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CBS Series Casts Large Issues in Small Town

Cover Story

David E. Kelley's experiences influence 'The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire.'

September 21, 2003|Jay Bobbin | Special to The Times

The mentor of "The Practice," "Boston Public" and "Ally McBeal" wants to shake up television drama again.

Writer-producer David E. Kelley is going against the tide once more by focusing on middle-aged people instead of younger characters (and stars) in his new CBS series. Premiering Wednesday, "The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire" relates the challenges faced by three brothers and their families in a small New England town.

Randy Quaid plays Hank Shaw, the short-tempered police chief who is emotionally distant from his distressed wife, Dottie (Mare Winningham). John Carroll Lynch portrays Mayor Garrett Shaw, who is desperate to keep his wife, Helen (Elizabeth McGovern, "The Favor"), from discovering his affair with a recent suicide victim's wife. The third Shaw sibling, unemployed Waylon (Chris Penn, "Reservoir Dogs"), is worried -- as is his wife, Julie (Ann Cusack) -- about their teen daughter's (Angela Goethals) affair with her teacher.

Kelley's programs can get outrageous, and although "The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire" has some of his trademark whimsy, he wants to keep its feel real. He says that if viewers "don't say to themselves, 'Yeah, that's a town I've been in or grown up in,' they should at least be able to say, 'I know someone from a town like that.' I've been wanting to do this show for a long time. I was born in a small town (Waterville, Maine), and I have visited many small towns."

Kelley adds, "In fact, every winter for the last 20-some-odd years, I've been going back to a small town in New Hampshire for kind of a high school reunion. For probably the last 10 of those 20 years, on the Sunday when it's time to go home, I've said to myself, 'If I could capture this in a series, there's something here.' This is not an attempt by me to counter-program what else is on the air; it's just something that spoke to me and that I'm passionate about."

"Brotherhood" star Quaid knows a lot about fraternal love, given his relationship with actor Dennis. "There's just something about a brother relationship, that you can be as wonderful or mean to each other as you can, but at the bottom of it all, there's still that bond -- that love that holds you together as family. It's a familiarity [in which] not much needs to be explained to get along or to communicate with the other person."

Emmy-winning co-star Winningham, who gets to use her singing talent in the series, also embraces the show's theme as a mother, a daughter and a sibling. "I have three sons who are within two years of one another, and I raised them in a small town. I'm also one of five kids, and there are dinner-table scenes in this show that remind me of the family I grew up in. Everybody keeps talking louder and louder and louder."

Jay Bobbin writes for Tribune Media Services.

"The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire" airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on CBS. The network has rated the series TV14-LV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for language and violence).

Cover photograph by Tony Esparza.

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