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When the cuteness wanes

As adorable child stars of hit TV series begin to mature, producers scramble to adjust.

July 07, 2007|Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn | Associated Press

Tyler James Williams is at work on the set of "Everybody Hates Chris." He's between takes, resting his head on a classroom desk, as the crew hustles to prepare the next shot.

This would be like any other day for any other TV show -- the lights, the cameras, the action. Except that it's the summer hiatus season, and the soundstages of most broadcast series are dark.

But those shows don't star a 14-year-old boy who is getting taller -- and whose voice is growing deeper -- by the day.

So instead of lazy afternoons on the beach or at the mall, everybody on "Chris" is filling the summer trying to lock in the third season of the CW comedy before Williams hits puberty.

"I know.... This is all my fault. All my fault," says Williams during a break.

"We knew if we kept feeding them, they would keep growing and the hormonal changes would kick in," notes series co-creator and co-executive producer Ali LeRoi of his young cast.

The show, which will air Mondays beginning in the fall, received an early pickup from the network, allowing it to begin shooting early in the season. "There's a cute factor that people kind of like to hold on to, LeRoi says. "So being able to shoot a bit early helps us." Trying to keep kids just kids has been no small feat for other series too.

As the youngest daughter on "The Cosby Show," Keshia Knight Pulliam moved into her tween years in 1989, when the series was showing a slide in the ratings. Producers upped the cute factor by adding 3-year-old Raven-Symone to the cast.

"Malcolm in the Middle" went through its awkward stage early. It was an instant hit for Fox when it premiered in January 2000. However, its 14-year-old star, Frankie Muniz, who was 13 when he shot the first season, portraying an 11-year-old whiz kid, had grown 8 inches and his voice had dropped an octave before the show came back for a second season.

Producers scrambled for an early shoot over the summer and juggled new story lines for their lead character.

Some producers are able to connect with their young actors and incorporate the kids' personal stories into the show. That's the case with "Two and a Half Men" executive producers Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn. Their 14-year-old star, Angus T. Jones, plays "half-man" Jake.

"We hang out with him every year in the summer before we start shooting to get a sense of where he's at, what he's into, what his interests are," says Lorre.

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