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Fred Savage
returns to TV acting with gay role

Fred Savage
returns to TV acting with gay role

Fred Savage was thinking about devoting himself to directing and producing, but that was before he was offered Crumbs. Savage's cute-little-boy-next-door mien brought him success as wide-eyed Kevin Arnold, growing up amid '60s morals and mores on the ABC series The Wonder Years (1988-1993). He's also remembered as the grandson in the 1987 feature film The Princess Bride. Less memorable is the NBC sitcom Working, which lasted barely two seasons in the late '90s. Since then his focus has been behind the camera, including producing and directing the kid-oriented comedy series Phil of the Future, on the Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon's Drake & Josh.

"Other acting opportunities had come along, but nothing that was tantalizing enough to me to step away from what I found most interesting," says Savage, who at 29 still retains his boyish charm. Crumbs, an ABC sitcom about a dysfunctional family, premieres January 12 at 9:30 p.m., following the second installment of a new run of the summer smash Dancing With the Stars. Savage says Crumbs appealed to him because it didn't have "that setup/setup/joke pattern that has come to define sitcom. I liked that it was about the characters, about the family...and was brave enough not to have a laugh for a few pages."

As the name implies, the Crumbs are a crumbled family who nevertheless retain affection for each other. The mother (Jane Curtin) has just been discharged from a psychiatric facility. The father (William Devane) is expecting a baby with his new girlfriend. They have suffered the death of one of their three sons, and many unspoken memories linger. Jody, the son who stayed home to run the family restaurant, is played by Eddie McClintock. Savage portrays Mitch, the gay prodigal son who returns home from a failed Hollywood career.

The series will explore the family's varied reaction to Mitch's sexual orientation, but Savage says, "That's not what the show is about...the show is really about family and secrets that families keep from each other and how a family pulls itself back together after keeping so much from each other for so long." Openly gay creator Marco Pennette has used incidents in his own family life as inspiration. "We had a lot of tragedy and a lot of pain, and we got through it with a lot of humor," he says.

"Marco really kind of honors these characters.... They are not just these made-up fictitious people but are based very closely on his family, so I felt confident going forward that he would really respect them and not sell the show out," says Savage, explaining his choice to play Mitch, who's essentially Pennette. "I'm certainly not doing a Marco impersonation, and I don't think that's what he wanted," says Savage. "For me, Marco is a wonderful resource because I can talk to him and ask, 'Does this moment ring true?' or 'I don't understand how to make this transition from here to here.'"

The live studio audiences sometimes have a hard time understanding too--in their case, the tone of the series. "That actually encourages us to feel that we are on the right track, that we are doing something different, so it's encouraging when they laugh at the wrong places or don't laugh at all sometimes," Savage says, laughing. He doesn't agree at all with those who think sitcoms have lost their appeal. "I think the sitcom is alive and well and just needs new life breathed into it," he says, hoping Crumbs will do that.

As a young child, Savage "stumbled" into acting after going to a local community center. "They were having auditions for a hot dog commercial, and I went with my friends and my mom because we lived in the suburbs of Chicago and it just seemed like something fun to do," he recalls. "Instead of going to the park that day, we went there. Most kids have a favorite after-school hobby, but not every Little Leaguer becomes a professional baseball player. But I got to become a professional actor. I was really lucky."

Savage ended up marrying a hometown girl--they knew each other as kids growing up in Glencoe, Ill., and reconnected when she moved to Los Angeles. A graduate of Stanford University, Savage is philosophical about the pitfalls of stardom. "I understand the business. I get it. I didn't buy a plane and then figure out how I was going to pay for it if a show got picked up," he says, smiling. "I think I bought a sweater." (Bridget Byrne, AP)

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