibly the same perplexed Midwestern wage-earner the thesp played on “Roseanne”; his family troubles him, he’s never sure if he’s being accepted and yet he seems to find comfort in stating his case no matter the consequences.
“Normal” will benefit from its initial pairing with “Malcolm in the Middle,” which should elevate ratings beyond what would have been expected if the Goodman starrer were paired with Robert Schimmel’s sitcom (moved to midseason).
Over-the-top dysfunction, when it’s done well, is generally an easy sell. “Normal’s” key problem is that its humor relies too much on jabs at Butch’s homosexuality. Slutty sister Pamela (Joely Fisher) is another target, but the attacks there are one-dimensional.
In Butch’s case, his entire being is held up for ridicule, and his self-deprecating remarks — usually in a queenie tone — border on being out of character even though they dominate the network promo spots.
That said, the show’s second episode shifts the comedy in the direction of the parents, and the results are far funnier than in the pilot.
In the first seg, Butch Gamble has returned to his hometown, where he stays with single mom Pamela and her two children, Kimberly (Julia McIlvaine) and Robbie (Cody Kasch), who fears homosexuality is hereditary. The occasion is a party being thrown for Gamble’s son Charlie (Greg Pitts), soon heading off to medical school.
As Gamble attempts to make amends for having left home four years earlier, he hears nothing but sass from his ex-wife Elizabeth (Mo Gaffney) and parents (Orson Bean and Anita Gillette); Charlie just expresses disappointment — until he follows his father’s advice to follow your heart.
Writers Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner and Bob Kushell make the most of Pamela’s flirtatiousness — Fisher’s cleavage is on display, as is Goodman’s belly — and the kids do a great job with their limited yet knowing and naive roles. Fisher handles sexiness and motherhood with equal aplomb; her character bristles with a realistic confluence of confusion and principled behavior.
Bean is a hoot at times in a role that’s fast becoming over-populated in sitcoms: the senior-citizen father. Peter Boyle (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Jerry Stiller (“King of Queens”) are the kings of that domain, but should “Normal” last the season, Bean may well join their clique at the top.
Show uses grainy home movies of young Butch and Pamela to segue from scene to scene that, while certainly inventive, have a curious resonance. Is the viewer expected to glean a “what went wrong” backstory? Is it a sign that everything was all well at one point? Editor Steve Rasch moves the scenes quickly to bring a tightness to Philip Charles MacKenzie’s fluid direction.
Composer-guitarist Ben Vaughn reached in the closet to dig out some old Johnny Winter records and turn out some very cool early ’70s guitar-driven, blues rock. It’s out of character for the gay world, yet it’s distinctly Midwestern in texture, adding to the show’s homey tenor.
Fox, Wed. Nov. 1, 8:30 p.m.
Production: Taped in Los Angeles by the Carsey- Werner Co. Executive producers, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, Bob Kushell, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach; co-executive producer, Miriam Trogdon; producers, Jimmy Aleck, Jim Keily, Barbara Stoll; co-producers, Gregg Mettler, Paul Corrigan, Brad Walsh; director, Philip Charles MacKenzie; writers, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, Bob Kushell.
Crew: Director of photography, Tony Askins; production designer, Garvin Eddy; editor, Steve Rasch; music, Ben Vaughn and Jeff Sudakin; casting, Jeff Greenberg, Debi Manwiller. 30 MIN.
Cast: John Goodman - Butch Gamble Joely Fisher - Pamela Greg Pitts - Charlie Gamble Anita Gillette - Joan Julia McIlvaine - Kimberly Cody Kasch - Robbie Mo Gaffney - Elizabeth Charles Rocket - Danny Orson Bean - BillWith: Anthony Tyler Quinn, Gordon Wells.
A Review From The St. Petersberg Times
The long road to 'Normal, Ohio'
Is the new show a comedy that challenges gay stereotypes, a star vehicle for John Goodman or something else? No one, including its creators, seems sure.
By ERIC DEGGANS
published October 31, 2000
For evidence of how little Bonnie and Terry Turner knew last July about the new TV comedy they were developing for former Roseanne star John Goodman, you need only look at their notepads.
