HOLLYWOOD At first glance, you might think that the new ABC sitcom "I'm With Her" is a rip-off of the movie "Notting Hill" a regular guy who falls in love with a big movie star. Some critics have even gone so far as to make accusations in that vein.
But the fact is, the show was inspired by the real-life story of creator/writer/executive producer Chris Henchy, who met, fell in love with and married Brooke Shields.
The sitcom, which premieres Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC/Ch. 4, stars David Sutcliffe ("Gilmore Girls") as Patrick Owen, a high school teacher who unexpectedly finds himself involved in a romance with Big Movie Star Alexandra Young (Teri Polo, of "Meet the Parents"). And what happens when that happens.
"It's that not being known affords you a whole new outlook or opportunity to view her world," Henchy said. "I was often pushed backwards as the driver, the bodyguard, the guy who held her purse or whatever. It was just coming into that world with a very average-guy outlook and perspective."
The show is a romantic comedy about two people from different worlds. "This could be an ad exec and a plumber," Henchy said. "There's two different worlds that are kind of colliding." It's about trying to have a normal relationship in an abnormal world. But the "Hollywood spin" is "just a layer to it a twist that makes our show a little bit different than other romantic comedies."
Like the character in the sitcom, Henchy said Shields is "very down to earth and makes every situation very easy. But what makes this story interesting is that it's the world around us that could be crazy. . . . There was this crazy world around us that you would just sit back and watch.
"It's the world of going into a restaurant with her and getting the best table and then showing up three days later with your buddies and sitting waiting an hour and sitting by the kitchen." Or being called "Mr. Shields." Or being with someone who's recognized in public even if she's trying not to be.
"She's 6 feet tall. People tend to pick that one out of the crowd. And the 'Blue Lagoon' T-shirt she wears doesn't help," Henchy joked. "I'll pay for that one tomorrow."
"I'm With Her" is by no means autobiography, however. For one thing, Henchy isn't a school teacher, he's a veteran sitcom writer. Although he's hardly a household name with the exception of a stint on "Spin City," his other shows ("Battery Park," "Sugar Hill," "Alright Already," "The Army Show") all quickly bombed.
And, unlike the "I'm With Her" characters, Henchy didn't meet Shields when her dog bit him. "But it was through a dog," he said. "I was on the Warner Bros. lot and there was a dog that she had just rescued, and we just started chatting and had a nice rapport, I guess."
The stars of the sitcom have a nice rapport as well. "I'm With Her" is one of the more promising new sitcoms this fall, and Sutcliffe and Polo are both winning in their roles.
The school teacher angle is a nice touch as well. It grounds Patrick's character and allows yet another way for the unreal world of Hollywood to come in contact with the real world.
As with all TV shows, the real trick will be keeping "I'm With Her" charming and funny on a weekly basis. But it's definitely off to a good start on Tuesday.
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