Friday, June 7th, 2013

Going Back to Stuckeyville: Looking Back at 'Ed'

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.

What if David Letterman produced a show featuring a guy from The State, one of the funny actors from Modern Family, and the Mac from those Mac vs. PC ads? Well, actually, he did make a show that met every requirement of that very specific rhetorical question. The show was called Ed, and while it may be one of the newest examples to be examined here in From the Archives, its lack of DVD release and reruns has made it a largely forgotten show. Today we're going to examine the pilot episode of Ed (Technically. More on that in a minute.) and look at what made it special and possibly what made it cancelled.

When Ed premiered in October of 2000, the television landscape was a very different thing. With the exception of the second season of Survivor, Fox's Temptation Island, and the five nights a week of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, there are no reality shows, leaving the schedule much more open for scripted television. Ed is a little hard to classify as a television show: there are signs that it's a drama, such as the fact that it's an hour long, it talks a lot about feelings, and deals with trying to learn to love again after being trapped in bad relationships. On the other hand, the premise, in which the titular character buys a bowling alley and runs a law practice out of it in his hometown in an attempt to woo the girl he had a crush on in high school, is insane. So let's go with "dramedy."

For me, it's the tone of the show that truly sets the show apart from any other comedy from its time. The popular comedies of 2000 like Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond are witty quip-fests with loud, sometimes abrasive characters arguing their way through the day, in front of their live studio audiences. Ed couldn't be more different. In the pilot, Ed leaves New York City (where the friends from Friends live!) after getting fired from his attorney job, and finding his wife cheating on him with a mailman (not the mailman). His hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio is a bit of a Mayberry. Things move slower (the comedy takes half an hour longer to get through), the conflicts are quieter, and the problems are smaller. There's a constant vibe of positivity in Ed, and the constantly smiling face of actor Tom Cavanaugh reinforces that feeling. Rather than get discouraged, Ed is the type of guy who would look at a defeat and say "well, I'll get 'em next time." It's a feeling that feels more at home in the early days of television than 2000, and certainly wouldn't feel right in the sardonic, meta, and detached post-9/11 world of comedy.

Once in Stuckeyville, Ed tracks down Carol Vessey, his high school love, played by the wonderful Julie Bowen, who is now a teacher. The bad news is that she's dating Nick Stanton who, when Ed went to high school, was the cool teacher. Now he's just the bad guy. Somehow Ed convinces Carol to go to the bowling alley with him, and after a lovely night together, she kisses him and to have something to keep him in town, he buys the bowling alley.

Now here's something interesting about the first episode of this show: all of that backstory? From Ed getting fired in NYC to him buying the bowling alley? That's given to the audience in two minutes. It feels like they squeezed the pilot episode into the first two minutes (with somebody doing voice over that never appears again) and they use the rest of the episode to just pick up where they left off. That's because that's exactly what they did. Instead of recasting a few of the roles and reshooting the pilot, the producers decided to just cut together the important pieces from the first episode and make that part of the real first episode. It's a lot of information to pick up at once, and it kind of feels like you accidentally missed the first episode, but it works!

Though it's a pretty great group of people, perhaps the most notable member of the cast to the readers of this site is Mr. Michael Ian Black. Prior to Ed, Black might have been known from MTV's The State, Comedy Central's Viva Variety, and the voice of the spokesockpuppet for Pets.com, but this was his first sustained chance to appear on national television week after week. On Ed, Michael plays Phil Stubbs, the lovable loser who works and lives in Ed's bowling alley. He speaks with a bit of a surfer/dumb guy voice and when he speaks he proposes things like his suggestion to save the bowling alley: "We fill the place with whores. Fun, singing whores like in that Dolly Parton movie." His character is one of the few who is there purely for comic relief, and if he feels Feelings (capital letter is intentional) like the others, he certainly doesn't talk about them.

Also in the show, though just barely in the first episode, is Justin Long, who plays Warren, the super shy, nerdy kid who has a crush on his English teacher, Carol. His moment to shine in the pilot comes when he is in class, dramatically performing Shylock's big monologue from Merchant of Venice, when Ed, who is making a grand dramatic gesture of delivering flowers dressed in a full suit of medieval armor, interrupts him. Flustered, but desperate for the attention from his teacher, Warren tries to keep going, despite the massive distraction. While he makes only a quick appearance in the pilot, it's clear Justin is able to play nerdy, which obviously led to his most recent role as King Nerd in FunnyorDie's Steve Jobs biopic.

