|`Remember WENN' creator uses contacts to land a big Fish|
REMEMBER WENN. American Movie Classics, 10 p.m. Friday.
For a show set in a radio station in World War II-era Pittsburgh, AMC's "Remember WENN" is often on the cutting edge of casting.
Thanks in part to creator Rupert Holmes' extensive theater connections, guest stars have included everyone from "Sunset Boulevard" diva Betty Buckley to "Caroline in the City" co-star Malcolm Gets. Molly Ringwald made it her first stop on her trip back to television. (OK, it was a short trip.) And Dina Spybey ("SubUrbia") did the pincurl perm number on "WENN" before slouching off to join NBC's "Men Behaving Badly." So it's no surprise that Friday's edition of "WENN" will feature Greg Germann, whose day job is about as '90s a gig as television offers, playing the ethics-challenged, wattle-obsessed Richard Fish on Fox's "Ally McBeal."
How did Holmes hook him?
"He was very flattering and said he wanted to write something for me. And I'm sure that's the easiest way to any actor," Germann said last week in a phone interview from the set of "Ally."
Joking that "we've all taken a secret oath and we have these telltale tattoos on our left buttocks," Germann acknowledged that his own theater background probably played a part in making the connection with Holmes, a Broadway playwright and composer ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood").
"When you're out here" in Los Angeles, he said, "it's harder to keep yourself connected to all that," which is why he welcomed the opportunity.
At the time, too, he was participating in the annual one-act play marathon at Manhattan's Ensemble Studio Theater, "and they made it very easy for me to do."
"Ally McBeal" fans may recognize some Fish-like qualities in Arden Sage, an aphorism-spouting writer Germann likens to "a precursor of [ motivational speaker ] Tony Robbins." He said, however, that he asked Holmes not to make his character too much like Fish because "I'm doing this character every week . . . I wasn't just reaching into my horrible bag of tricks."
Some of those tricks come to him courtesy of "Ally McBeal" creator David E. Kelley, who, like Holmes, writes just about every word of his series (and in Kelley's case, writes most of ABC's "The Practice" as well).
The resemblance between the two overachievers wasn't lost on Germann. Of Holmes, he said: "The guy clearly has something on the ball, and you always learn something when you work with people like that."
Switching to Kelley, he adopts the reverential tones most actors who've worked with him use when talking to reporters, saying it would be "terrifying" to consider the possibility of Kelley's ever leaving the day-to-day writing, as he did a few seasons ago on CBS's "Chicago Hope."
While it's Germann who's become publicly associated with the expression of the moment, "Bygones," the actor said he feels "a little separated from it."
"Bygones is David Kelley's," he said. "It's wonderful and terrific, but I honestly feel that the credit goes to David Kelley because he's such a wonderful writer that television is lucky to have." And no, he hasn't noticed that his on-air romance with actress Dyan Cannon has brought him any added attention from older women.
"This is a boring answer, but it's like a role I'm playing," he said, adding that recently, while attending a movie, his wife told him: " 'We have to move our seats because these teen-age girls saw you and they're sort of going nuts.' "One older man did confide that since the show premiered, "he'd discovered his wife's wattle," Germann said. "I'm thinking, this might be a little more information than I should know."(Note to those who shun "Ally": Wattle refers to the spot on the front of a woman's neck that, er, relaxes with age.)
Now that Germann has shown the way, can "WENN" fans expect "Ally McBeal" star Calista Flockhart to show up next?
"I have no idea," he said. "If she is as easily flattered as I am, she will be. Rupert is very persuasive."
You can reach Ellen Gray by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 215-854-5852 or by mail at the Philadelphia Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.