SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The sitcom king is back with a series in which both the sit and the com may be unexpected. Chuck Lorre, the mind behind huge hits that include "Two And A Half Men," "Mike & Molly" and "The Big Bang Theory," has created a series for Netflix that's set in Hollywood, but it's really about the biggest show of all - growing old. It stars a matinee idol who's now in his 70s; Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, an old star who now gets turned down for sitcoms, but he keeps working as an acting teacher. Alan Arkin plays his friend, agent and a recent widower.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE KOMINSKY METHOD")
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: (As Sandy Kominsky) Listen to me. We're all scared, but we get through it because we're not alone. You're not alone.
ALAN ARKIN: (As Norman) Who do I have?
DOUGLAS: (As Sandy Kominsky) Can you see me? I'm right here in front of you.
SIMON: Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. Nancy Travis also stars, and the show has guests that range from Ann-Margret to Jay Leno to Patti LaBelle to Danny DeVito. Chuck Lorre joins us now from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.
CHUCK LORRE: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: When the series opens, Sandy Kominsky has a problem confronting mortality, doesn't he?
LORRE: Yes. Yeah. He's - you know, there's a certain self-involvement in the character that has to be overcome. That's part of his journey. And the wife of his friend Norman, who is terminally ill, she has a big impact on him and opens him up to being close to mortality, to being close to the reality of getting older.
SIMON: Well, let me ask you, sitcom king...
LORRE: No, don't use that word. Kings get their heads chopped off. Let's go with something else.
SIMON: Oh, all right.
LORRE: Court jester would be fine.
SIMON: All right. Court jester then, Mr. Lorre. Is this a show that people will watch in part because it is about Hollywood? I mean, it's different than if you - if, let's say, your principal characters were all teachers at a high school in Oregon.
LORRE: I wasn't really that interested in spoofing or doing a show about show business. What was interesting about this in the world of Hollywood and acting is first and foremost he's teaching a class of kids that are several generations removed from him. And that gulf between his perception of the world and a 22-year-old's perception of the world was something that was interesting to me. I wanted to write about that. And I also wanted to avoid the pitfall of making fun of acting and have a character like Sandy Kominsky who is trying to imbue his love for the craft to these students. And some of the students you see as you watch this thing have real chops. They really can act.
SIMON: All that being noted and the respect for the craft of acting, there are some hilarious moments in those acting classes.
LORRE: Boy, I hope so.
SIMON: Mr. Lorre, you used to play cruise ships and bat mitzvahs...
LORRE: You bet (laughter).
SIMON: ...In your days as a musician.
LORRE: Yeah, about 17, 18 years. I've played saloons in Alaska and cruise ships in the Caribbean and all points in between, you know, a journeyman guitar player.
SIMON: And what do you think you learned from that?
LORRE: I think playing in front of a live audience every night, you have an obligation to a live audience. And the obligation in most bars is the band is there to help the patrons dance, actually, believe it or not, to make them perspire so they'll drink more.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh. That never occurred to me.
LORRE: You bet. And if the band doesn't do that, the band gets fired.
SIMON: The guy - the person who owns the bar doesn't want to hear and now a slow, romantic ballad that's a favorite of mine.
LORRE: And we're going to do a little song in 7/4 that's impossible to dance to, but it's very interesting. Yeah, no, they don't want it - they don't want that. "Sweet Home Alabama" will be fine. Thank you. So when I started doing situation comedies in front of a live audience - and that's been, for the most part, all I've done for the last 30 years - there's that obligation to the audience. Now, the obligation is not to cause them to dance but to cause laughter. And once again, it's not a bar owner this time. It's a network. If the audience isn't laughing, you're packing your belongings in a cardboard box, and you're going home. But I think the more relevant part is playing music impacted on the way I listen to words. There's rhythm in dialogue. There's pauses like there's rests in music. There's pauses that make comedy possible. Everything plays almost musically but with words.
SIMON: I'm afraid I have to ask you about - as I read about it, it struck me as what might be the low point of your career.
LORRE: There were several. Which one are you talking about?
SIMON: Well, I read that you were fired from the staff of "My Little Pony."
LORRE: (Laughter) I was drinking coffee when you said that. I almost - you almost got a spit take. Oh...
SIMON: Oh, darn.
SIMON: I live to - do you realize what pleasure it would give me to cause Chuck Lorre to have a spit take?
LORRE: It was close.
SIMON: All right.
LORRE: (Laughter) Yeah, I guess - I remember the CBS president of children's programming said I just don't have the pony's voice.
SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, Twinkle.
LORRE: Yeah. And I've got to tell you, I worked really hard on that. I was kind of devastated. I was going to take the pony project and bring it up a notch, you know (laughter)?
SIMON: Well, you've done OK.
LORRE: I've done OK. You know, that which doesn't kill us makes us bitter, right?
SIMON: (Laughter) I hadn't heard that. There's a moment in "The Kominsky Method" where Alan Arkin bursts into Sandy Kominsky's acting class. He just can't stay silent, and he sees a lot of people who are four or five generations younger than him, and he says, you know, to be human is to be hurt. And I saw that scene and found myself thinking this isn't a situation comedy. This is a situation dramedy.
LORRE: One of the great advantages of doing this was I had the freedom to just write and chase the characters where it felt appropriate to go. I guess I've been doing this long enough to where I reached a point where I just - I'm going to trust that this is appropriate and do it and not worry about what category it falls into.
SIMON: Chuck Lorre - his new show, "The Kominsky Method," streaming on Netflix - thanks so much for being with us.
LORRE: It was fun. Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK'S "ROSEBUD")
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