Facing TV critics at a California press conference, they were supposed to pump interest in the show, which features Goodman playing a gay man who doesn't fit common stereotypes.
But they weren't sure exactly what they were hyping.
Sure, they'd filmed a pilot episode in January, introducing the cast to advertisers in May. But before long, the Turners had decided to scrap the whole idea and start over ("We looked at it, tried to think of stories and couldn't," Bonnie Turner explained.)
Even the original name, Don't Ask, was gone. In its place, a less-than-snappy substitute: Untitled John Goodman Project.
Instead of playing a gay man named Butch living with his fastidious, girl-chasing buddy in L.A., Goodman would play a gay man moving back to his Ohio hometown after four years of self-discovery in California.
By the end of the press conference -- filled with shrugged shoulders and speculation from the producers and Goodman -- Terry Turner had scrawled a critic's suggested name for the show (Butch!) on his notepad.
He'd also noted Goodman's jokey repartee with a reporter who asked the beefy actor if he'd thought about working out before taking the role.
"Any ideas we can get from anywhere we will take," laughed Terry Turner, who developed That '70s Show and 3rd Rock From the Sun with wife Bonnie. "I think people who close themselves off to others' ideas are just destined to work longer (hours). Or maybe I'm just lazy."
When asked for his opinion, Goodman seemed unconcerned.
"I'm right now a kind of hired gun guy," he said, clearly uncomfortable with all the press attention. "I'm waiting to see how it shapes up before I start screwing up."
Still, one had to wonder: If the Turners didn't have a solid series concept after seven months of pilot filming and drafting stories, will they ever?
It's an issue facing several series this season, including NBC's The Michael Richards Show and Cursed, along with Fox's FreakyLinks -- all of which have had pilots extensively revamped or seen their creative teams replaced, or both.
"It's another great sign that showbiz is not a science ... everybody is flying by the seat of their pants," says Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "In a purely rational world ... perhaps the most sensible thing would have been to just say this doesn't work. But you get in so deep, it gets really difficult to (push) the eject button."
Blame the networks' continual focus on building comedies around big celebrities, despite evidence they buy only a brief burst of attention from viewers.
Deals with names such as Goodman, Cursed's Steven Weber, Geena Davis and Madigan Men's Gabriel Byrne often look great on paper. In reality, they're a cart-before-the-horse concept that forces networks to shoehorn stars into ill-considered series ideas.
Blinded by audience research -- Bonnie Turner says Goodman's character "out-tested Homer Simpson" in likability -- and big-money pacts, programmers tinker until they assemble a show at least as mediocre as everything else out there.
"This constant (revamping) is a really bad sign," notes Marc Berman, programming analyst for Mediaweek magazine. "The people behind these shows have had more than enough time to find a focus. And if you don't get it right at once, the audience won't give you much chance (to change)."
The Turners say their idea for a sitcom centered on a stereotype-busting gay man came before Goodman joined the project. But once the original idea went bust, they were forced to cobble together a celebrity showcase.
"I guess we have wound up doing the same thing ... and didn't even know it," cracked Bonnie Turner. "I just hope we do it better than anyone else."
A look at Don't Ask reveals a surprise: the pilot wasn't awful.
It's merely mediocre, centered on Goodman's Rex Gamble, who takes in womanizing pal David (Anthony LaPaglia) and his two children after a nasty divorce.
Rex is the beefy owner of a contracting business who drinks beer, watches sports and happens to be gay. David is an effete, self-centered womanizer -- shades of Frasier -- who gets his hair cut by a stylist and is freaked out by news of his pal's homosexuality.
But Goodman's mugging and LaPaglia's forced prissiness wear thin quickly. And, as in many other comedy pilots these days, finding a sharp joke or witty line is a serious challenge.
Small wonder, then, that the Turners started over with Normal, Ohio.
Goodman's William "Butch" Gamble Jr. moves home to face his grown son (Sarasota native Greg Pitts), trashy sister (Ellen's Joely Fisher, cleavage constantly on display), cranky ex-wife (Mo Gaffney) and crusty father (Orson Bean.)
The expanded cast offers more energy, with Butch absorbing disdain from his family members (particularly Bean, who calls his son "fluffy" and "a big showgirl"). This being Fox, there's also lots of sex talk and in-your-face attitude, much like the network's last successful dysfunctional family comedy, Titus.
