Elfman Returns to TV Comedy

Jenna Elfman plays the mother of two children in NBC's new sitcom, "Growing Up Fisher." Here, she gives her TV son (played by Eli Baker) a bear hug.  (Colleen Hayes/Courtesy NBC/MCT)

Jenna Elfman plays the mother of two children in NBC's new sitcom, "Growing Up Fisher." Here, she gives her TV son (played by Eli Baker) a bear hug. (Colleen Hayes/Courtesy NBC/MCT)

Pasadena, Calif. — There was one time in her life when Jenna Elfman considered quitting acting. “Sometimes when I’ve gotten overwhelmed trying to do acting and motherhood I’ve wanted to quit acting so I could just be a mom,” she says in the busy lobby lounge of a hotel here.

“But then I say, ‘You know what I’m missing? I’m really not managing my time properly. So I’ll just crank up my game on time management.’ And I handle it.”

She’s been handling it ever since she was 4 and first told her mother that she was going to be a “famous person on TV someday.”

That happened when Elfman captured the role of the kooky Dharma on the long-running series, Dharma & Greg. Since then she’s appeared in multiple projects including Damages, 1600 Penn and the upcoming film, Big Stone Gap. But she’s back in series comedy now, with NBC’s new Growing Up Fisher, in which she plays the mother of a teenage daughter and an 11-year-old son. For this role Elfman didn’t need drama school — she’d already logged a lifetime of training.

“My mom would babysit, we always took care of babies so I felt oriented to child care,” says Elfman, who has two sons, 4 and 6.

“My mom was always welcoming babies so I would feed babies bottles and change diapers, so it was in my life. l felt confident going into motherhood because I had an example set for me. So that makes me really want to set an example for my children, especially as men — to be oriented to child care so they’re not disconnected to that,” she says.

“I’ve always felt pretty confident as a mother for the most part when they were babies — once they start talking back that’s when I feel challenged. So I’m constantly checking myself. If you get tired, you’re short tempered and I don’t want feel like I’m betraying them by being frustrated or anything like that.”

Elfman spent 14 years studying ballet before she ever tried acting. “It never felt like I was off track doing dance,” says Elfman who’s kicked off her high heels and is sitting barefoot in a black vinyl club chair.

“I just knew it was good training and I loved doing it. It’s art and it’s creative and it taught me having a work ethic. It taught me the importance of creativity and diligence toward a goal. It was great training. I still love dancing.”

But it was her appearance on the Academy Awards in 1991 that set her on quest for acting. “I was like an inch tall on screen and one of 30 (dancers) when I said, ‘I really want to impact the world somehow,’ and I didn’t feel like I could do it in that capacity. That’s when I transitioned into acting. I was 19 and had been working doing what I love so I’d already proved to myself that I could do it. So then it was just, ‘OK, let’s try this.’ ”

She continued dancing while she landed some commercials that supplemented her waitressing skills. “I mainly was able to pay my bills doing commercials and every now and then I’d have to go stuff some envelopes for some extra cash, or I’d made some jewelry just to get gas money to get to acting class. That was fun,” she says.

“I definitely worked from the bottom and I think that’s given me confidence in my career because if it all went away I’ve done it once, I could do it again. So I’ve never been afraid of failing because I’ve already proved myself. I can work hard and create a career for myself. I’ve had stress definitely, but not fear.”

She was 19 when she met her husband, Bodhi, to whom she’s been married 19 years. She says, “I moved out of my parents’ house and in with Bodhi that was a big change to go from child to girlfriend, friend, quest-of-adventure, partner. Being with Bodhi has definitely changed my life because he’s very aware, and he demanded of me to sort of increase my awareness as well of life and people and things.”

Pausing, she adds, “He’s very astute. And I was always very fun and charming, but I wasn’t very astute. He’s more well-read than me and has a more refined point of view.” wShe thinks the secret to their lasting marriage is communication. “We do not keep secrets,” she says, tucking her feet under her.

“So we make it really safe for the other person to come clean if they need to come clean — if they’ve broken an agreement or violated something. We don’t cheat on each other. Neither of us has ever cheated on each other. We really keep that agreement, and there are times when you kind of flirt a little bit. We tell each other. We don’t keep it a secret. I think secrets are what drive people away. If you say I kind of got flirtatious with ...’ he says, ‘I understand. I’ve done the same thing.’ And you just move on.”

Denis Leary and his new writing partner, Bob Fisher, are unpacking a new comedy, “Sirens,” for USA Network on Thursday. In the vein of Leary’s and Peter Tolan’s “Rescue Me,” this is a tale about three paramedics and the wild predicaments they encounter. Many of the stories are based on real cases, and they are hilarious. Leary has always been funny, first as standup and now as TV writer and executive producer. He says his humor goes back to when he was a kid. “I had to share a room with my older brother in a three-decker in downtown Worcester, Mass. And the family lived in the apartment that was on the third floor, but my brother and I were stuck in the attic which they turned into this tiny little bedroom. We were pretty funny together up there, so I had a sense that I was funny because I could make him laugh. But from then, I really hated school and I hated the nuns and I hated the priests, so I just was a wiseass in the back of the classroom. That’s where I started. And look at me now.”

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It’s hard to believe, but Seth McFarlane is one of the navigators behind the reworking of Carl Sagan’s now classic series, “Cosmos,” premiering Sunday on several Fox-owned channels as well as National Geographic. Dubbed “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” the show is being written and executive produced by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, and astronomer Steven Soter. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts the 13-part series.

“I had always been a fan of ‘Cosmos,’” says McFarlane. “I had seen it as a child, and then, when I was in high school, saw it again and was able to process it in even more depth and was just always a fan. And I met Neil through an organization that Jerry and Janet Zucker put together called the Science & Entertainment Exchange and found out he was working with Ann on doing a new ‘Cosmos.’

“I said while National Geographic, Discovery Channel were some of the places that it was being considered to be pitched to and are great networks, in a way, you’re sort of preaching to the converted, and wouldn’t it be nice to broaden it a little bit even more? And I thought that there was a strong possibility that this particular regime at Fox, as creative and open minded as they are, would be receptive to the idea of doing the show on a network, and sure enough, they were. And the rest brought us here.”

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Viewers who haven’t caught “The Middle,” on ABC will have the chance to meet the Heck family on the Hallmark Channel when the show begins airing there this week. One of the best things about the sitcom is Eden Sher, who plays the awkward but ever hopeful teenage daughter.

Snagging the part was no walk in the park, says Sher, who went through a series of auditions with little encouragement until she finally landed a tryout in front of network executives.

“I was, like, ‘OK, they’re screen testing me, maybe they DO actually like me. I’m reading these sides (lines) for the 14th time.’ The two other girls (auditioning) were 11 and 12. And I was like, ‘Well, all right, clearly they want whatever, an actual 12-year-old, and I’m 17 ... there’s no way I can actually look this young ... ‘ They did a process of elimination. First, it was two girls. Then there was just one other girl at the next one. And then the other girl at that one was in the room for 30 minutes, and I was in for I want to say - literally four minutes.” At that moment, she says, she was thinking, “‘Oh, my God, this whole emotional process was just not worth anything. I can’t believe I went through this for nothing,’ even though I really wanted the role and then,” she laughs, “it was the best wrong I’ve ever been.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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