You won't hear any talk about vittles and varmints and cee-ment ponds on Malibu Country — premiering Friday at 8:30/7:30c on ABC — but there's no denying Reba McEntire's new series owes much to The Beverly Hillbillies. This fish-out-of-water comedy stars the country-music icon as Reba Gallagher, a freshly divorced Nashville mom and former singer who moves cross-country with her two impressionable teens to live in her ex-hubby's Malibu love shack. Also in tow: Reba's anything-goes mom, Lillie Mae, played by legendary comedian Lily Tomlin. We corralled McEntire and Tomlin for a frisky chat about family values, the horrors of La La Land and their Southern roots. No surprise: There's plenty of steel in these magnolias!
TV Guide Magazine: How did you two ever team up for a sitcom? It's both weird and strangely perfect!
Tomlin: It is, isn't it? I've always wanted to work with Reba. Not to sound sappy, but I saw her in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway and was deeply moved by her artistry. She was so incredibly alive!
McEntire: And who wouldn't want to act with Lily? Nobody's funnier, plus she's so down-to-earth. We're both just a couple of Southern gals.
Tomlin: Lillie Mae was my mother's name! I'm from inner-city Detroit, but my parents were from rural Kentucky and I spent every summer there. We'd sit in church and wave those hand fans printed with the name of the local funeral home. [Laughs] I've always had a foot in both worlds.
McEntire: And I'm an Okie through and through. That's why we can both relate to the culture shock we deal with on Malibu Country. When I moved my family to L.A. in 2001 for Reba, I couldn't believe how people raised children. Our son Shelby had to make his bed and clean his room, but the neighbors had maids for that. I was like, "Do you people know how much money you can save if the kids did it themselves?"
Tomlin: I had pretentious plans to be a New York theater actor. I was very leery and fearful about moving to Hollywood but finally did it in the summer of '69 for a TV show. How's this for timing? I arrived the morning after the Manson murders.
TV Guide Magazine: Reba, how important was it for you to get back to series TV?
McEntire: Important? I'm doing this 'cause it's fun! I was devastated when they canceled Reba. All I could think was, "Why are you taking this away from me? We have so many more stories to tell!" I couldn't wait to do it again and bring family values back to sitcoms. Reba's teens are not allowed to talk back to their mama! I miss that kind of television. As a kid, I learned my life lessons watching how Andy raised Opie.
TV Guide Magazine: And you, Lily? We think of you as a free-floating genius. Why settle down for a series?
Tomlin: I've never done one from the get-go and wanted that experience. I've always been very clever to step into these huge, well-established hits — Laugh-In, Murphy Brown, The West Wing. [Laughs] Hey, I'm no fool! Also, I wanted to play an older woman who is wildly free and knows who she is. Unlike Reba's character, Lillie Mae is ready for Malibu — the medical marijuana, the nude beaches. She's got nothing to lose!
TV Guide Magazine: In the pilot, Reba tries to revive her music career, which she gave up for her dirty dog husband, but she's told she's over the hill. Has this ever happened to you ladies?
Tomlin: Every woman in our business — and our culture — eventually deals with ageism. Even as a character actress I lose jobs because of it. I'll say, "Hey, why did so-and-so get the part?" and my [rep] says, "Because she's 10 years younger!" It's so insulting.
McEntire: It's sure true in my world. Now, when you hit 35 in country music, you're considered old, and you're expected to step aside for the younger generation. Nashville is also dealing with it, but we're trying to find the funny side because here I am — a 57-year-old playing a 45-year-old who's trying to get back into the business. It's so sad, all you can do is laugh.
TV Guide Magazine: Reba, we can't help but notice Malibu Country has the exact same setup as Reba. Most actors would want to shake it up. Why repeat the formula?
McEntire: [Laughs] Because ignorance is bliss? I really didn't think this show was all that similar to Reba — even with the cheatin' husbands and the single-mom thing — or that people would think I shouldn't do it. "Shouldn't" just never comes up on my radar.
Tomlin: The joy people feel in seeing Reba is seeing Reba! They want that hair. They want that accent. They love it when she plays characters who are 99 percent the real Reba. Candice Bergen was the same way as Murphy Brown. That's always been the appeal of the truly great TV stars.
McEntire: Why, thank you, hon. [Laughs] Hang around Lily long enough and she makes you feel like you can run for president!
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