INTERVIEW: FAMILY DINNER's Lauralee Bell

When We Love Soaps first spoke with Lauralee Bell a few months ago, her new web series, FAMILY DINNER, was launching. In this follow up interview, Bell shared her thoughts on the newest episodes (including a guest starring role for Cloris Leachman) as well as her brother Brad's Daytime Emmy win and much more.

We Love Soaps: When we spoke before, your brother Brad had been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award as the executive producer of THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. At the Daytime Emmys, in a very hot downtown Los Angeles in late August, B&B won as Outstanding Drama Series!
Lauralee Bell: That was the weekend we were shooting [the latest episodes of FAMILY DINNER]. That's why I wasn't there. The timing - I just wanted to die. But we were trying to get all these favors and groups together and Cloris said she was only free on the 29th and 30th. We were suffering in Toluca Lake with no air conditioning and then I came home and saw some of the footage and saw how hot it was downtown as well. I had Josh O'Connell from our office and Martha Byrne and a few people texting me because I had to know. Brad and I are very close. Apparently after he didn't win for Writing, he said to his son, "Well, then that's it," and put down his program. That was so reminiscent of my dad, too. For him to have won best show, that was so great. I had heard a little bit of people saying, "I think it's Brad's year, he's going to win one of them." But I think in his heart, he could only fathom it could be writing because he would never think of winning best show. It all turned out fantastic.

We Love Soaps: What do you think about his speech not airing?
Lauralee Bell: It was a little hard as a sister, and a home viewer, not seeing any speech, but what Brad said is so true, "You know what, I'm holding the Emmy. I don't care." We know Al Schwartz who was part of the production team pretty well, and I'm sure it killed him because he's been close to my mother and my family for a long time. I heard it was such a hard out that they had to break. I understand that because it's a business. But my thing is the people from THE VIEW weren't there and Christian's [LeBlanc] speech was very short. What if they were there? Would there have even been time to see the best show award? Even though I thought Vanessa Williams did a great job, it's probably that second song that cost Brad from speaking. It was a beautiful stage and a great show though. It just needed to focus more on soaps.

We Love Soaps: I was watching Thom Bierdz's speech from a couple of weeks ago where he received the HRC's Visibility Award. He mentioned you and how you have made positive comments in the press about the Phillip is gay storyline on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.
Lauralee Bell: That is so sweet. And you know, I have not seen him since he's been back [on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS]. I really miss him. We had such a great relationship then, and I saw him at one of his art shows a few years ago. He's one of the greatest guys, and when you factor all he's been through, he's just amazing and I can't wait to see him. I think he kind of always knew. I was young, but I'm about as open-minded as anyone can get so I don't think he was ever really afraid of me. But I understand [his struggle]. It was such a different time.

We Love Soaps: You mentioned Martha Byrne and the last time we spoke you talked about how she played a role in the origins of FAMILY DINNER getting produced. She recently announced her own web series, GOTHAM, which has a lot of fans excited. Crystal Chappell has also created a lot of buzz with her upcoming series, VENICE. It seem like current or former soap actresses have the best ideas for shows.
Lauralee Bell: I didn't know about Crystal's until I saw it in TV Guide. I knew about Martha's idea, but didn't know she was going to turn it into a web series. It's funny because the last couple of weeks I've had people say to me, "Don't be in such a hurry to get off the web. Maybe a half hour show on TNT or TBS or whatever isn't necessarily so great. Stay on the web." I think with everything right now, unless you're David Kelley or Jerry Bruckheimer, you have to establish your audience first, and then go to your meetings and say, "We have 560,000 viewers already." The web is definitely cheaper, but I'm trying to make this cheap for whatever medium, whether it's on TV or webisodes. I'm trying to hone in on what is being asked of producers now which is a low budget. We had Cloris [Leachman] in and out, after make-up, in an hour and a half. It is conducive to getting bigger names on a show like this because they only hae to come in for a couple of hours. And we can shoot you anywhere because you're in your own seat. If we want a guest star who is in New York, and we know our backdrop and our chair, there's no reason we can't shoot from there and splice them in during editing. I'm trying to make this as actor pleasing, budget pleasing and fan pleasing as possible because I want this to be like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and start having people wonder who it will be - is it going to be a grandma, a nephew, a boyfriend? On the set, Cloris was asking, "Who are you going to bring on next?" which is exactly what I was hoping.

