Has ABC's Dharma and Greg become Scientology central for sitcoms?
The group already has a vocal member in star Jenna Elfman, who plays Dharma. Elfman is the protégé of acting teacher Milton Katselas, also a devotee of the pay-as-you-go cult favored by Tom Cruise, John Travolta and others.
Last spring, avowed and outspoken cult member Kirstie Alley appeared in Dharma and Greg's season cliffhanger as, of all things, a marriage counselor. (It was ironic since Alley in real life had a disastrous marriage to actor Parker Stevenson that ended in an acrimonious divorce.)
Now the show, which is produced by former Cybill producer Chuck Lorre, has announced a full-time cast addition: Juliette Lewis, former drug addict and star of awful movies like Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers. Lewis, according to reports, will play Dharma's hippie-like childhood friend.
Lewis is one of Scientology's foremost celebrities. Last summer at a Creative Coalition panel discussion in Los Angeles about violence in the media, Lewis — a last-minute addition — pushed the Scientology agenda the minute she got her chance. She ambushed moderator Carl Bernstein when she announced that what was really affecting children today was not violence in the media — such as her own movies.
The real culprit, she said, was psychotropic drugs. Scientologists, including Alley and Elfman, are vehemently against kids with illnesses like Attention Deficit Disorder getting psychiatric treatment or drugs like Ritalin. (This is because the cult depends on alienated kids, and kids with learning disorders and other problems to come to them instead. Ritalin is probably Scientology's worst nightmare.)
So what's next, John Travolta as Greg's long lost cousin? Mimi Rogers as his aunt? Will Dharma and Greg simply become a repository for more Scientologists with dead careers? (Since the cancellation of her dreadful Veronica's Closet series, Alley has been relegated to Pier 1 Imports commercials. Lewis has been unemployable for years.)
Even the atrociously pandering Entertainment Tonight questioned what was going on last spring when Alley did her star turn, by the way.
Dharma and Greg's very affable co-executive producer Bill Prady told me that the propensity of Scientologists is merely a manifestation of who Elfman's friends are. "Really, stunt casting is the bane of my existence. We go to the cast and say, 'Who are your friends?' And, 'Who can you get?' Jenna's friends with Kirstie and with Juliette, so they came. One of our writers is friends with Bob Dylan, that's how we got him. Right now we're hoping to get Olivia Newton-John, who's a friend of someone here. It's really that simple."
Just as a PS-slash-non sequitur, I noticed that someone named Rachel Sweet is listed as a writer/producer on the show. The only Rachel Sweet I ever heard of came from Ohio and was a one-time 16-year-old bombshell punk rocker from 1978-82. Her debut album on Stiff Records, with the songs "Who Does Lisa Like?" and Elvis Costello's "Stranger in the House," was a classic. If it's the same Sweet, I'll definitely be watching.
Artisan Entertainment is teetering on the brink of something bad, but they're forging ahead. Their big fall release, Novocaine, opens the iffy Toronto Film Festival later this week. It stars Steve Martin as a dentist and Helena Bonham Carter and Laura Dern as the odd women in his life. It's a trifle exercise with a fledgling director, David Atkins, but it's something. (Atkins is Canadian, which is the main qualification for opening the Toronto festival. That, and to be a movie no one ever hears about again.)
This year hasn't been too great for Artisan, which is a shame. The company gave us The Blair Witch Project and Startup.com. They should have taken some business advice from the latter. Currently Artisan is in a huge lawsuit with a Hollywood player who's not exactly Mary Poppins. Peter Hoffman, who owns something called Seven Arts Productions, is alleged in the Artisan lawsuit to have reneged on financing at the last minute. Because they say Hoffman pulled out without warning, Artisan had to find the completion money for Novocaine on its own. (Hoffman, according to reports, denies doing anything wrong.)
Interestingly, Hoffman is only fresh out of a two-year suit brought against him by the U.S. government. They alleged that when Hoffman was president of Carolco Pictures — the lovely company that gave us the Rambo movies — he claimed that $1 million in personal loans he took were really gifts and weren't taxable. The government disagreed and accused him of felony tax fraud. After two years he ultimately pled guilty, paid a $5,000 fine, and escaped a prison sentence. Hoffman considered this a victory, but the government pointed out that from the time they sued until the plea, Hoffman anted up about $225,000 in back taxes. Most of it was paid the day before Hoffman's trial began, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
I loved the breathless report on the Reuters wire Monday that Nicole Kidman is going to do a play directed by Sam Mendes. Unfortunately, the Reuters reporter could have gotten that news five weeks ago, if he or she had just read this column.