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Issue Date: January 2011

TV Winners

Steve Gleydura

I have to admit, I'm a bit of a fan of Hot in Cleveland.

But it wasn't Betty White or Valerie Bertinelli (though she's as cute as ever) or our town as the fictional setting for the TV Land sitcom that hooked me.

In fact, I rather hated the pilot. Too predictable. Not enough Betty. Lame Cleveland jokes. ("To think that we wasted all that time and effort and money trying to look 10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter and all we had to do was crash-land in Cleveland.")

All my worst fears were realized.

So unlike the hordes of people who tuned in for the pilot, I stopped watching. Even with my Catholic upbringing, I didn't feel any guilt at all. There were plenty of shows in my Hulu queue that I'd rather watch, even if they didn't have Cleveland in the name.

Still, when the show got picked up for a second season, the TV Land publicity folks asked if we'd consider a cover story. So I gave Hot in Cleveland another chance. I downloaded the entire season on iTunes and watched the pilot again.

About seven minutes in, I noticed something that changed my mind. Back in the corner of the bar, surrounded by baseball pictures, was a black and white Ghoulardi poster — a nod to Ernie Anderson, TV-8's late-night movie host during the 1960s. It was an unexpected little nugget for real Clevelanders and a subtle reminder of our town's proud TV tradition. It said more about the city than a whole lineup of guys wearing Indians gear.

If the show is meant to be "comfort food," as the creators say, then this spoonful was enough to fill my belly. White and company were funny. Hints of comedies past — The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Frasier — added flavor. By the time Clevelander Tim Conway made his guest appearance (his fight scene with Carl Reiner is like TV meatloaf), I was a convert.

I guess that's fitting because the creators say Hot in Cleveland's main theme is reinvention. All past 40, the show's characters get a chance to start over here, an aging industrial region that has been seeking a new identity too. Yes, we're a punch line once again, but this time, Hollywood is laughing with us.

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