Pitts, who holds a 1992 theater degree from the University of South Florida, is the only actor besides Goodman to appear in both versions of the show and applauds the revamp.
"At this point, we have so many open doors, they can't write (episodes) fast enough," he says. "John really embraces the other actors' doing more. He has no problem if one of the funniest jokes in the show is something someone else is doing."
Still, the new show seems hobbled by the same problem that made Don't Ask such an awkward affair -- Butch's homosexuality.
Despite recent talk about the success of gay characters on TV, the industry struggles with depicting gay relationships onscreen. Even NBC's gay-centered hit Will & Grace uses best friend Jack McFarland to introduce gay culture and sex quips without forcing primary character Will Truman to get romantic.
In Normal, Ohio, Goodman's Butch Gamble is the only gay character seen in the first two episodes, which means the only reflection of Butch's sexuality, at least initially, comes from jokes about the horror it brings his family.
Ask Goodman about how the show will portray Butch's sexual orientation, and you get more wisecracks: "I have four words: gowns by Bob Mackie."
The producers say they want to explore the difference between masculinity and sexuality.
"We have to take it one step at a time ... people are still uncomfortable when two men hold hands," said Terry Turner, noting they are only now developing a story featuring a former flame of Butch's who comes to town.
"One of the things you don't see as much of is intimacy," he adds. "There are ways to access (intimacy) without going to two men kissing."
Normal's first two episodes reveal the Turners' changes haven't elevated a troubled concept much past mediocre status.
Still, Pitts remains hopeful. "They're trying to do something that hasn't been shown before ... that a gay man can just be a man," he added. "The only challenge that remains is letting the audience see it and hoping they like it."
AT A GLANCE
Normal, Ohio makes its debut at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on WTVT-Ch. 13.
A Review from The New York Times
TELEVISION REVIEW; Gay and Crude? Whatever Happened to 'Faaabulous'?
By JULIE SALAMON
Published: November 1, 2000
It's hard to imagine anyone accusing ''Normal, Ohio'' of presenting a stereotypical gay leading man. The sitcom's main character isn't good-looking and empathetic nor is he a campy queen. John Goodman's Butch Gamble is a fat, crude, pizza-and-beer inhaling fellow who does hum Judy Garland songs but also yells at the television when he watches sports.
Butch resembles Dan Conner, the working-class character Mr. Goodman played for nine years on ''Roseanne,'' at least more than he does Will, the urbane and sensitive lawyer on ''Will and Grace,'' or Jack, Will's flamboyant friend.
Those tempted to applaud this broadening of the gay image on television should wait until they have seen this sorry show, which has the potential to make everyone cringe, but especially gays, fans of Mr. Goodman and people from Ohio. Daring to be stupid is hardly revolutionary television.
In the first episode, unsubtly titled ''Homecoming Queen,'' Butch returns to Normal after a four-year absence. He has been living in Los Angeles, where he moved after deciding to leave his wife and son and to be open about being gay. (Normal is sophisticated enough to have a gay bar.) Although Butch has gone home for a party celebrating his son's departure for medical school, his reasons for deciding to stay are murky.
The jokes volley between Butch's gayness and his sister's sluttiness, and they almost always land flat. The sister is Pamela (Joely Fisher), and her son worries about whether being gay is hereditary and her daughter makes sneering comments about her mother's taste in men and clothes. Butch's father welcomes the prodigal home with: ''Well, if it isn't my gay homosexual son.''
Having established Butch's sexual orientation, the show's second episode turns to the half-century-old infidelities committed by Butch's parents. His father (Orson Bean) jokes about his failure to burn down a Korean village during the war.
Mr. Goodman tries to give the material an ironic gloss, but it soon becomes clear that irony and lead don't mix. They sink together.
Fox, tonight at 8:30
(Channel 5 in New York)
Created by Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner and Bob Kushell; Carsey-Werner, producer; Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach, executive producers.
