Series Creator, Star Weigh In On 'Better Off Ted'

The second season of ABC's comedy series Better Off Ted begins Tuesday. The "Ted" in question runs the R&D department of the conglomerate Veridian Dynamics, a clever parody of a General Electric-type company that produces everything from office chairs to "weaponized pumpkins." Series creator Victor Fresco and co-star Portia de Rossi speak to host Guy Raz.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Meet Ted Crisp. Ted runs the research and development team for a company called Veridian Dynamics. Veridian makes everything from light bulbs to breakfast meats.

(Soundbite of television program, "Better Off Ted")

Mr. JAY HARRINGTON (Actor): (As Ted Crisp) Industrial products, biomedical, cryogenics, defense technology.

Ms. PORTIA DE ROSSI (Actor): (As Veronica Palmer) We want to weaponize the pumpkin.

RAZ: That's Veronica Palmer. She's Ted's boss, and she's all business, no heart.

(Soundbite of television program, "Better Off Ted")

Ms. DE ROSSI: (As Veronica) We need a mouth that can withstand temperatures up to a hundred and ninety-five degrees.

Mr. HARRINGTON: (As Ted) We can do that. Our computer (unintelligible).

Ms. DE ROSSI: (As Veronica) I'll get back to you.

RAZ: Ted and Veronica are characters in the ABC comedy series "Better Off Ted." The second season begins Tuesday.

Victor Fresco created the series and Portia de Rossi plays the cold, efficient Veronica. Victor's in California and Portia's in New York.

Welcome to the both of you.

Mr. VICTOR FRESCO (Creator, "Better Off Ted"): Thank you. Nice to be here.

Ms. DE ROSSI: Thank you, Guy. Thanks for having us.

RAZ: Victor Fresco, I want to begin with you. Veridian Dynamics is sort of the ultimate corporate hybrid, a kind of a defense research lab meets agribusiness giant. How did you come up with the idea to write a sitcom based on that?

Mr. FRESCO: There was a few things I have been interested in over the years, and one is - and I think this is from being a new parent - the sort of disconnect between our personal and public lives, that we can - most of us teach our kids to be moral, to know right and wrong, and yet, when we go into the workplace and we work for giant corporations, we see decisions made that are not based on any of those qualities that we want our kids to have.

RAZ: And Ted - we should point out, the main character - is a single father, and his daughter is sort of like his moral compass.

Mr. FRESCO: Right. In the pilot episode, which aired last season, Ted is tasked by Veronica. They want to cryonically freeze one of their employees.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRESCO: They think that's ready for testing.

RAZ: And they think this is normal. The company thinks it's perfectly normal to freeze one of their employees for a year.

Mr. FRESCO: Yes. It's only when his daughter - he goes home and talks to his daughter, who points out that this is insane, that he realizes that maybe this isn't the correct path that he's on.

RAZ: Portia de Rossi, I want to ask you about the character you play. She is this all-business corporate executive. I mean, she's kind of like a supercharged version, in a sense, of the character you played on "Ally McBeal," Nell Porter. Isn't she a little bit like that?

Ms. DE ROSSI: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely a similarity, and in fact, when Victor and I met for the first time for the project, I kind of assumed that he had written this character for me, but then I found out that he didn't know who the hell I was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DE ROSSI: So I had to convince him that I understood this kind of woman who just leaves her morals and her compassion at the door when she checks in every day.

(Soundbite of television program, "Better Off Ted")

Mr. HARRINGTON: (As Ted) Lem mentioned that there's something weird going on with the motion sensors in the lab?

Ms. DE ROSSI: (As Veronica) Oh, yeah, it works by detecting light reflected off the skin, although there is a problem. It doesn't seem to see black people. Weird, huh?

Mr. HARRINGTON: (As Ted) That's more than weird, Veronica, that's basically, well, racist.

Ms. DE ROSSI: (As Veronica) The company's position is that it's actually the opposite of racist because it's not targeting black people, it's just ignoring them. They insist the worst people can call it as indifferent.

RAZ: And there's always sort of a glitch in what Veridian's research department comes up with. It's your character's job, Veronica's job, to kind of spin the whole thing to the company's advantage.

Ms. DE ROSSI: I think she just doesn't really feel like ethics play a part in the workplace. She just sees it as the company succeeding or the company failing, and she'll do everything in her power to make sure both she and the company succeed.

(Soundbite of television program, "Better Off Ted")

Mr. HARRINGTON: (As Ted) Well, they know it has to be fixed, right?

Ms. DE ROSSI: (As Veronica) Of course they do, and they're working on it. In the meantime, they'd like to remind everyone to celebrate the fact that it does see Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Jews.

Mr. FRESCO: She just really wants to do the company's bidding. That's easy to parody because when that runs amok, people start doing all kinds of crazy things in order to spin and to put, you know, a positive look on what they're doing.

RAZ: Victor Fresco, I'm curious about a feature that you have on the show. Many times, before a commercial break, there's a fake commercial for Veridian Dynamics, and I want to play one of them.

(Soundbite of television program, "Better Off Ted")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: Veridian Dynamics. We're the future of food: tomatoes the size of this baby, lemon-flavored fish, organic vegetables chock full of antidepressants.

RAZ: I have to say when I first saw this commercial break, it threw me a bit. It took me a second to realize that it was actually fake.

Mr. FRESCO: There's things in there, as I listen to it, the vegetables chock full of antidepressants. Well, that obviously isn't happening yet, I'm hoping.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRESCO: So that - there are tip-offs that tell us it's fake. But I think it's actually becoming more difficult to parody corporate culture. Anything you can imagine that happens at these high levels has probably happened.

RAZ: So what are some of the products that Veridian will be working on this forthcoming season?

Mr. FRESCO: Well, you know, a big part of the show - I mean, there's products, but a big part of the show is just the corporate kind of culture, and so I'll give you an example of - episode we did is a memo comes out - and everybody there religiously follows memos - a memo comes out that says employees must now use offensive and insulting language in the workplace. It's a typo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRESCO: It should say employees must not use offensive and insulting, but -and Ted tries to get to the bottom of it, but he can't get through the bureaucracy, and so now, people just start insulting and abusing each other, thinking there's (unintelligible)�

Ms. DE ROSSI: That was a fun episode to shoot, let me tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: "Better Off Ted" returns for its second season on ABC this Tuesday. Series creator Victor Fresco joined me from our California studios, and co-star Portia de Rossi was with me from our New York studios.

Thank you both.

Mr. FRESCO: Thank you, Guy. It was terrific.

Ms. DE ROSSI: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: This part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED has been brought to you by Veridian Dynamics, fighting for the rights of giant companies like us over people like you. Veridian Dynamics. We're big; you're small; we win.

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