PBS‘ Britcom Vicious is retro in form, contemporary in subject matter and could not have been made on a U.S. network owing to the age of its actors, the creator and stars said today at TCA. Vicious stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as Freddie and Stuart, a gay couple who have been together for nearly 5 decades. The comedy, which already has aired its first season in the UK on ITV, would not have been done in the U.S. at this time, because both stars are in their 70s, all parties discussing the show at the Winter TV Press Tour agreed. This came the morning after NBC announced it was developing a sort of Golden Girls update — because, NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt said, it’s something he’s not seeing on the primetime TV landscape. While TV critics marveled at the show getting made at all — and PBS’ courage in broadcasting it, starting in July — McKellen, appearing via satellite, insisted it’s still much easier for actors in their 70s to get work than for actresses. Jacobi, also via satellite, said the public is clamoring for programming about older characters, without elaborating. He did say how good it is to be in his 70s and still be asked to perform (he also stars in the British series Last Tango In Halifax, also airing on PBS, which earlier today made official its second-season pickup).
Vicious creator Gary Janetti (Will & Grace), who is American, said he wanted to do a Britcom because he grew up watching them on PBS. And, the sitcom originally was called Vicious Old Queens but people working on the project “for a variety of reasons preferred Vicious.” When a critic asked dubiously if this show could have been made maybe a decade ago, Janetti indicated he doubted it. The form — multi-cam comedy shot before a studio audience — was pretty retro, “which I don’t see as a negative thing,” he said, but the subject matter is utterly contemporary. Not long after that, McKellen jumped in to note those old Britcoms of which Janetti spoke included gay stereotypes, rather than characters, and back then “to be gay was, in itself, funny, and you laughed at the characters rather than with them. That’s not true of [Vicious],” McKellen said. He too said the subject matter was contemporary, focusing on a gay couple that’s survived decades when it was far less acceptable than it is today.