Despite the lazy, sunny tone, the show does surprise the audience with some genuinely funny jabs throughout the episode. When Ed is convinced to take a case as a lawyer, the defending attorney begins to fan himself with his straw boater, and speak in a stereotypical Southern drawl. "Yaw honor. The prosecution has hired a big, fancy New Yawk Citeh lawyer…" He is then cut off by the judge who tells him to drop the bit and he returns to his normal Ohio accent. Or when Michael Ian Black's character surprises Ed with a "free legal advice with bowling" promotion and makes a fake diploma that reads "Ed Dershowitz Graduated from Lawyer University." Ed is very quick to point out to everyone that that is not his last name. Though it's very different from their previous work as writers on Letterman's program, creators Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett bring some of that show's sensibility to their dramedy.

Ed never made a great splash in the ratings in its four seasons on NBC, but it did have some very loyal fans, which makes it surprising that it is nowhere to be found today, besides the Paley Center. While it's not the edgiest of programs, it did have it's own style and brought something fresh to television that really hasn't had an equivalent since. Ed may not have been for everyone, but it did what it did well, and was truly something special.

Ramsey Ess is a freelance writer for television, the head writer of his website, a podcaster and a guy on Twitter.

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  • Zach

    I've been watching Ed on Gorillavid. There was really nothing ever like it.

    • Alicia

      Thanks for the tip on Gorillavid! I feel a marathon coming on…

  • Alicia

    I love Ed, and it will remain on my Amazon wishlist until the day it's too inexpensive NOT to put out in some format. And then I will buy it.

  • Robert

    I didn't catch the show until I saw it on reruns on TBS I think. I loved it and thought it was great. Should be on netflix or something.

  • John

    A lot of standup comedians made appearances like Mitch Hedberg, Dave Attell, and I think Jim Gaffigan. Neil Patrick Harris also appears pre Harold and Kumar.

  • Archie

    I loved Ed so much, Stuckeyville was all but a dream!! A truly magnificent piece of TV history, thanks for doing this!

  • Allie

    I hated when Ed and Carl got together. I didn't feel she deserved him and he was way too good for her. He should have left her sitting in that tree.

    • Johnny Thunder

      Bonnie Hane was better. It took me a while to like Claire Dunphey when Modern Family first started because she was still Carol Vessey to me.

  • Stuie299

    This Should have easily been picked up by USA. Damn, what could have been!

  • Peter

    I love Ed, thanks for the article! I met Tom Cavanagh recently too, he's a really cool guy. I would like to see him on Suits–Mike Ross reminds me of Ed Stevens a lot. I hope Ed is on DVD someday or Netflix even.

    • John Mullins

      I think of Tom often when watching Suits! Mike Ross definitely looks like him. TC had a character arc on Royal Pains. He was excellent as usual.

      Ed is my all time favorite TV show. I hope Burnett and Beckerman develop a new show someday.

  • G

    loved this show, miss it so much as it was the last true example of good tv. Hoping it's not too late and someday they find a way to bring it to dvd.

  • StaalOntwerp

    My wife and I loved Ed. We watched it while we were just married. I still think of Julie Bowen as Miss Vessy and Justin Long as Warren Cheswick. My favorite quote from the series was when Mike decide to not speak to his father-in-law until he said something first and after a full day of not speaking he said: 'Boy, that internet is really something.' We still use that quote regularly and it still cracks me up.

  • StaalOntwerp

    My wife and I loved Ed. We watched it while we were just married. I still think of Julie Bowen as Miss Vessy and Justin Long as Warren Cheswick. My favorite quote from the series was when Mike decide to not speak to his father-in-law until he said something first and after a full day of not speaking he said: 'Boy, that internet is really something.' We still use that quote regularly and it still cracks me up.

  • dan lawrence
    • Jolie S. Evans

      just as Ryan responded I
      didn't even know that a single mom able to make $7122 in one month on
      the computer. have you seen this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • dan lawrence

    ed is on dvd, I posted the sie but it went down 20 comments….lok for my name and follow the link

  • Ace

    I'm actually watching the pilot right now! It's currently airing in Canada, so a friend there records it for me and sends it to me in the US. They filmed it near me in NJ. Great show. Missed.

  • jen

    im a fan still … i used to watch it when it was on out tv 10 years ago. i still look every now and again to see if a dvd has been done … but NO.

    so sad… im sure the fans would buy it if it went on dvd. hint hint

  • Strewth78

    One of my top 10 shows ever. Shame on the money guys fighting over… Money. If the problem is music rights then release the series with new music. Just get it out. Soo many of us LOVED this show.

  • Chicagobearsfan9

    I absolutely loved Ed! Funny, quirky, full of heart! I would LOVE to own it on DVD. I bought discs a few years ago–I didn't realize the DVD's were bootleg copies just recorded from the TV. Some episodes were missing, and poor quality to boot!
    Please, oh please quit fighting & just release the show for goodness sake!

  • Chris Hoskins

    I live in Scotland and this is without doubt my favourite tv show ever! I'm gutted that its not available on DVD, I would buy it in a heartbeat if it was ever released!! Come on guys, get it together and release it for us!