espite Huff's seven Emmy nominations and such guest stars as Sharon Stone and Anjelica Huston, Showtime's dark family comedy may or may not be renewed for a third season, admits Bob Lowry, its creator and executive producer. "To me it's a no-brainer," Lowry remarks. "But there are so many factors to consider. There are the numbers: They're gaining in the key demographics, the 18- to 49-year-olds. Still, I don't know what pilots Showtime has picked up and what, if any, time slots are available."
Lowry isn't above resorting to grass-roots measures for the show, which stars Hank Azaria in the title role. "Since Showtime is a subscription premium pay cable channel—there are no commercials—the network claims ratings are not important," Lowry continues. "But I know that if the numbers went through the roof, it would help. And if Huff triggered new subscriptions to Showtime, that would help. I'm still asked, 'Huff—that's HBO, right?' That's why I've turned a whore. I tell people, 'Call Showtime, subscribe, and let them know Huff is the reason why.'"
The delightfully straightforward Lowry, who previously had a three-year writing stint with NBC's Profiler and co-executive-produced Lifetime's critically respected series Any Day Now during its four-year run, says Huff was not an easy sell. This was in part because of its decidedly offbeat sensibility, combining "dry humor and heartfelt poignancy with unexpected twists and turns." Pointing specifically to a plot line in which Huff's best friend, Russell (Oliver Platt), engages in an affair with Huff's mother (played by Emmy winner Blythe Danner), Lowry notes, "I'm especially interested in putting characters together in unlikely ways." The writer, who claims to be most influenced by the works of Edward Albee and Anton Chekhov, acknowledges that the coupling of those characters is improbable. "But it's not a gag, a ha-ha," he adds. "That relationship has to be heartfelt, with all the politics of age difference. It has to be about two people who really care for each other and know their relationship won't fly."
But perhaps nothing is more improbable than the genesis of Huff: The series was inspired by a comment Lowry's therapist made. "He said, 'People do not wake up until they realize they're going to die,'" recalls Lowry. That sentiment, an epiphany for him, is embraced by the character of Huff; it's also a thematic motif throughout the series, each character trying to rouse himself from metaphoric sleep. "The challenge was: How do you pitch an episodic TV series to a studio or network about a character who says he wants to wake up? I pitched it three times to Sony and twice to HBO, who said, 'But what's the series about?' They just didn't get it."
Lowry would love to write a theatrical feature and a legitimate play, if time permitted. But he is in the enviable position of having plenty on his plate. He recently joined forces with Oscar winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, the screenwriters of Crash, and will serve as executive producer on their new TV show, The Black Donnellys, about growing up in Hell's Kitchen. NBC has ordered 13 episodes.
Whenever possible, Lowry participates in casting decisions. What most impresses him is the actor's "talent and skill at listening—to themselves, to the producer, to the lines being read to them. Listening is the key. When I was an actor, I'd go into auditions with the idea 'I have to do this, I have to do that' before I had anything to respond to. I was giving them things they weren't asking for."
The 57-year-old Princeton, Ill., native—"My Jewish friends call me 'the all-American goy,'" he notes—still takes nothing for granted, not even his current success. But that insecurity, according to Lowry, has its roots in a childhood of "wanting to be loved and adored, without really knowing that's what I wanted. I was very popular, the class president three years in a row. To this day, my friends keep telling me to stop running for class president."