Friday, January 12, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 12, 2001

'The Lot' is set in old-time Hollywood

Associated Press

The average TV series is haunted by the most average of ghosts: humdrum characters, stories and even dialogue that cycle through show after show.

The Lot’

5 p.m. Sunday

American Movie Classics

"The Lot," on the other hand, is infused with far livelier spirits. The snappy banter, bigger-than-life people and outrageous tales are drawn from classic 1930s films and the Hollywood that created them.

A new series airing Sunday on American Movie Classics, "The Lot," pays fond tribute to the movie industry’s golden era while satirizing its more inglorious moments.

There are matinee idols, spunky beauties and romance in "The Lot," along with craven studio bosses and wild episodes of misbehavior based on Hollywood history.

"The Lot," set at fictitious Sylver Screen Studios, is a perfect complement to AMC’s lineup, holding its own against classic films with sharp writing and a cast stocked with dazzlers, including Holland Taylor, Harriet Harris and Kimberly Rhodes.

Movie buffs who spent preVCR days staying up late to savor the comic perfection of Jean Arthur or Carole Lombard will warm to Rhodes’ Rachel Lipton, a star with self-described "great gams" and brass to spare.

Harris revels in her turn as a Dorothy Parkerish writer who chews up and spits out young colleagues, while Taylor is a scheming delight (and was an Emmy nominee last season) as Letitia Devine, a Hedda-Louella hybrid gossip maven.

Old movie cliches spice up

When Rachel Lipton complains about scenes cut from her new film, an executive warns her against going to chief Leo Sylver. "The next line you say in a theater will be Tickets please,’ " says the exec, nasty smile in place.

At times, the dialogue is nearly giddy with the spirit of old movie cliches.

Here’s Letitia breathlessly demanding fashion aid from a studio designer: "Make me a hat that will give new meaning to the word recherche’ — and I don’t know the old meaning, actually." (That’s "exquisite" in French.)

"The Lot" first came to AMC as a four-part special last year featuring Jonathan Frakes. He’s less prominent in the new episodes but introduces each one and gives a final word about the events that inspired them.

Series creator Rick Mitz was himself inspired by his love of old Hollywood to create "The Lot." Mitz, the show’s executive producer and head writer, grew up in Wisconsin losing sleep to catch late-night films.

"The reason I’m working in Hollywood and doing this is because I bought into the fantasy that the movies perpetuate about what Hollywood is," Mitz said in an interview.

But scratch the surface and "the stories aren’t always very pretty," he said.

Mitz’s series manages to balance fantasies of show biz glamour with the harsher realities. Studio bosses like Sylver (read Warner or Mayer or many others) caved in to pressure to create sanitized films devoid of political, social or sexual content.

The abusive treatment of stars who were virtually indentured servants is also part of "The Lot." In the first episode, a hunky rancher gets caught in Sylver Studios’ web, forced into a morphine addiction to keep him working. That seamy tale is loosely based on the case of silent film star Wallace Reid.

The series was shot at the Los Angeles-area Culver Studios, once home to "Gone With the Wind" producer David O. Selznick’s production company.

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