Jerry Seinfeld | REM | Startup.com | Janis Joplin

Seinfeld Back to Series TV? There’s Nothing Wrong With That

FX — which is part of the Fox family — may have scored a coup. A new comedy pilot being developed for the network comes with an added bonus: the unseen hand of Jerry Seinfeld. Through a savvy deal made by entertainment chief Kevin Riley, it seems Seinfeld has taken an interest in a new show called Lunatic Theatre. He was seen hanging around the FX studios on West 46th St. and Broadway this past April while it was being hatched. "How lucky can you get to have the great Seinfeld lending a hand in a new show?" said a source rhetorically. I agree. 

FX is indeed part of the Fox family, but do they tell me anything? No. I had to find out for myself. 

I hear that Seinfeld, the reigning king of comedy — whose own show has been off the air since 1998 — is itching to get back to work. I'm told he was very enthusiastic about the making of Lunatic Theatre, shot last month under tight security and secrecy. Apparently, he was at the production offices quite a bit lending support and not just a few good lines in the process. 

When they were shooting some of the show on location in New Jersey, Seinfeld managed to attract the attention of locals, but no one in New York or Hollywood knew he was involved. 

Lunatic Theatre is described as a half-hour original show that's "off the wall, totally fresh and new kind of sketch comedy" but not exactly, with actors playing roles in short bits. 

Apparently, Seinfeld's involvement in the show comes from his friendship with Barry Marder, the Lunatic Theatre creator and a past writing partner. Marder — whose dry sense of humor is said to complement Seinfeld's — is a co-creator of the show with Alan Marder, who, I discovered, is Barry's brother. Barry Marder was Seinfeld's companion last summer when they took a road trip across the country that gained notoriety. 

Others involved in the show, from a staff list I've seen, are Rob Lee — who also happens to be Britney Spears' manager — and Jim Cohane. Marder did not return calls. 

Steven Webster, a spokesman for FX, said: "This project is one of about 40 presentations we're considering. Nothing's been decided. We only found after the fact that Seinfeld was friends with one of the producers. I know he hung out on the set when they were shooting it." 

Seinfeld had been keeping his hand in comedy by working on a documentary for HBO about stand-up comedy and putting in appearances here and there at clubs to develop new material. Two of his former cast-mates, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, will also try TV series this fall with new shows. Michael Richards, who played Kramer, tried and failed to put across a new sitcom this past season. Meanwhile, the real Kramer, Kenny, is running for mayor of New York.

REM and Stipe Get Back Their Religion 

You have to hand it to REM’s Michael Stipe. His group has been together for 20 years. Five years ago Warner Music Group paid REM $80 million up front so they wouldn't scoot away with Mo Ostin to Dreamworks Records. Why even get dressed in the morning? 

So here comes REM's new album, Reveal, which will be in stores Tuesday. After the last one, Up, I think everyone had serious doubts that Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck could pull a hit out of their hats. Stipe and Mills also got involved in film projects, Stipe was partying hard all over New York. 

Surprise! Reveal is just great. It has the feel of their best (or most commercial) albums, Automatic for the People and Out of Time. Reveal has a high production quality that softens some of REM's harsher instincts and draws out its best qualities. Mainly, Reveal has a bunch of singable, melodic rock songs. I guess Stipe was paying attention to U2's recent collection. They gave the people what they wanted — and not automatically.

Web Site Weeper Is Oscar-Worthy Keeper 

Startup.com opens in New York and Los Angeles today, and comes to theaters across the country in the next couple of weeks. A product of the house of Pennebaker Hegedus Films — D.A. Pennebaker, the legendary documentary maker of The War Room, Monterey Pop and Don't Look Back is at the helm of this ship with wife Chris Hegedus —Startup.com is quite the document. It traces a year in the life of the ill-fated govworks.com, a Web site that took off like a shot and ended up like so many get-rich-quick schemes on the Web: dead, dead, dead.

Thanks to Jehane Noujaim, who had been roommates with a Goldman Sachs exec who left to start up govworks.com, Hegedus and crew were able to film the Internet team in their best and worst moments. Of course, their worst moments are very bad, highlighting the greed and lack of professionalism of the Silicon Alley pups — the 1990s equivalent to 1980s junk bond traders. Today, govworks.com is just mulch in the pile of Internet waste. And Startup.com is the cautionary tale that chronicles its failure. A hit at Sundance, and sure to be mandatory viewing for everyone in this country who sits at a keyboard and dreams of being a billionaire.

Janis Joplin Love Fest Off Broadway 

For people of a certain age, Janis Joplin's death was the most heartbreaking of all the stars that went to rock 'n' roll heaven during that time (including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Louis Armstrong). 

Now Joplin's life is finally getting treated to a theatre presentation. Love, Janis has just opened to great reviews at the Village Theatre on Bleecker Street. All the performers are new and it takes two actresses to play Joplin — one belts out her songs while the other delivers a running narrative. They are equally good, and you can see the point. Just being Joplin the singer is such excruciating work, how could you then snap back into dialogue? 

But these women do it, and do it well. I liked Catherine Curtin portraying hippie/beatnik Joplin, misunderstood by her Texas parents and trying to make it in San Francisco. Curtin and all the other Janis actresses make a very moving and poignant, but not too sweet, Joplin come alive. The thing you forget is that Joplin's entire career lasted a mere five years, and that when she died her best album, Pearl, had to be released posthumously. But Love, Janis is far from depressing. If you're in New York this summer, make a special trip downtown. You won't be disappointed.

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