It’s been said that age isn’t anything but a number. Not so, though, in West Hollywood, where youth can make the difference between stardom and irrelevance in the fast changing world of entertainment.
For four best friends, though, the challenge of maintaining that youthful charm while facing the realities of getting older, and the changing nature of their own personal relationships, proves to be the biggest hurdle they face in the fourth and final season of the acclaimed comedy OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS.
Created by and co-starring Leon Acord, all 3 previous seasons of OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS are now streaming on its official web site. Seasons 1 and 2 are also on Hulu, and on DVD from Wolfe Video and various retailers. Season 3 of the series is also on Youtube. ODNT is also currently in the midst of its IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign for season 4.
“In our IndieGoGo campaign, we’re letting our viewers decide whether we come back with just a single mini-movie (like ‘WeHo Horror Story’, a special short film which helped to conclude several key storylines and cliffhangers during season 2) or a full, finale season of 8 to 10 episodes,” he says.
No matter how it ends up, though, Acord hopes that season 4 of ODNT will be just as successful as the previous 3. “Whether it’s a mini-movie, a full season or something in-between will dictate what happens and how many new stories we can tell before we sign off,” he says. “I really hope it’s a whole season. I have a lot of ideas of things to put the dogs through before they walk off into the sunset.”
The first 3 seasons of OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS followed the lives of a group of 4 gay best friends, each of whom found themselves at different points in their personal and professional lives. Acord plays talent agent Nathan Adler, whose successful career contrasts with the disastrous romances he’s had in the past, including with a client and an ex-model who became a big success in the world of real estate.
Nathan’s best friends include Brad King (played by Curt Bonnem), whose single moment of top 40 success came with the ‘80s one hit wonder “Bite Me”. Rolling in the dough from its use in candy bar commercials, that steady income source suddenly comes to an end for Brad when his licensing option runs out. His talents in online dating, and in the bedroom, are especially formidable.
So too has his romantic life. Incredibly, Ross’s attempts to get back into the spotlight, as well as the dating game, have strangely benefitted by the discovery of a sex tape he thought would never resurface.
In addition, Jeffrey Patrick Olson stars as celebrity personal trainer Al ‘Muscles’ Carter. As Acord explains, that character has grown exponentially through Olson’s portrayal of him. “He has the mindset of a 16 year old teenage girl — he’s in it for love, the picket fence, all of it,” he says. “The character was originally written as kind of simple, but Jeffrey has done such great work. He’s changed Muscles from simple and made him pure!”
Rounding out the cast are Amanda Gari as Nathan’s friend and personal assistant Lydia Lasker, and guest star Bruce L. Hart as Nelson Van Eddy. Nelson proves to be a constant thorn in Nathan’s side throughout the series. “He’s the Phyllis to my Rhoda,” says Acord, referencing the characters from the classic ‘70s sitcom THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.
Among them: Ian Buchanan (GENERAL HOSPITAL, DAYS OF OUR LIVES), Thom Bierdz (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS), Terri Garber (DYNASTY), 4 time Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, actress/comedienne Mo Gaffney (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS), Rutanya Alda (MOMMIE DEAREST), Doug Spearman (NOAH’S ARC), and actress Kathryn Leigh Scott (‘60s era DARK SHADOWS).
Those guest stars have added to the show’s popularity, and Acord hopes to continue to add that aspect to season 4 of ODNT. “I can say that we’re talking to 2 or 3 former special guest stars about returning to the show, and of course will be looking for a few more gay icons to guest star in Season 4,” he says. “We always try to find guest stars who will appeal to gay men of our general age group, if not full-on gay icons. We’ve been lucky.”
A longtime actor and producer, Acord developed ODNT as he found himself facing his own mid-life crisis – both personally and professionally. “I was 47. After two decades as a working actor in San Francisco, I moved to Los Angeles. And screech! After about 6 slow years in LaLaLand, I took a couple of months off, and stayed with my parents in Indiana,” he says.
Approaching the mid point of his life, and with a strong sense of apprehension over the uncertain future ahead of him, Acord realized that he needed to make some serious changes. “I was thinking of how freaked out I would be at 50 if things didn’t change,” he remembers. “I decided to face my fears head-on and embrace them. I wanted to wake up on my 50th birthday wanting to celebrate, not hide.”
Acord’s decision to create what became a web series ‘dramedy’ about close friends who seek to make the most of life after 50 was also inspired by his own longtime friendship; one that he sought to reflect in his own way through the show’s characters.
“…Around that time, I had lost a good friend, Jeffrey Hartgraves, to cancer. We had acted together a lot, and he directed my one-man show in the ‘90s, and were very close. We told each other everything,” he adds. “Our relationship was very much like the friendships in the show. I think, in a weird way, I was maybe trying to recreate that friendship with the show.”
It was at that moment that he began to fully develop the concept for what would soon become ODNT. “I’d produced a few theatre productions, and had written off and on all my life. People had been telling me I needed to produce my own films or web series. So I finally just did it,” he says.” Then, a sudden burst of creativity ensued for Acord, who worked at an amazingly torrid pace to create the characters and storylines for ODNT’s first two seasons.
