Some Old Dogs With New Tricks

Even the dogís a little loony in Stark Raving Mad, the series that seems to have everything going for it.

PASADENA, Calif. - The essential ingredients all seem to be there. Take one award-winning creator/producer - Steve Levitan, formerly of Wings, Frasier and Larry Sanders, and currently also of Just Shoot Me. Add an almost unbeatable timeslot, smack in the middle of NBCís Thursday lineup, propped up on either side by established hits, Frasier and ER.

Stir in an appropriately high-concept premise, a sitcom built around the volatile relationship between a highly neurotic book editor and a dangerously unstable horror novelist.

And then, a couple of TV-friendly faces. As the former, Neil Patrick Harris, the ex-Doogie Howser, now a grown-up veteran of stage (Rent, Sweeney Tood) and screen (Starship Troopers, The Next Best Thing).

And for the latter, Tony Shaloub, one-time Wings-man, an ethnically eclectic actor who stole scenes in moves like Quick Change, Big Night and Men In Black, and was Tony-nominated on Broadway for Conversations With My Father.

Then add to the mix some secondary characters, played by Jessica Cauffiel (Frasier, The Out-Of-Towners) and Eddie McClintock (Felicity, Mumford). And Edgar, the adorable leg-humping dog...

Yes, you read that right. Apparently, the carnal canine (real name Marty) was chosen solely for his, um, social skills.

"The interesting thing is, you canít teach a dog to do that," producer Levitan reveals.

"We had to have auditions for the dogs, and either they had it or they didnít. We had this long line of dog trainers coming into my little office, going ; ĎOkay, boy, go!í

"And then the dog would start humping the poor trainerís leg, right there in the office, and weíd be going ĎWell, we like the dog. We like the look. We donít like the humping.í

"But ultimately we found the humping dog of our dreams."

"He just does it," marvels Harris. "You donít have to spray anything on there. Itís just ĎGo get him!í And he does."

Doggie lust was the least of Harrisí initial concerns. Doogie lust, maybe.

"I hadnít been interested in doing TV again until this year," he says, "only because I thought it was important to have a span of time go by from Doogie Howserís ending. To jump right back into another show seemed like that would have pigeon-holed me more as a TV guy.

"So I went and did some other stuff. And then, this season, I thought it might be fun again, because the crossoverís really nice. And everyoneís working on every different kind of project.

"The script was very funny and sharp, and it came to me with Tony and Steve and (pilot director) Jim Burrows already attached to it. And it was really that triangle I was most interested in.

"Iím a huge admirer of Tonyís, just as far as him being a talented actor who does things with great integrity."

Itís a mutual admiration society. "A lot of that comes from the fact that Neil and I have both done a considerable amount of theatre," says Shaloub. "And in the theatre, people tend to put their focus outward onto the other people, onto the people theyíre playing with.

"I think thereís a certain amount of shared consideration and attentiveness to the other personís rhythms. Thatís how we were able to build the physical comedy in the pilot in a relatively short period of time - we didnít really have that much time to rehearse."

"It was pretty easy," agrees Harris. "We were all just trying to make it as funny as we could, so we were always bouncing stuff off of each other.

"I mean, itís great. Itís a great job to be able to call that your profession, going into work every day and tripping over couches and getting humped by a dog.

"Thatís a full dayís work right there."

Rob Salem, Starweek Magazine, October 23 - 29, 1999