Vanessa Bayer manages to see the bright side of things – including childhood leukemia.
“I was able to get a lot of perks from it,” she told the Television Critics Association. Indirectly, that led to “I Love That For You,” at 8:30 p.m. Sundays on Showtime, starting May 1.
Bayer (shown here) plays a cancer survivor, stretching for her dream job, at a home-shopping network. In real life, her dream job (seven years on “Saturday Night Live”) came after survival.
“I had leukemia when I was 15,” she said. She’s fine now … and she’s mastered the art of making the best of something.
“I got to come into school late and there were no consequences,” she said. She “used it as an excuse all the time …. My family is really funny; we always joked around a lot when I was sick and I always joked around a lot with my friends …. In some ways, it’s the reason I went into comedy.”
One of her “SNL” friends was writer Jeremy Beiler. “Vanessa and I worked together a lot at ‘SNL’ and kind of found each other in the swirling waters of that place,” he said. “And then we both chose to leave at the same time,” five years ago.
Later, he said, she told him she was trying to develop a show that would be set “in the world of QVC,” the home-shopping network that’s a “quality value convenience” acronym. “I had a number of pages written already for a totally separate idea, also set in the world of QVC, and it just delighted us and made us laugh.”
Viewers might expect them to mock the hype overload on such channels. For instance, In “Threading the Needle” (HarperCollins, 1998), Home Shopping Network founder Bud Paxson described buying 40,000 umbrella stands for just $5 apiece, because it had a misprint of the word “welcome.” He put it on the show for $30 – then pretended to discover the misprint and slash it to $10 … promptly selling out. “This was staged,” he wrote. “It was fantasy. That’s what television is all about.”
So we might expect Bayer to mock the fantasy/hype/illusion side of home-shopping. Instead, there are only mild jabs.
“Jeremy and I are both real fans of home shopping,” she said. They went to Pennsylvania for “a tour of QVC and we had such a great time. I got to meet these hosts that I’ve been watching since I was a kid. It’s such a, like, interesting world.”
The people offer an upbeat likability, Beiler said. “They speak off the cuff. There are no scripts; they’re just spinning stories about products. It’s really a talent.”-
There isn’t much live TV these days (except for news and sports), but home-shopping is sort of like Bayer’s “SNL” days … and a lot like when teen-aged Beiler did makeshift comedy shows at a cable-TV public-access station. “There is something fun and kind of dangerous about it that I think just pulled me along int a life of comedy,” he said.
Jenifer Lewis (“Black-ish”) plays the channel’s boss, with Molly Shannon as its star, who is Bayer’s hero and mentor. That brings a merger of women with much in common: Shannon and Bayer are both from Cleveland. Both (15 years apart) were regulars at “SNL” – where Shannon often played an Irish school girl and Bayer played a bar mitzvah boy.
Can we assume they share a fondness for home-shopping? “I have never bought anything on a home shopping network,” Shannon said. “But I came close to buying one of their fake fur coats.”
Bayer, by comparison, is an enthusiast. When the show got a go-ahead, she and Beiler “were so excited that we went on QVC and we bought” Catherine Zeta-Jones blankets for three of the Showtime executives.
And Lewis? “I despise shopping,” she said. “I always have. I can’t stand the fluorescent lights and all of those colors. I think it upstages my personality.” And now she plays the head of a shopping channel.