WITH: John Goodman (Butch Gamble), Joely Fisher (Pamela), Greg Pitts (Charlie Gamble), Orson Bean (Bill Gamble), Anita Gillette (Joan Gamble), Julia McIlvaine (Kimberly), Cody Kasch (Robbie), Mo Gaffney (Elizabeth) and Charles Rocket (Danny).
A Review from the LA Times
John Goodman Stands Against the Narrow Minds of 'Normal'
November 01, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC
Prime time is a cave dweller that must always be dragged kicking, screaming and rubbing its eyes into the glaring sunlight of diversity.
So gay's the way now, thanks only to ABC's "Ellen," which begat NBC's "Will & Grace," whose popularity makes possible "Normal, Ohio," a new Fox comedy starring behemoth John Goodman as a self-outed homosexual whose ignorant father calls him a "big showgirl."
Among other derisive epithets, that is, in a series that slings one cheap gay joke after another. A couple are even funny.
Goodman is here after making movies and getting famous on TV as laudable patriarch Dan Connor of ABC's "Roseanne." He's a good actor, and without him "Normal, Ohio" would be pretty much worthless. His genial self-mocking wears well as Butch Gamble, who inexplicably has abandoned relatively tolerant Los Angeles for the bigoted Ohio hometown that he fled just four years ago after revealing to his horrified family that he was gay.
Anyone thinking of gay men as limp-wristed 98-pounders will find his physical presence alone an irresistible sight gag as he pops open a beer and watches sports on TV like one of the good old boys.
We meet the big gay gahoot tonight when he returns to Normal unannounced for a bash feting his son, Charlie (Greg Pitts), on the eve of the kid's planned departure for medical school. His jobless, boozing sister, Pamela (Joely Fisher), is sympathetic to Butch. But her daughter, Kimberly (Julia Mcllvaine), is nasty about his gayness, and her son, Robbie (Cody Kasch), fears it may be a family thing. Charlie and Butch's remarried ex-wife, Elizabeth (Mo Gaffney), also remain angry at him; his idiot mother, Joan (Anita Gillette), and especially his father, Bill (Orson Bean), see him as a freak deserving of constant ridicule.
Butch is as much a crasher in this narrow-minded realm as "Ellen" was in prime time when its lead character, played by Ellen DeGeneres, announced in 1997 to America--and to herself, finally--that she was a lesbian.
The difference is not only that "Ellen" was funnier and more sophisticated than initial episodes of "Normal, Ohio" but that Ellen's audience was able to witness her first steps from the closet and a lifetime of denial. There was context. We experienced her epiphany as she did.
Butch, on the other hand, shows up tonight as a gay accompli. He's been there, done that, but exactly how and in what manner isn't revealed. He's also someone so outwardly self-assured that he can turn snide--let's go ahead and call them ugly--remarks about his sexual orientation into straight lines for his own pointed wisecracks.
He's deploying this humor, we can guess, to diffuse the prejudice that confronts him. Just as "Normal, Ohio" uses Butch to deflate one gay stereotype, however, it nourishes another by periodically inserting home movies of him as a child wearing his mommy's high heels, playing with a tea set and ogling posies, as if male homosexuals necessarily desired to dress up and be womanish.
Not so pretty, either, is some Asian stereotyping in next week's second episode when the family discovers that Bill got some "international nooky" as a G.I. in the Korean War. We also learn that this tiny burg somehow has a gay bar, one that hasn't been bombed, no less.
The show's executive producers, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, can point to their blue-collar "Roseanne" as a sitcom that ultimately merged comedy with intelligent comment about an often-stereotyped segment of U.S. society. Yet it's hard to see where "Normal, Ohio" goes from here as it rides an assembly line of gags that trivialize the dangerous homophobia that they are meant to target.
Just as Norman Lear's infinitely deeper Archie Bunker character was softened when the "N" word was omitted from his vocabulary, Butch's father is an oxymoronic character whose bigotry is crafted for laughs. He is the real "fruit loop" here, of course, but not a very funny one.
* "Normal, Ohio" premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with special advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language).
To watch clips of Normal Ohio go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=normal+ohio+tv+show+
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20130406171837/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/normalohio.html
Fo a Review of Normal, Ohio go to https://web.archive.org/web/20080210165344/https://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/n/normal-ohio.html
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Keywords: The Cast of Normal, Ohio