&bull: Video: Watch a trailer for "The Soul Man."
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John Beasley is having fun again.
Not since “Everwood” ended its four-season run in 2006 has the Omaha actor had steady work in series television, though he's had his share of guest appearances on “Harry's Law,” “Treme,” “CSI: Miami” and “Detroit 1-8-7,” among others.
Now he's in the middle of filming a 12-episode season of a new sitcom, “The Soul Man,” opposite Cedric the Entertainer, for the TV Land cable network. The show premieres tonight at 9 CDT.
“The Soul Man” is a spinoff of “Hot in Cleveland,” where Cedric's character, the Rev. Boyce “The Voice” Ballentine, first appeared.
Beasley, 68, plays the Rev. Barton Ballentine, a retired preacher whose son, Boyce, was an R&B singing star in Las Vegas. Boyce decides to leave showbiz, go home to St. Louis and preach in his father's church.
Dad isn't ready to let him off the hook for the years he lived wild after dropping out of the seminary.
Niecy Nash plays Cedric's wife, Lolli, and Jazz Raycole is his hip daughter, Lyric, who are not thrilled to be giving up the high life. Wesley Jonathan is his wayward brother, Stamps.
“They call sitcom work banker's hours,” Beasley said last week from his dressing room in Los Angeles. “And compared to ‘Everwood,' it is. That was an hourlong drama, and some days we'd be in at 6 in the morning and shoot until 2 a.m., usually using just one camera.”
“The Soul Man” is shot before a live audience, using four cameras.
“I'm really enjoying this formula,” Beasley said. “We're shooting one episode a week.”
Typically, the cast has a table read of the script Monday, rehearses Tuesday through Thursday and shoots Friday evening before a live audience of about 300. Shooting a 22-minute episode can take up to five hours as the script is tweaked, errors are reshot and costumes are changed. The cast gets scripts for the following week on Friday evenings.
“It feels great to be back in serial TV,” Beasley said. “What they're telling me is that my character kind of grounds the show. The other actors can go over the top a little, but I don't really play for the laughs. They're just there. The writers are giving me some really good story lines.”
The writers include “Hot in Cleveland” creator Suzanne Martin, Cedric the Entertainer, and head writer Phoef Sutton, who won two Emmys writing for the hit sitcom “Cheers.”
Beasley also was enthusiastic about the show's guest stars, who have included Tamar and Trinia Braxton (“Braxton Family Values”), Anthony Anderson (“Law & Order”), Sherri Shepherd (“The View”), Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”) and Kim Coles (“Living Single”). Cee Lo Green and Steven Van Zandt were expected on the set soon, he said.
“Cedric knows lots of people, and when he calls they come in,” Beasley said. He said singers Mary J. Blige and Brandy recently came to see the show, adding to the fun.
The show's pilot was shot in early December, and the season began production April 27. Beasley expects to wrap filming July 29.
While movie work has been scarce lately, Beasley hopes to appear on Broadway this fall in Athol Fugard's “The Train Driver.” He and “Everwood” star Treat Williams did a staged reading of the new play at the University of North Carolina. But the play's opening date in mid-August could be problematic with the “Soul Man” shooting schedule.
Either way, he said, the sitcom is a career boost.
“It shows me in a light where my comedic timing comes into play,” he said. “I've never had that opportunity in film and television before. And it's really great, because the audience just loves my character.”
Beasley said his background in live theater is a boost when shooting before a live audience.
“I come prepared. I'm ready,” he said. “I memorize my lines even when I know things will change during the week. I want to continue to develop this character.”
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