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Showtime's 'The Big C' combines cancer with comedy


You know what really sucks all the air out of the room at Summer TV Press Tour 2010? A Showtime Q&A session about cancer as comedy.

"The Big C" debuting Aug. 16, stars Laura Linney as a reserved Minneapolis school teacher Cathy Jamison, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to stop being so constipated and live a little, so she gets a Brazilian wax down there and burns her sofa cause she's always hated it, and single-camera hilarity ensues.

Some critics understandably wondered, what with so many people's lives having been touched -- and not in a good way -- by cancer, did the American public really wanted to watch a show about the dreaded disease, even if it is a comedy.

The producers played the "MASH" card - didn't see THAT one coming::

"Who likes war?" exec producer Vivian Cannon said, after dropping the name of the iconic, dark anti-war comedy series that aired on CBS in the 70's and early 80's.

"Not me! But, a lot of people watched that show," Cannon said, concluding, " I think that metaphor is clear."

Wow - not.

Showtime gets credit for being courageous enough to put on this series at all. Let's face it, a broadcast network would never pick up a show about a woman with terminal cancer, unless she was hot, and young, and turned out to be a robot -- and an assassin.

But, weirdly, when one critic -- who, we're guessing is the kind of person who reads the last page of a book before starting at Page 1 -- wanted to be assured Linney's character would really die by the end of the show, everyone up on stage went all coy:

"I don't want to miss out on what happens before that - if it happens," Linney said primly, and then began to talk about all the "amazing" treatments" that have recently been developed specifically for melanoma - the form of cancer Cathy suffers from.

Otherwise the Q&A session mostly limped along, with "I think everyone's experience with a terminal disease is deeply personal," various actors gushing about how they were attracted to the show after reading the script, and "Laura Linney is Amazing" according to Gabourey Sidibe, who plays one of Linney's students on the show.

It appeared things might get interesting when one critic wondered if anyone up on stage had cancer. Exec producer Darlene Hunt began to caution nervously that the show is not the place for people to go for information if they've just been diagnosed with cancer.

Later, exec producer Jenny Bicks acknowledged she is the "affirmative action survivor of this group."

"I had a nurse tell me 'Don't tell anyone'," said Bicks, who reacted by going out and buying a Porsche.

"I thought 'what the hell -- why am I waiting?'," she said. "There are some people who shelter themselves and get hermetic. I chose to take some risks."

By Lisa de Moraes  |  July 29, 2010; 5:39 PM ET
Categories:  Summer TV Press Tour 2010  
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