What’s in a name? If it’s “The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport,” it’s an attention-catching but potentially alienating title for a sitcom. The show’s producers and network hope that changing it to “American Housewife” will broaden its appeal while maintaining its fondly familial yet sometimes snarky content and its setting in the Fairfield County town.
“‘The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport’ was a great title,” said co-executive producer and Westport native Kenny Schwartz. “But after shooting the pilot, we took a long look at it and realized we had the making of a wonderful family show with broad appeal. We and the network came together and ultimately thought the original title was too limiting.”
“Wherever the show was to take place, it had to be a small affluent suburb so our main character, Katie Otto, would feel like a fish out of water,” Schwartz said. “Our series creator, Sarah Dunn, lives in Garrison, N.Y. She picked Westport because it reminded her of her home town. Her thought was Garrison was too small of a town and quite frankly, nobody had really heard of it. People seem to recognize Westport more.”
The series, which debuts on ABC on Oct. 11, chronicles the life of an average wife and mother — played by Katy Mixon of “Mike & Molly” and “Eastbound & Down” — who tries to stand out among the housewives and their privileged children in her hometown of Westport. Other cast members include Diedrich Bader (“The Drew Carey Show,” “Veep”) and Meg Donnelly (“The Sound of Music Live!”).
Trivia mavens may be aware that Westport previously served as the setting for ’60s sitcom staple “Bewitched” and as the site of the country home shared by the Ricardos and Mertzes on “I Love Lucy,” as well as being where part of the gory horror film favorite “The Last House on the Left” was filmed in 1972.
Though shot in Los Angeles, the new show hopes to make use of Westport not only in script references but with exteriors as well, Schwartz said. “We would love to shoot exteriors of all the great sights in Westport — Longshore, Compo Beach, The Cannons, downtown, Saugatuck, Town Hall, Main Street,” he said. “I would also love to shoot all the great old haunts of my youth — Dunville’s, Viva’s, the Black Duck, the Patio at Longshore. I also would love to shoot the exterior of Tavern on Main, which used to be called Chez Pierre, where I had my first job as a busboy.”
Indeed, Schwartz said he “just loved growing up in Westport. When I was growing up, Westport still had a small-town vibe. Saturdays would consist of my family getting up early, having breakfast at Gold’s then off to downtown Main Street, where we would pop in to all the shops which were family-owned at the time. Then maybe a movie at the Fine Arts or maybe the Post Cinema. Afterwards, we’d grab a few subs from Fortuna’s and head to the beach to watch the sunset and play on the tire playground. That was a perfect Westport summer day.”
A future in show business wasn’t on Schwartz’s radar at that time. “I always loved writing but I was a lazy student — ask any of my friends. I would try to get by in school by doing the bare minimum. That is, until I met my sophomore English teacher, Frank Wiener,” who encouraged and pushed Schwartz in his writing.
Though his family has long since relocated to Southern California, Schwartz said he did come back to visit Westport a few years ago with his husband. “We stopped by my old house on Woody Lane which, I’m happy to say, is still standing…In the basement, the hand prints my mom, dad, my brother and I stuck in the wet cement to commemorate moving in back in 1972 were still there.”
Even with Westport eliminated from the series title, Schwartz said, he’s aware that some hometown folks may be viewing its arrival on the airwaves with trepidation.
“I’m hoping people are excited,” he said. “We are definitely playing up the stereotypes of life in an affluent town such as Westport, but it’s done with love. Nobody should take our ribbing too seriously. It’s a comedy and we’re hoping people will be able to laugh at themselves.”