With the success of the freshman season of Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva," the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills hosted a screening of this Sunday's season finale on Wednesday as well as a panel featuring the stars and creative team. Our Jim Halterman was there to get the play by play of the evening.
7:07 PM - There's a buzz of excitement in the room as the crowd piles in and Rene Reyes, Producer of Public Programs and Festivals at the Paley Center for Media, takes to the podium introduces the show to a round of applause. He then introduces media freelance writer Janice Littlejohn, who will moderate over tonight's event. Reyes calls her "one of the loveliest people I know." Awww...
7:09 PM - The love fest continues as Janice talks about the "Drop Dead Diva" star Brooke Elliott being the "heart, soul and sass" of the series. When she refers to the character's "toe-tap booty bounce" laughter erupts from the crowd.
7:11 PM - Going through the list of characters on the show, the mere mention of angel Fred (played by Ben Feldman, who is sitting in the front row with the rest of the "DDD" crew) creates hoots and hollers from the group.
7:12 PM - Josh Berman, who looks too young to be a TV veteran, is introduced and immediately thanks the fine folks at Paley, Sony Television and Lifetime. He then asks Feldman to stand up and makes the announcement that Fred will be returning to the show for season two as a full-time season regular. No surprise that the crowd is very pleased with the news. Berman also asks that nobody tweet or blog the surprising end of the finale. Deal! No spoilers here!
7:14 PM - Josh talks about the great guest stars that they were able to get during the first season - Paula Abdul appears in the finale - and references actress Sharon Lawrence, who stands up and takes a bow.
7:15 PM - A brief history of how Josh went from writing about crime on "CSI" and "Bones" to creating "Drop Dead Diva" and how the WGA strike got it dropped by Fox but picked up later by Sony and Lifetime.
7:16 PM - Josh thanks his guardian angels - his parents. Even though Mom is not there (tending to an illness in the family) but Dad Berman is there and gets a nice round of applause.
7:17 PM - The season finale episode "Grayson's Anatomy" is screened.
7:59 PM - I now know what happens in the finale and all I'll say is it's a fun, entertaining episode and definitely leaves much for season two to dive into.
8:00 PM - Janice returns and welcomes tonight's guests to the stage: Josh Stamberg (J. Parker)! Ben Feldman (Fred)! April Bowlby (Stacey)! Jackson Hurst (Grayson)! Creator Josh Berman! Brooke Elliott (Jane)! Margaret Cho (Teri)! Executive Producer Alex Taub!
8:02 PM - April Bowlby has another work engagement so Janice starts with her and asks what she has learned from Stacey. "It's kinda similar to my life. I'm kind of wishy-washy and I think I attract really strong women into my life and I see how they do it and I follow how I do it. I feel Brooke is a really strong woman and I'm happy to have her in my life because I learn from her."
8:03 PM - Josh is asked about Jane's romantic complications in the finale and if it will continue into season 2. "One reason I love to write about women is because they are so complicated so the fact that Jane now has options just makes it more exciting for the writers in the writers' room." (Josh notes that co-star Kate Levering couldn't attend because of a wedding she had in New York.)
8:06 PM - Alex on the great guest stars they were able to get for the first season and who is on the wish list: "We've been very fortunate and we've had quite a few with Paula Abdul, Sharon Lawrence, Kathy Najimy, Teri Polo, some phenomenal guest stars. Our wish list is wide open. I'm not sure who we want to mention in terms of..."
8:07 PM - Josh continues: "We're talking to people already and a lot of it is availability. I think we have on top of the wish list... I know we'd love Cher on the show next season. [Giggles from the audience.] She's someone who embodies complexity but we're also talking about bringing back some of the guest characters back. Rosie [O'Donnell] wants to come back, Paula wants to come back and do a dance for us."
8:08 PM - How did they find Brooke Elliott? Josh explains about the nationwide search and admits, "I was being extremely picky because I knew who this woman was in my head... I was out of town on a Saturday and [casting agent] Susan Edelman called me up and said 'We just got this audition from New York. Are you by a computer?' I said, 'Yes, I am.' 'Just do me a favor and watch it.' For me, it was love at first sight. I called Susan and said 'I know we just found her.'"
