The Wedding Bells centers on three sisters, Annie Bell (KaDee Strickland), Jane Bell (Teri Polo) and Sammy Bell (Sarah Jones). The Bells (clever name) are wedding planners who solve crisis after crisis to give their clients the perfect weddings. If only it were so easy to fix their own lives.
Let’s start with the weddings though. Reality TV has already capitalized on the wedding craze with Bridezillas, and so too has reality informed The Wedding Bells . “Many of the storylines or at least anecdotes that we include within the series are things that really happened,” Kelley told Dish recently. “Everybody you meet has funny wedding stories. It’s the reason I was attracted to it to begin with and stayed attracted to it. There’s something very invitational about the concept. Maybe it’s the illusion of marriage and the optimism that goes with it. But the stories come from all over.”
One of the gags in The Wedding Bells premiere is a mother (Delta Burke) bribing a minister to slip the word “Jesus” into a non-denominational ceremony. “That was not in the original script,” Kelley declared. “That’s what happened to Deb Aquila, our casting director, at her wedding. She told me that story and I just put that right in. It seemed like everybody we brought in for the project said, ‘Well, this is crazy, but you won’t believe what happened at my wedding.’ And it’s those kinds of stories that we’ll probably be trying to incorporate throughout the series.”
Anyone who’s been married knows that it takes a lot more than a one-hour episode to take care of all the plans. Like Kelley’s legal dramas, Wedding Bells may have weddings that provide an entire seasonal arc, as well as standalones that wrap up in a single hour. They will also inform the sisters’ personal stories, Kelly tells us. But make no mistake, this is not a farce. The girls are good at what they do.
”They’re very good wedding planners which comes across in the pilot,” said Kelley. “They’re very, very prepared, very, very thorough. There’s only so much you can orchestrate though. Crises will happen all the time, but I think we convey them as strong professionals.”
Now let’s meet the Bells….. Newcomer Sarah Jones plays the youngest sister, Sammy. “They don’t take me seriously,” said Jones. “That’s my POV. They pretty much do everything and leave me to the boys, leave me to the dogs.”
The two other actresses insist that is not the case, but that youngest siblings always feel that way anyway. KaDee (pronounced like Katie) Strickland plays Annie. “I’m the middle child with all that brings with it,” she said. “The good fortune of this script is it allows each of us to be very individual and yet the simpatico is absolutely there. I have a history of having gone to Princeton and sort of breaking away from the family and coming back to it. Families are families. There are extreme dynamics in each individual that separates them, and we’ve gotten to come together in a really good, fun way.”
As Jane, Teri Polo had some issues with playing the oldest sibling. “I, as an aging actress with an ego the size of Texas, was feeling kind of depressed and kind of having a hard time with being cast as the older sister, the conservative sister, the go-to sister. I thought, ‘God, what a boring character.’ But now I’m madly in love with my character.”
Shooting one episode was enough to convince Polo of all the layers in Jane’s character. “I’m madly in love with her, that she could go from being a married woman to Russell (Benjamin King), handling him and being patronizing to him, to acting like a teenager because Sammy is sleeping with somebody and ‘Who is it?’”
Yes, sex scandals always seem to find their way into Kelley’s shows too. Sammy has a tendency to sleep with groomsmen, though not grooms as of yet. Kelley also has a history of discovering breakout actresses and giving them their spicy, star-making roles. See Calista Flockhart.
”She just embodied Sammy,” said Kelley of his latest discovery Sarah Jones. “She was the very first person that I saw. I live up North. So we put the readings on the computer and I look at them on computer first before I come down here and actually get in the room with people. And I turn on the computer, and Sammy’s character was first. And I hit ‘Submit’ and Sarah popped up. And I said, ‘Well, this is a good start. She looks like Sammy.’ And then I came down for the actual readings, and she was one of the first people we met with. It’s a real credit to Deb Aquila, our casting director. The process, as I know and you know, is exhaustive. And usually you find people right near the end and go with them. We happened to see almost all of these people at the beginning. It didn’t make the process any less exhaustive because we kept looking and looking to make sure, but these folks were it. Sarah was it right from the beginning.”
Jones is aware of how lucky her break was. “I’m well aware of that,” she said. “I count my blessings every day. It’s quite a blessing to be part of this show.”
