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The Couple of the Fall Moment

September 28, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is there such a thing as love at first sight?

Well, in the new ABC sitcom, "Dharma & Greg," it only takes a moment for the two protagonists to become utterly pixilated with each other when they meet one morning on the subway. And it only takes a few hours more for the pair to tie the knot.

But in the world of comedy, true love doesn't run smoothly, especially if you're as different as Dharma and Greg. Dharma Finkelstein (Jenna Elfman, formerly of "Townies") is a free-spirited yoga instructor and dog trainer raised by hippie parents. Greg Montgomery (Thomas Gibson, late of "Chicago Hope") is a Harvard-educated U.S. attorney, who comes from a rich, status-conscious and conservative family.

"The pilot is the wedding and the series is the relationship," says Gibson.

"There is a lot of family interaction [on the series]," Elfman explains. "The bottom line is, we always get through it because we love each other so much."

The point "to be made by Dharma and Greg getting married early like that is not that people should run off and get married to just anybody," Elfman says. "The bottom line is, you know when something is true for you. That's it. Sometimes it's a split second. I think that's what Dharma operates off of. I do a lot."

In real life, Elfman, 25, and Gibson, 35, are each happily married. Though it wasn't exactly love at first sight when they met their spouses, both knew they had encountered someone special.

Elfman met her husband, actor Bohdi Elfman, more than six years ago at a callback for a soft-drink commercial. Bohdi made her laugh, Elfman says, but that was all: "I had my attention on another boy at that time."

Bohdi, on the other hand, was instantly smitten, she says. He asked for her photograph and proclaimed to his roommate that he had met his future wife.

"Then I got the commercial and he got the commercial," she recalls. "I am walking up to the wardrobe fitting and there he is walking up and that's when I got it--the second time I saw him."

Her breath, Elfman relates, "left me and I got this sense of familiarity and safety and like this really serene feeling. It was, like, this big release." They lived together for four years and married in early 1995.

Gibson, who played Dr. Daniel Nyland for three seasons on "Chicago Hope," was traveling around Europe in late 1991 after completing the Tom Cruise film "Far and Away" in Ireland. A friend who was a bartender in Paris introduced him to a woman at the bar named Christine.

"We went to dinner that night," the actor says, recalling that he tried to kiss her that evening and wound up dropping her onto the street because the car he had thought was there to lean against, wasn't.

"It was love," Gibson says. "Her sister was living in Paris at the time. We walked her sister's dog all over the city for three or four days. She says she knew we were going to get married the night we met. I didn't know that. I did know there was something. We married in the spring of 1993."

His wife, Gibson adds with a smile, is an "egghead. She is a career academic and was in graduate school studying 20th century phenomenology. I said, 'Oh, no. Come and hang out with me in show business.' And she has."

Though "Townies" only lasted a few months last fall on ABC, the gamin Elfman garnered a lot of attention as the fun-loving waitress on the sitcom. Even before the show got the ax, the former ballet dancer was fielding development offers from various studios and networks.

Twentieth Century Fox gave her a deal she couldn't refuse. "[Fox] said, 'We have all of these comedy writers; meet them all and see who you want to work with.' I didn't have a concept for a specific story, but I had a concept for what I wanted--to have fun. I wanted to be a character I could have fun with and really play."

Executive producers Chuck Lorre ("Grace Under Fire," "Cybill") and Dottie Dartland ("Caroline in the City") brought her the idea of "Dharma & Greg."

"I loved the story," she says. "I said, 'That sounds great. Let's do it.' I move quick."

Elfman was hands-on involved in the casting of her TV husband. "The casting director went through a bunch [of actors]," she recalls. "They brought me the best to look at. So I probably met with about 10 guys. They were all great. They all had wonderful, different qualities. One was really funny. One was so handsome you couldn't stand it. One was charming, charming, charming. Thomas walked in and had all of the qualities."

Gibson had been frustrated with his lack of story last season on "Chicago Hope" and told the producers he was looking for something else to do. They let him out of his contract and wrote Dr. Nyland out of the series.

"I had not necessarily sought out the half-hour world, but I hadn't ruled it out, either," Gibson says. "This script was really fun, and I had heard great things about Jenna, both professionally and personally."

And both report it was rapport at first sight.

"He really lets me be me," Elfman says of Gibson. "He's a total gentleman. He lets me play. I think he's the best. I think we have a mutual admiration for each other."

"I think there's a generosity back and forth as actors," Gibson adds. "I think we just happen to have it. It just started that day, the first reading together. We really enjoy each other's company."

"Dharma & Greg" airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

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