ABC’s ‘The Neighbors,’ ‘Malibu Country’ at PaleyFest: Highlights From the Panel

PaleyFest: CBS' 'Partners'
5 Highlights from the panel.
Fall 2012 sees two new half-hour comedies coming to ABC. The Neighbors focuses on observational humor to show the differences between families — one human and one alien — in a suburban gated community. Malibu Country, on the other hand, is a more traditional sitcom centering on Reba McEntire as a woman who moves her family out to California, making them fishes out of water.

Though airing on different nights, both are family comedies featuring multiple generations of characters in order to bring in wider demographics. And both see the returns of sitcom veterans and strong female actors in Jami Gertz and McEntire.

To celebrate these new shows, ABC brought select cast members and executive producers of the series to the Paley Center for Media’s Fall TV Preview panel in Beverly Hills on Tuesday.

Read on to see what each show is about and what Celebuzz thought was the best series scoop revealed.

“I was ready to return the day the Reba show got canceled. I absolutely love television. I love the format; I love the rehearsal schedule; I love getting to be on stage with talented people who write for us and who you get to act with. I absolutely love this format, and I’m having such a great time with it,” McEntire addressed the audience about her new series.

On Malibu Country, McEntire doesn’t stand by her (cheating) man and instead takes her two teenage kids and her pot-lollipop-sucking mom (Lily Tomlin) across the country from Nashville to Malibu, where they all have to adjust to the differences in mind sets and ways of life. With a kooky, antagonistic neighbor (Sara Rue), Malibu Country certainly has shades of Reba, and considering it comes from Kevin Abbott, who has worked with McEntire for years, it’s not unintentional.

“I’ve been in the business for a while, and she is my favorite performer, star; she is just the best person to work with ever. I’m sorry, she just is. Even if I hated the concept [of the show]. I would have signed on for it because it really kind of mirrored Reba’s experiences, and I’d heard her tell these tales over the years, and I thought, ‘There’s a lot of material to work with’,” Abbott said.

Having only shot the pilot so far, Abbott went on to note that to fit the theme of the panel, Malibu Country, when you strip it down, does deal with “a totally alien culture.”

“I want to make sure that adults are also intrigued by the stories that we’re telling. I want them to be engaged; I want them to be a part of the experience,” Abbott, who admitted he “does not like the branding of TGIF,” plans to mimic the Roseanne style of “honest” storytelling.

“When I had two and three-year-old daughters, it was nice to be able to have a show they could watch, but that is not the show we’re doing. I’ve got Lily Tomlin; she’s stoned right now!”

The alien in Malibu Country, though? The entire panel agreed it would be Rue’s Kim. But Rue, herself, did want to add that she sees the character as grounded in her own way.

“I think of her more as lonely. She doesn’t have a job; she doesn’t really have a lot friends, so when Reba moves next door, it’s kind of the highest society thing to happen to her in a while. She just wants to be a part of it so bad. Keep in mind, I did watch a lot of The Real Housewives of Orange County for this character, in order to prepare for it [though],” she laughed.

The Neighbors, on the other hand, takes the “alien” part of its story extremely literally, despite starting from a very real, very simple place.

“My mom lived in a condo development in New Jersey… where the next door neighbor’s house was so close you could read out the bathroom window and touch your neighbors, but she never really talked to them… So I started thinking about who are these people my mom is living between?” Series creator Dan Fogelman explained.

The aliens in The Neighbors right now are teases — seeing pieces of them here and there and simple effects like green CGI slime for their ear-tears — but as the series goes on Fogelman is playing with animation to get more involved in the world and the rules of the aliens.

For any potential audience members who may have a hard time wrapping their head around aliens on primetime television in 2012, Gertz compared the essential differences between the families as simply being people who “don’t know our ways.”

“I look at it as they’re from another country, and they don’t know our ways; they don’t know how we do things as Americans. We feel we have fresh meat. These are neighbors we can mold and create into perfect neighbors, and it’s fabulous!”

Gertz shares this view with her on-screen persona Debbie Weaver, who actually says having such blank slates to teach “makes me feel like Oprah.”

As The Neighbors develops over the season, though, the Weavers will be taught the same amount — if not more — than they hope to teach. In a particularly memorable episode, Fogelman shared, the show will explore the differences between human and alien intimacy. And the title of that episode? Perfect for the times: “50 Shades of Green.”

The Neighbors premieres on ABC on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 9:30 PM, while Malibu Country premieres on ABC on Friday, Nov. 2 at 8:30 PM.

Do either of these shows intrigue you enough to tune into the premiere? Let us know which and why in the comments below!

Danielle Turchiano