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KCRW's Harcourt hones 'Monkey's' musical edge

January 17, 2006|Deborah Netburn | Special to The Times

Small and wiry, flashing an enormous grin, Nic Harcourt, KCRW-FM's music director and host of the weekday radio show "Morning Becomes Eclectic," never works on one thing at a time. On a recent day, he's answering an interviewer's questions while DJing the last hour of his iconic show, periodically reminding listeners what station they are listening to and going over numbers for an upcoming pledge drive. At noon, he wraps up the three-hour program with a Devo ticket giveaway, removes his headphones and goes to his laptop to check his e-mails for his other job as music supervisor of CBS' new "Love Monkey," premiering tonight, a comedy whose creators hope to use music the way "Sex and the City" used Manhattan -- as a character unto itself.

"Love Monkey," based on the novel of the same name by Kyle Smith, follows the life of a thirtysomething music executive named Tom Farrell (played by Tom Cavanagh) and his stable of friends: his oldest best buddy; his pregnant, sly, sister; a good-natured former pro ballplayer; a swinging black guy; and a sassy girlfriend who always tells it to him straight. Like many shows designed to appeal to a 20- to 40-year-old demographic, the dialogue is fast and snappy, and the cast is suitably attractive (although Jason Priestley as the best buddy has gotten a bit puffy).

What sets "Love Monkey" apart is Farrell's dependence on music to frame and make sense of his life. Other television shows have had supporting characters whose defining quirks include a love of music -- like Rory Gilmore on "Gilmore Girls" or Seth Cohen on "The O.C." -- but "Love Monkey" is a show entirely informed by the details, debates and personas that music lovers obsess over. A vegan restaurant is cheesy because it plays Air Supply. Farrell's hot new co-worker, Julia, is cool because she gives him a boxed set of all the songs Bob Dylan ever recorded.

And this is where 48-year-old Harcourt comes in. Music informs this world and Harcourt, who has established himself as a pioneer on the musical frontier ever since he took over KCRW's signature morning music show almost eight years ago, informs the music selection. "My job [on 'Love Monkey'] is really to be an instigator, a suggest-or," Harcourt says in his trademark accent that lies somewhere between British, Australian and American (a result of having been born in England, then living and working in Australia and New York). "It's to give them ideas and feed them music."

Harcourt's work on "Love Monkey" isn't just to find music to accompany key emotional moments -- dejected walks in the rain or romantic montages. It's also to fill in the blanks of the musical references sprinkled liberally throughout the show. Writers ask him such questions as, "If Farrell is walking down the street, thinking about his life in terms of a song by one of his favorite artists, what artist would it be?" (Harcourt's answer was postmodern rocker Beck.) Or, "If Farrell's sister were planning to listen to music while in labor, what would she choose?" (After tossing around several ideas, Harcourt settled on the decidedly feminine Tori Amos.)

Part of Farrell's job is to go to shows and check out new bands, so part of Harcourt's job is to find real emerging groups to give those performances. So far, he's booked buzz bands She Wants Revenge and Robbers on High Street, more established acts such as Aimee Mann, and an unsigned singer-songwriter named Eugene whose demo Harcourt received at KCRW.

"Just having Nic's name attached gives us so much credibility," says Michael Rauch, executive producer and creator of the show. "We're not trying to sell out at all or compromise in any way."

Harcourt has built his career on discovering new talent -- he is credited as the first radio DJ in America to play Moby, Norah Jones and Coldplay -- and as the music director of KCRW he actually listens to the roughly 500 CDs that come into the station each week (or at least 10 seconds of each of those CDs). So he is uniquely qualified to be the musical brains behind Tom Farrell.

"[Farrell's] taste is pretty much my taste," says Harcourt. "His favorite artists are people like Beck and Radiohead, those really creative artists that came out in the early to mid-'90s, but he also has a strong connection with the past, with punk and the Clash and the Ramones and Elvis Costello. But also people like Springsteen and the Beatles."

Many of KCRW's DJs, in fact, have begun developing side careers as music advisors to television shows and movies. "It's almost inevitable as a disc jockey at KCRW," Harcourt says. "Pretty much everybody that works here is involved in something or other. It's a little harder for me because I actually have a full-time job."

But with twins almost 3 years old at home who will need to be put through college one day, he has started to make time.

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