We Love Soaps: Do you have any potential sponsors on board or coming on board? I still think the family dinner set up is the most brilliant web series idea to date.
Lauralee Bell: My goal in the next couple of weeks is to find a great product placement company. I don't really know where to find that type of person. I know they are out there. I need to spend one day and grab my biggest resources around L.A. because that's who I need right now. One of the t-shirts that the older son is wearing is a Radio Boardshop t-shirt. There is a huge teen following in Aspen with this Radio store and all the kids do a Radio skate board camp. So I said to them that I'm going to grab one of their shirts and one of the kids would wear it. I didn't want any money from them but I wanted them to tell their fans on Facebook about the show.

We Love Soaps: Do you have any fear that with a sponsorship someone might want to change your vision of the show?
Lauralee Bell: I'm very aware that you can poke fun but you can't mock. So I get all that. If they are going to try to change something too drastically then we are not meant to match up. I'm learning that if it's done in a comedic way, as long as you are not ill because of their product, humor is sometimes the way people respond to a product.

We Love Soaps: Let's talk about the new third episode of FAMILY DINNER that is out now. Was there ever any doubt the show would come back?
Lauralee Bell: When we shot the first two, everyone was like, "Oh my God, this is such a great group, we can make these so fast. The production level is high and we have all these talented people who love the idea. I hope we're all sitting around this table again soon." But yes, there was definitely doubt that there would be a couple of more. But we had really great response to the first two, and while we were in that middle ground of not knowing where we were ending up, I just didn't want it to go away. This is a good gig because we had three cameras this time instead of two, and in today's market, this is exactly what can be done in a quick and inexpensive form. Our numbers for the third episode have surpassed our viewership from the second one already.

We Love Soaps: How did Cloris Leachman become part of the project? She was hysterical and she fit right in like she had always been there.
Lauralee Bell: Yes, exactly. She was so great. I called Phyllis [Diller] and she wasn't available for this episode. We knew that the character of my mother was left and started talking about who would be best for that and Cloris's name came up. When you can say it will take two hours after make-up on Saturday and Sunday and it won't interfere with any potential jobs and you can pick your hours between 9 and 5, it becomes easier because we can make it a short day for an actor. A few phone calls and there we went.

We Love Soaps: One of my favorite parts in the third episode was when the youngest kids reacted to possibly becoming their parents someday.
Lauralee Bell: I spent a lot of time in editing and David Gil had cut to me during the reactions and I said you have to stay on them because it's so priceless.

We Love Soaps: There are so many funny moments and reactions in each episode. Were there any adlibbed moments in the latest episode?
Lauralee Bell: Aaron [Rustig, who plays Steven] emailed me about a week before we shot it and said, "How would you feel about a beard?" And I said, "Only if we can make fun of it." He was totally cool with that. Aaron and Dan [Cortese, who plays John] always come up with something and ask if we can add it in. So yes, there are some adlibs. That's one of the reasons it's fun to have everyone sitting at the dinner table together. But if need be, half the cast could be there one day and half the next.

We Love Soaps: The IMAGINARY BITCHES web series starring Eden Riegel was nominated for a Daytime Emmy this year so the sky's the limit with these shows.
Lauralee Bell: Our big joke is, "The Golden Webby goes to... FAMILY DINNER." Everyone says, "There's Emmys and everything in your family, what's going on?" And I say, "Maybe I'll be the first Bell to win a Webby." This year there was almost as big of a celebrity turnout for the Webbys as the Emmys.

We Love Soaps: Has anyone contacted Oprah to tell her about the concept of the show?
Lauralee Bell: It's funny you should say that. We grew up in the Chicago and my mom knows Oprah, but I'm not going to go that route. Scott [Martin, Bell's husband] knows someone who has a very good friend who works in her office. It wouldn't even have to get to Oprah but I think it would be funny amongst the office group if they knew. But Oprah could literally be in Chicago and all we would need is six lines from her to be on the show.

We Love Soaps: The next episode is scheduled for October 12th. Do you have any others in the can or are you still taking a wait and see approach and gauging fan response?
Lauralee Bell: We've talked about doing two more by the end of the year. Max [Knight], the little boy, just got a pilot that may move to Toronto in January. We may lose him, so I'd like to shoot two more with him. But our family is so crazy, we could just not even acknowledge he's isn't there anymore. But I think we'll go with a completely different direction for the dinner guest next time.

We Love Soaps: Maybe a man? That might change the whole dynamic.
Lauralee Bell: My idea for the next two are both men. People know them very well, but we'll see. I hope we'll be talking about the show again in three months.

We Love Soaps: Me too!

Be sure to check out FAMILY DINNER at following links:
- FamilyDinnerOnline.com
- FunnyorDie.com (Be sure to rate each episode)
- FAMILY DINNER on Twitter
- FAMILY DINNER on Facebook

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=FAMILY DINNER Time For Lauralee Bell

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