Being herself keeps Busy busy

The Television Critics Association sessions are busy now, giving us lots of stories for the future, plus some for right now. Here's the latter, about "Busy Tonight," the talk show that runs most weekdays on cable channel E

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- In
a world filled with unemployed actors, Busy Philipps was the

She was ... well,
busy. She went from “Freaks and Geeks” to “Dawson's Creek,”
from “ER” to “Cougar Town” to lots of guest roles.

Then she found
bigger success – including her new talk show – without any

“After 20 years of
playing some incredibly beloved characters,” Philipps said, “the
thing that people freaked the (bleep) out about was me. And when I
started putting that into the world, that was the response that I
was getting: 'Can we see that girl on television?'”

That was the persona
that she presented on Instagram, in talk shows and in her memoir. It
was sort of the fun friend that you want to have for a night of wine
and conversation.

That's what draws
people to “Busy Tonight,” said Tina Fey, one of its producers.
Guests “get to have a real conversation. (They) are, like, 'I'll do
that one because it looks easy and fun.'”

At first, Philipps
focused on friends – Mindy Kaling (her first guest), Kristen Bell,
Fey, Ike Barinholtz, Lauren Graham and such. Then she branched out.
“Patti LaBelle was one of my favorite moments.”

And there was the
Oprah moment.

For fun, the set had
a special phone where Oprah Winfrey was free to call at any time.
Then she did.

“That was a true
surprise,” Phillips said. “They really kept it from me.” That
day, she had a major cold -- “I've literally been sick since the
beginnig of December” -- and maybe lots of cold medicine.

Caissie St. Onge,
the showrunner, remembers talking to Philipps after Winfrey's call:
“She was very weepy, (but) she said, 'I feel better. I'm fine.'”

Fey's conclusion:
“Oprah can heal people.”

All of this is part
of the Busy experience. Shows start with a humorous verbal blitz and
end with Philips looking into the camera and saying, “I love you.”

It's a personal
approach that has always worked for her. She grew up in the Chicago
suburb of Oak Park and then in Scottsdale, Ariz., quickly getting
that “Busy” nickname. She even worked at toy fairs, playing
Barbie's kid sister, “Cool Teen Skipper.”

Philipps started at
Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, but soon was cast in “Freaks and
Geeks.” It only lasted one season (despite strong reviews), but she
dated co-star Colin Hanks for years afterward.

Other roles kept
piling up, including the six-season run of “Cougar Town.” Then
Fey cast Philipps in a comedy pilot that the networks passed on.

“I really, really
liked Busy in it,” Fey said. “I thought she was incredibly
charismatic and telegenic and knows here way around the joke. And so
she kind of floated this idea.”

She wanted a talk
show that's more like a conversation -- one that fit viewers who have
lives like hers. She's 39, married for 12 years (to Marc
Silverstein, the “Never Been Kissed” and “I Feel Pretty”
screenwriter). Their daughters are 5 and 10 and their lives are
crowded until late in the day.

“I was just sick
of watching 'Friends' reruns before I went to bed,” Philipps said.
“I've seen them all so many times; I have them memorized. I wanted
to make a show I could watch before I went to sleep.”

If so, her bedtime
has now been pushed back an hour. The show started (Oct. 28) in a 10
p.m. slot on cable channel E, but now has been nudged to 11; that
sort of adds an extra hour to the busy Busy life.

-- “Busy Tonight,”
11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, E