Gay TV Scribes Prove Life Really Is Golden 

Since sharpening their comedic teeth on shows like The Golden Girls and Roseanne, Stan Zimmerman and Jim Berg have gone on to long, successful careers in Hollywood. But this season their dream of finally creating their own sitcom came true thanks to Mad TV's Nicole Sullivan, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and a little show called Rita Rocks.

BY Graham Kolbeins

November 07 2008 1:00 AM ET

The dream of
creating a sitcom from the ground up has always been the
drive behind Stan Zimmerman and Jim Berg’s lifelong
writing partnership. Between classes and college jobs,
they’d spend all their time together, writing
scripts, and thinking up farfetched schemes for Hollywood
success. It didn’t take long for the inseparable duo
to fall into the enviable position of writing for
The Golden Girls, crafting sassy quips for
everyone’s favorite retiree divas.

After garnering a
Writers Guild nomination for the groundbreaking
"lesbian kiss" episode of Roseanne, writing for
Gilmore Girls, and working on film projects
including the upcoming Sarah Jessica Parker-attached The
Ivy Chronicles
, Zimmerman and Berg are finally
living their dream. Their original comedy series Rita
Rocks
, which they describe as Roseanne meets
Welcome to the Dollhouse, premiered on
Lifetime this month, starring Nicole Sullivan of
Mad TV as a frustrated working mom who gets
in touch with her creative side when she starts a rock band
in her garage.

Bolstered by
All Over the Guy’s Richard Ruccolo
as Rita’s devoted husband and Tisha Campbell-Martin
as their meddlesome mailwoman (who ends up playing
keyboard in Rita’s band), Rita Rocks is a
back-to-basics multicamera sitcom that uses the sharp
comedic talents of its stars and writers to stay
competitive in a TV market saturated with reality shows,
single-camera sitcoms, and an avalanche of nearly identical
talent competitions.

Ironically,
it’s those same talent competitions that made the
script for Rita Rocks a viable product after
floating between networks for 10 years, posits Berg:
“It took the zeitgeist of American Idol for
the industry to realize that people were interested in
music and seeing everyday people sing.”

In this
Advocate.com exclusive, Zimmerman and Berg shed some light
on the surprisingly closeted atmosphere backstage on
The Golden Girls, the unique position of
queer voices in Hollywood, and the epic civil
rights-themed Broadway musical they’re writing with
Cyndi Lauper.

Advocate.com:How did Rita Rocks end up on Lifetime? Did
you have any trepidation about marketing a
lighthearted sitcom on a network that’s widely
known for its melodramatic TV movies?

Jim Berg: They said they wanted to try
something new, and we were willing to be their guinea pig.
Also, being a writer in this economy, where
they’re making less and less TV
shows...you’re not that choosy. If Lifetime wants to
make your script, you say, “Have at it!
Let’s do it. Let’s partner up and see what we
can do here.” There’s the joke about
Lifetime just being the melodramatic movies of the
week, but they were looking to branch out, and we believed
in them.

Stan Zimmerman: It was really smart of them to
cater to an audience that hasn’t had a spotlight on
it recently. You know, working moms are just not
associated with sitcoms. Since Roseanne
there’s only been one other show focused on a
working mom, and that’s Life With
Bonnie
.

It’s
always about the dad and his pretty wife that steps in the
frame every now and then. It made sense that Lifetime
would want to explore comedy from the mom’s
point of view.

You’ve worked on a number of female-focused
shows: Roseanne, TheGolden Girls, Gilmore Girls, and now
Rita Rocks. It brings to mind something
Lauren Hutton said when the Sex and the
City
movie came out: that the portrayal of
femininity on that series couldn’t be
authentic because it’s written by gay men.

Zimmerman: Jim, you’ve always loved Lauren
Hutton--

Berg: I don’t love her anymore!

Zimmerman: Let’s call her now and get to the
bottom of this.

Berg: Maybe she was misquoted or taken out of
context--

Zimmerman: Bitch.

Well, to be fair, she did admit that she’d never
seen Sex and the City -- right after
she said that.

Zimmerman: OK, she’s drunk.

Berg: Oh, Lauren.

Tags: television

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