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And then there's the challenge of creating a second successful character while the public is still holding on to the last one, not to mention seeing her or him nightly on syndicated reruns. Louis-Dreyfus and Alexander made fun of exactly that situation on recent episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the HBO sitcom made by and starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. In one scene, Louis-Dreyfus and David, playing themselves, pitch a show called I'm Not Evelyn, about an actress who can't get work because she's pigeonholed as the character she used to play. Louis-Dreyfus, however, has never pursued that sitcom idea in real life. "It's more funny in the context of Curb Your Enthusiasm than it is for a show," she says. "I haven't given it a thought."
Hall, whose TV writing credits include Brooklyn Bridge and his own series, The Single Guy, came up with the idea for their real-time show because he and Louis-Dreyfus often wondered what it would be like to invisibly follow waiters and salesclerks around for half an hour to get an intimate view of what their lives were like. "I wrote it as an exercise--just for fun," he says. Writing in real time, he adds, is easier than he thought it would be: "It's like a haiku or a sonnet. The rules are fun. And you don't have to deal with exposition. You don't have to lie with exits and entrances and wrapping things up."
Originally the show was called 22 Minutes with Eleanor Riggs--the running time of a sitcom without commercials--but that turned out to be inaccurate, since the networks now run more than eight minutes of commercials in their expensive prime-time slots. "The network didn't want to point that out," Hall says. Unlike Fox's real-time thriller 24, whose pace is quickened by several intersecting stories (and which neither Hall nor Louis-Dreyfus has seen yet), Ellie feels a little slow, and the dearth of standard sitcom jokes makes it seem less funny than you might expect. Much of its humor is physical comedy, since watching someone in real time means devoting a lot of time to watching Ellie walk, get dressed and generally run around. The format also encourages the writers to develop more subtle characters. "It's an intimate way of getting to know a person. There's an opportunity to see the moments between the moments," Louis-Dreyfus says.
The cast, especially Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell as her ex-boyfriend, is talented, but the show is definitely Louis-Dreyfus'. She even gets to sing on each episode, an activity she indulges in offscreen as well. For Christmas, she, Hall and five of their friends went caroling in their Santa Monica neighborhood. "No one was particularly interested," Louis-Dreyfus confesses. "It was a pathetic display of Christmas cheer. I felt like the biggest a__hole." Even so, her voice is surprisingly good, and her closing torch song is the best part of the pilot.