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Multi-tasking comedian real princess of prime time

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Much has been written and said this fall about the arrival of Zooey Deschanel -- star of the rookie hit Fox sitcom New Girl -- as prime time's latest "It" girl.

As talented, omnipresent and "adorkable" as Deschanel is, the truth of the matter is that the title probably belongs to another prime-time newcomer -- Whitney Cummings, who is the star in her own upstart NBC comedy, Whitney, while at the same time playing a major behind-the-camera role in the surprise hit CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls.

Both shows have been given full-season commitments by their respective networks, making it pretty hard to argue with anyone who declares that it's actually Whit who's "It."

"It's all just surreal," Cummings said last summer in interview sessions during the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "I'm so lucky that I'm able to be part of two amazing shows that I'm really proud of this season."

"Amazing" might be a bit of an overstatement -- Whitney (which airs Thursdays on NBC and CTV) has emerged as a rather old-school sitcom examination of traditional man/woman relationships, while 2 Broke Girls (Mondays on CBS and Citytv) approaches a somewhat unconventional TV-comedy premise (financial inequality) from a very conventional perspective. But the mere fact that they've both been given full-season endorsements by the networks that air them places them in a slim minority in this or any television season.

And Cummings might be the only person in the history of the medium to achieve what she has -- being a creative force in two separate shows during her first season on major-network TV.

A year and a half ago, the Washington-born performer was an in-demand standup comic who had landed her own Comedy Central special, made occasional appearances on Chelsea Lately and ruffled feathers with her boundary-pushing contributions to taped-for-TV roasts of the likes of David Hasselhoff, Joan Rivers and Donald Trump.

Like most of the comics toiling in Hollywood, she was in the market for a TV-show gig. And in a matter of just a few weeks, she landed two.

"I pitched the idea of (Whitney) in August (2010) ... started writing the script, and probably a month later, I heard that Michael Patrick King (creator of Sex and the City) was going to do a multi-camera sitcom and he wanted to write it with someone," she recalled. "So they sent him a script that I had written ... and I went to meet with him.

"It's always very embarrassing, as a woman, to meet with Michael Patrick King because you make an idiot of yourself. I went and bought a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps, which I was planning on returning the next day, but I sweated in them so much that I ended up having to keep them. It was a disaster. But I met with him again after that, and we hit it off."

Starring in one new series (Whitney) and being an "executive consultant" on another (2 Broke Girls) that's being shot at the same time creates a bit of a time-management problem for Cummings, but she expressed confidence that both shows -- and her fledging prime-time career -- are in good hands.

"I'm spending my days at the NBC show with (executive producer) Betsy Thomas and our writers; I'm there all day, every day, and then at home I'll read the notes from 2 Broke Girls. I'm pretty sure that 2 Broke Girls is in good hands with the best showrunner/writer ever, so I'm not too worried about it. We talk all the time."

For his part, King said that despite her new-to-TV status, Cummings was the perfect person to partner with on a sitcom project.

"When I thought of doing a show called 2 Broke Girls and I wanted it to be as contemporary and as edgy as I believe two broke girls would be today... the first person I was looking for was a really smart, funny writer with a really hard comedy edge," he explained. "And so I did my search for the female writer that had what I needed. And a lot of great writers were there, but really no one had everything that Whitney has, which that is she's smart, she's incredibly ambitious, (has) great discipline and thinks like a writer and writes really hard jokes like a standup.

"So once I knew it was Whitney, I really wanted everything that she has -- primarily because we were doing it in front of a live audience. It was really important to both Whitney and I that we had jokes that made an audience laugh, because we wanted to do a show that was actually proven by an audience rather than edited in a comedy way in an editing room."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2011 E5

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