8:09 PM - "There's obviously this wonderful message attached to it," Brooke says on the role of Jane, "but it was a lot of when I met Josh. I had gone through the first audition, which was really fun but I just did the audition and you go to a lot of auditions and you go 'I hope I get it!' and you go home. When I got brought out to LA and I met Josh and we got to talk about his intentions and what he wanted and things that were important to me in the script and Josh was really receptive to that and it was then that I was like 'Oh, wait, this is really, really important and this is something that I really, really want to do.'"
8:12 PM - "It's a lot deeper than a romantic comedy," says Margaret Cho of the importance of the show's overall message. "I think that what we're talking about is you're giving a whole generation of women permission to exist and feel beautiful and I think Brooke, through her performance and because she's so beautiful really makes - especially young women - really feel like they could be like her... she makes beauty and this romance and this fantastic fantasy really acceptable and I think it's so exciting." Margaret also talks about filming in the small town in Georgia and how they cast bonds because they're the only ones they know.
8:16 PM - Ben talks about Fred, who, in the course of the first season, turns in his angel identity for the sake of his growing emotions for human Stacey. What superpower would he like to have when Fred returns in Season 2? "I'd like to fly, if we're talking. Why not?"
8:17 PM - An audience member asks about the colorful wardrobe and sets for the show. "In terms of a color palate, that was all discussed early on and we had these tone meetings and we have wardrobe supervisor and I think ideally he sees our vision and with most of our characters we've been super happy... and hopefully we'll develop even further next season."
8:19 PM - "Why film in Georgia?" asks another audience member regarding why the show is shooting in, of all places, the southern state. While Brooke and Margaret commiserate over the "pollen issue" they share being there, Josh explained that "the sets that we have are the biggest, most luxurious sets I've ever got to work on; the most functional sets and they didn't cost as much as some of the other sets that I've worked on. The idea is we get more bang for our buck there."
8:22 PM - "We thought we had too many this season," Josh admits about the number of dream sequences. "There are a couple of dream sequences that we shot that we did not include in the episode but are available online on MyLifetime.com or our Facebook page. They're the most expensive webisodes online since we did them for the show."
8:26 PM - An audience member asks how many episodes will make up Season 2 and Josh says "13" but then reminds the audience that Lifetime executives are in the audience if they'd like to ask for more. "We're happy to produce as many as they order," Josh grins at the suits in the front rows of the room.
8:28 PM - Josh reveals that Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" told TV Guide that "Drop Dead Diva" is one of his favorite shows.
8:30 PM - My turn! Yours truly raises his hand and asks Josh and Alex if they've had different experiences working on cable as opposed to network television. Alex answers: "Honestly, I haven't noticed massive differences between the two. I'll tell you this, though, of all the shows I've worked on, which is maybe 6 or 7, more people come up and talk to me about this show than any of the network shows. I don't know what that's reflective of except that I think there has been a great leveling between cable and network and maybe in some cases there is more interesting stuff being done on cable."
8:33 PM - Asked about their various hiatuses, Ben says he landed a "CSI" episode because they are fans of their show. Josh explains, "Carol Mendelsohn, who was my teacher and mentor for six years at CSI, came and watched the pilot and then she called me and said 'Can I cast him in something?' and I said 'Sure, go for it, as long as it doesn't interfere with us.'" Brooke adds with a chuckle that she's still working on "Drop Dead Diva" doing press.
8:37 PM - Ben pushes the wine that he makes at www.AngelicaCellars.com. Josh mentions that he's still working on "Bones" as a consultant and truly loves the show.
8:38 PM - Last question of the night is why Brooke's character cannot remember Jane's memories and Brooke reminds that they explained in an episode when Fred tells Jane that "the memory remains with the soul."
8:39 PM - Big applause. Big smiles all around. Big first season and many more to come for "Drop Dead Diva."
The season one finale of "Drop Dead Diva" airs this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on Lifetime.