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Playing his life for laughs, times two

'Inconceivable' mines Marco Pennette's present while 'Crumbs' will dig up nuggets from his past.

October 09, 2005|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

IN ABC's midseason sitcom, "Crumbs," Fred Savage plays Mitch Crumb, a gay, struggling movie screenwriter who returns home to help his dysfunctional family. In the pilot, his brother, Jody (Eddie McClintock), lashes out at Mitch's habit of exploiting family traumas for his scripts' plotlines.

"You just came here to see if you could get more material from us," Jody seethes. "But the joke's on you, pal, because I don't plan to do or say anything interesting!"

For Marco Pennette, "Crumbs' " creator and executive producer, keeping it in the family isn't merely a comedic trope: The Crumbs are modeled on his family who still lives in Greenwich, Conn., where the show is set.

The autobiographical sketches from Pennette's life keep on coming with NBC's "Inconceivable," a show he co-created that is scheduled to begin airing Oct. 14. The one-hour drama-comedy starring Jonathan Cake and Ming-Na as fertility clinic doctors, is rooted in Pennette, 38, and partner Steve Rabiner's experiences with the conception of their daughter, Ally, that involved a surrogate at the Pacific Fertility Clinic in Westwood. (Series co-creator Oliver Goldstick had a child via a surrogate as well.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 11, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Marco Pennette -- An article in Sunday's Calendar section on television series creator and producer Marco Pennette said his NBC show, "Inconceivable," was set to begin airing Oct. 14. In fact, the show has had two airings and has been pulled from the network's Friday lineup.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 16, 2005 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Marco Pennette -- An article last Sunday about television series creator and producer Marco Pennette said his NBC show, "Inconceivable," was set to begin airing Oct. 14. In fact, the show has had two airings and has been pulled from the network's Friday lineup.

"At first, I was nervous -- reluctant -- to put my family out there," Pennette said. "I had to say, 'Am I exploiting this just to get a TV show on the air?' "

It isn't the first time Pennette has divided time between network TV shows. In 2003, his "All About the Andersons" and "I'm With Her" were canceled after a season.

According to Brian Robbins -- whose company, Tollin/Robbins Productions, is producing "Inconceivable" and "Crumbs" -- the shows' idiosyncratic appeal is part and parcel of Pennette's personal investment in the material.

"Both shows come from his experience -- 'Crumbs' is his past and 'Inconceivable' is his present," Robbins said. "He's able to take very serious situations and make you laugh at them."

Toward that end, the show manages to find humor in the situations facing Mitch's mother (Jane Curtin) as she recovers from a nervous breakdown after the death of a child and a less than amicable divorce. Mitch, meanwhile, struggles to stay in the closet.

"Inconceivable" balances medical procedural with situational dramedy. In the pilot episode, a gay character becomes obsessed about the dietary habits of the surrogate mother carrying his child and roots through her garbage to assert a bizarre kind of quality control.

"I'm embarrassed to say there's a little of me in there," said Pennette, who has been working in television since he was 20. "There's a woman living 40 miles away with your child inside of her. I would be convinced she's drinking wine and doing crack."

His family has been supportive of his interpretations of life after his parents divorced.

"Luckily, I bought both my mom and dad homes," he said, laughing. "It made it easier to tell them, 'If you want your mortgage payments met, you'll get on board!' "

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