Strickland and Polo are veterans of the audition circuit, so they also know how lucky it is to land a series. But forming a sisterly bond had to be done quickly. “We had a two-week process that you just don’t get as actors,” said Strickland. “The creative process for this was pretty extraordinary because they brought all of us together. Jon [Amiel, director for the pilot] allowed us to improvise things from our rearing, from experiences that we might have had that led us to where we are on the very day this thing starts. It’s something that was very invaluable because the chemistry between us all as a result of that is pretty great. It’s invaluable because it is instant chemistry and history that you bring to the very first day of work and then the cameras roll and then you’re off, and you can’t buy that.”
The boys weren’t left out of the bonding either. Michael Landes, who plays the firm’s wedding photographer, joined in the group activities. “They said Jim Burrows took the cast of Friends to Las Vegas or something on their pilot, but we went to the El Segundo Women’s Club from December 27 all through New Year’s and on New Year’s Day,” he laughed. “We literally did spend six or seven hours a day as a group rehearsing, not even with text. Improvising. We didn’t use the script yet. That did get us up and running. I’ve done a lot of pilots and a couple of movies. You never get this, ever. It was like a mini-play process. I do think it will translate or it has begun to translate [to the screen].”
Polo added, “You feel like you have that, so then you just apply that chemistry and that feeling that you have with the other person to the dialogue, as opposed to having to create that atmosphere and feeling for the other person.”
Audiences may remember Polo from another wedding story. In Meet the Parents, she had to bring her fiancé home to meet mom and dad. “People get married, it’s an everyday occurrence,” she explained. “People have to meet in-laws and et cetera. When films and television shows are made about an everyday occurrence, that everybody has experienced or can experience, that’s relatable.”
A third man in the Bells’ life, after Jane’s husband and the photographer, is wedding singer Ralph Snow (Chris Williams). Williams is the brother of Vanessa Williams, and a standup comedian in his own right. Playing the singer brought with it some family pressure.
”She’s the singer of the family, but I can sing,” he said. “I had to go into the studio. We recorded three songs for this episode. Now I have a much deeper respect for her talent and her craft because it’s difficult to actually sing the songs and sing them well. I think we did a great job. The essence of a wedding singer, also, is there’s a slight cheese element. I’m still looking for a non-cheesy wedding singer, but this will be the first cool wedding singer, because I have other things that I’d like to do besides just singing wedding songs.”
All this talk of weddings made the cast think of their own weddings. Actually, it was the press making things personal that sparked it, but they still went there, beginning with producer Kelley. For those out of the gossip loop, he is married to actress Michelle Pfeifer.
”The funniest part about my wedding story is I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Kelley said. “My wife was so sensitive to the idea that paparazzi might invade the process and ruin it that she kept all the details secret from everybody, including me. I remember sitting backstage, if you call it that, right before I was about to walk down the aisle and not having any idea what was about to happen. I thought, ‘I wonder if I’m losing control of my life by getting married’ but it worked out well.”
Teri Polo’s story is not so funny. “I’m now divorced so that’s my cute wedding story,” she revealed.
KaDee Strickland recalled some antics that sound like they could be the plot of a Wedding Bells episode. “I think the strangest thing that I did during my wedding process was change in the meat locker of the place where we were having the reception,” she said. “I wanted to surprise my husband with an outfit other than my wedding gown that he had no idea I’d had made. And I found myself having nowhere to go that I couldn’t run into him or someone else, so I went with my wedding planner into the meat locker and stood there changing out of all the stuff, into other stuff and casually sort of walked back out. It was a great moment, but being in the meat locker was one I’ll never forget, I have to say.”
Sarah Jones has not been a bride or a bridesmaid yet, so only has good things to look forward to. “I was a flower girl when I was about 10,” is all she could muster. “It went pretty smooth for me, so I really haven’t had any experiences with weddings.”
The Wedding Bells is not an attack on the institution by any means. Kelley simply wants to poke fun at the industry it has become, but leave things on a high note. “I think there’s something about us all that loves to surrender to the illusion of marriage, because it’s romantic, it does contain promise, it’s pomp and it’s circumstance, it’s a party,” he said. “It’s a little bit of people dressing up, play-acting and pretending for that day. Wardrobe is a big part of that acting. I think to the extent that we will use costumes like characters would use costumes; you’ll see lots of different outfits. I think we could probably do a whole episode just on brides maids dresses. I would say I like to find a theme of optimism in my series and I would say, hope. That’s certainly prevalent in this one.”
THE WEDDING BELLS – Premieres Friday, March 9 (9:00-10:00 p.m. et/pt) on FOX!