We went to the screening of the 6th season premiere episode of Rescue Me, hoping to see the cast get into the hijinks that made the headlines in the past – dropping their pants to moon (as we recall) bystanders and behaving rowdy enough to be the lead item on Page Six. (Rescue Me premieres on Tuesday, June 29 at 10pm on FX.)
We had hoped to catch a view at what one of our high school classmates described as Rescue Me creator and star Denis Leary's "tight Irish ass," and she meant that in a complimentary, lustful manner. (See what we can write about in a blog, as opposed to the bible of the cable industry?)
Well, unfortunately for us the cast behaved themselves this year, at least up until the time we left the after-party at the rooftop terrace of the Empire Hotel on 63rd Street. But we were still shocked by something we learned at the screening on 42nd Street AMC Theaters: Rescue Me almost wound up on USA Network instead of FX.
We can't imagine what Rescue Me would have been like if it had a gone with USA. At FX, then-new president John Landgraf was looking for raw, edgy, dark dramas when Leary approached him about the show.
Landgraf gave lanky Leary, who plays tortured firefighter Tommy Gavin, the freedom to make Rescue Me a breakthrough drama, with lots of sex and the constant pushing the boundaries of taste.
That couldn't be more different than USA's programming strategy which, as chief Bonnie Hammer told us once, was to do upbeat, "blue sky" series. That strategy definitely works: USA is No. 1 in the ratings.
But the skies in Rescue Me aren't blue. They're grey, still filled with the ashes of the crumbling towers on 9/11 and the bodies of World Trade Center jumpers, exploding like water balloons when they hit the ground, as Tommy Gavin graphically put it in one episode.
Landgraf said, and Leary confirmed at the screening, that USA had offered to order six episodes of Rescue Me. But that would have been a very bad fit.
USA's tagline is "Characters Welcome." But Landgraf said, "I'm pretty sure these characters aren't welcome," referring to the alcoholic, dysfunctional, womanizing, promiscuous, violent denizens of Rescue Me.
When Leary, in an orange T-shirt and jeans, got up to speak he said when he met with FX he was impressed with the marketing plans that John Solberg, who is PR chief for the network, already had cooked up to promote Rescue Me. That helped make Leary go with FX.
Leary also poked fun at himself before the screening.
"I'd like to thank myself for having a giant forehead," he said, noting if he didn't have such a big noggin, there couldn't have been ads for Rescue Me. The campaign features a close-up of Leary's forehead with the word "Rescued" on it.
So enough of the serious stuff, we know you want to hear the skinny about the cast members who attended the screening and after-party.
The men, a handsome lot, all dressed down, while the women dressed up. Actor Michael Lombardi, who plays childlike dummy firefighter Mikey, was behind us at the concession stand at the AMC Theater trying to get a bottle of water. He was told he had to stand on line by concession workers who didn't know he's one of Rescue Me's stars.
Lombardi was polite: He didn't say "Get me a friggin water, I'm part of the cast." But after patiently waiting, he grabbed a water and took off, as the concession workers yelled out to him to stop.
Actor Steve Pasquale, who plays the dumbbell Sean, was on crutches. John Scurti, who plays the smart and sarcastic lieutenant Lou, has gained a ton of weight, all in the belly (sorry Lou).
And Leary's fellow stand-up-comics-turned actors, Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrarra (sexy, but with his girlfriend), were at both the screening and the party.
At the party the food was great, short ribs and delicious chicken and pasta. Even better, the alcohol was free. And despite a weather report of big thunderstorms looming, we were out on the rooftop terrace – on a balmy summer night – enjoying the gorgeous view we had of Manhattan.
A footnote on PR maven John Solberg, who is so much more than a publicist. We've heard Michael Chiklis, star of FX's The Shield, personally thank John for his work. And Leary cited Solberg as helping him to believe that FX, not USA, was the proper home for Rescue Me.
John also told us on the rooftop terrace that he was the one who lined up Yankee Derek Jeter to appear in the promo ads for Rescue Me, whose sixth season debuts Tuesday, June 29 at 10pm. John has been with FX basically from the beginning and has played a big part in its success.
FX president Landgraf, with whom we have had our arguments, is nonetheless a smart, talented programmer who has made FX into basic cable's HBO. Rescue Me doesn't sugar coat the flaws of the FDNY, or what happened on 9/11, or its repercussions. As the daughter of a retired NYC firefighter, we thought the way Leary addressed the lingering issues of the tragic terrorist attacks was brilliant in the first season of Rescue Me, without being maudlin.
Right off the bat, Leary tried to convey the horror of the bright, crisp September day. Leary's cousin, a fellow firefighter, was decapitated when the Towers fell. His ghost, head intact, has been a recurring character on the show. Tommy is involved in a tumultuous affair with his cousin's widow, played by Callie Thorne.
The fact of the matter is that the World Trade site was a scene of carnage, with severed limbs and body parts strewn about. The Daily News caught flak for running a photo of a hand lying on the ground. One of its reporters saw a man cut in half by a falling pane of glass. But we argued with Landgraf about a controversial scene where Tommy essentially rapes his estranged wife. Landgraf defended the scene as realistic for the characters. It turned our stomach as women.
Spoiler alert: The first episode of Season 6 is masterful. Tommy, shot by his Uncle Teddy (played by Clarke) in a cliffhanger last season, is seen lying on the floor in his own blood. This season, he dies in an ambulance. His "going-to-the-white-light vision" when he passes gave me goose bumps.
It looks like the rest of the season will deal with a recurring battle for Tommy: His fight against alcoholism.
Speaking of alcohol, there was an open bar at the party, as we mentioned. We ordered our two appletinis, but only drank one and half. Some woman hit our table, and we wound up wearing half of our second appletini on our snakeskin print cocktail dress.
Rushing out to catch the last bus back to Montclair at 12:45 a.m., we grabbed a white chocolate cookie and brownie, and stuck them in our purse "for tomorrow." They were gone before we went to bed in the wee hours this morning.
Linda Moss is a blogger and freelance writer, a veteran of business journalism who specializes in media and entertainment. She currently writes for www.NJSpotlight.com, www.TVNewsCheck.com and www.NewJerseyNewsroom.com . Moss previously worked for Multichannel News and was part of the launch team of Crain's New York Business. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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