“From that initial decision, I outlined the four main characters in one night. And from there, it just exploded. I wrote the scripts to what became, for the most part, the first two seasons during that time, writing every night,” Acord recalls. “It was like a fever dream, like I was channelling the characters more than creating them. They told me what they’d say, they came up with the jokes and I would laugh as I would type them down. My parents thought I was insane.”
Having worked previously with Bautista as an actor on his graduate thesis film, DEER SEASON, at the prestigious USC (University Of Southern California) film school, Acord was eager to have him be a part of the initial production of ODNT.
“I knew there’d been one or two gay dudes on that crew of the film I’d done with Arvin, so I sent the scripts to him, hoping he’d hook me up with them,” he says. “But Arvin read the scripts, said he loved them, and that he wanted to direct the Pilot and as many episodes as he can squeeze into his schedule. I was floored by my great good luck!”
After the extensive process of writing each script, Acord and Bautista began the extensive casting process for ODNT. Some parts of it were easier than expected for the show’s creator. “I wrote Lydia for Amanda Gari. And I had worked with Curt Bonnem before in a play. I let him read the scripts, and he was very interested in playing Brad,” Acord says.
Finding the actors to play Muscles and Ross, however, proved to be quite eventful. “I met Jeffrey Patrick Olson when we were planning a table read of the script–and I knew immediately I had met Muscles. But then we had auditions, mostly so Arvin could see all the guys himself and confirm what I thought,” he says. “That’s when we brought in David Pevsner, who auditioned for Brad and Muscles because we had another actor pre-cast as Ross.”
Acord soon found that the right actor to play Ross was right there in front of him. “When that actor had to drop out, I immediately called David in for Ross, because that’s the part he should’ve been playing from the beginning.”
The final piece of the casting puzzle came as Acord gained both a new cast member and a new admirer of his work on ODNT’s pilot episode. “Bruce (Hart) emailed me after he saw the pilot, congratulating me on the show and saying he’d love to be involved. So we cast him in the role of Nathan’s frenemy Nelson, who we first meet in Season 1.”
For Acord, the gradual growth of each character in OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS added to the show’s overall development. “In Seasons 1 & 2, the guys reacted to stuff that happened to them,” he says. ”In Season 3, the characters began driving the stories instead of just reacting to them. I’m really proud of how the show has grown, yet still kept its original feel of whimsy.”
Just like the characters portrayed in ODNT, the episodic storytelling approach and production style evolved throughout the show’s first 3 seasons. “Season 1 was about meeting the 4 guys, learning who they are and what made them tick. Season 2 opened it up, and showed the guys in their respective worlds,” Acord says.
As a result of those changes, ODNT grew from a light-hearted comedy into a character-based sitcom/drama hybrid. “In season 3, our episodes got longer, and we focused more on the guys’ professional lives, had a more intricate plot, and became even more serialized,” he adds. “Our leaps from comedy to drama and back became even more broad. A blog called us a ‘comedic melodrama’ recently, which seems apt.”
ODNT’s production team and visual style also evolved over the course of its first 2 seasons. “Initially, in the first season, we purposely made the show look more ‘candy colored’. Going into season 2 and beyond, we decided on a more realistic, conventional ‘cable TV’ look,” says Acord, who marvels at both the efficiency of the show’s production and the incredible talents of its cast and crew. “I am absolutely amazed by how much we’re able to accomplish in such a short time, and its because we have a first-rate crew and a world-class cast.”
Despite all the production changes ODNT has endured over 3 seasons, there are some things that stay the same for Acord – both on-set and off. “The show has gotten a bit ‘bigger’ and a little more serious. Sometimes we get a bit dark. The process has been great, very professional. Each season, we start with a series of meetings of all the ‘department heads,’ our stable of directors and our line producer, and they hash it all out.”
“I’m lucky that, while I’m an executive producer and can say ‘no!’ to anything I disagree with, I don’t very often, because I respect the people I’m working with,” he says. “I’m also lucky that I can focus on aspects of producing I like, like casting, costuming, PR and re-writes, and leave the rest to folks who know how to do the rest.”
Overall, OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS proves that no matter what stage of life you may be in, or how old you are, or who you love, it’s always better to get through the ups and downs of life with people who care. As Acord sums it up, ODNT isn’t so much about the families we’re necessarily born into, but the ones we make for ourselves.
“I guess that, when it comes to aging, its all about attitude. Fifty isn’t fatal unless you think it is. Life goes on,” Acord says. “And being gay doesn’t keep you from accomplishing your dreams, or breaking your heart. And having a strong support unit, a family of friends, can make the disasters a little less disastrous.”
(Note: Regarding closed-captioning, Acord says: “We’d love to be closed-captioned, but we currently just haven’t had the resources or manpower to make it happen. I hope we can pull it off eventually. Many viewers have asked us to.”)
For more information on the show’s IndieGoGo campaign, including how to contribute, visit:
ON THE WEB: www.odnt.tv