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David Crane has left 'Friends' behind for a brand-new look at a first-rate third-grade 'Class''
But before "Friends" fans place an order with Gunther for a soy, unsweetened, decaf cappuccino -- hold the sarcasm -- Crane is not couching his chat in terms of Monica, Chandler, Ross -- or even Marcel the monkey.
The names he's dropping are those dropping in for a grade-school reunion in "The Class," co-created by Crane, the class act from Bala Cynwyd, whose new CBS Monday-night series features eight former friends/class mates from third grade discovering that, 20 years later, life is not so elementary, after all.
Fools for foosball? This gang is interested in other games.
Is it harder to create a series of eight friends than it is for six? One of the central perks in knowing Crane is understanding that the Brandeis U. grad is schooled in the value of candid conversation and the rites of forthrightness.
"It is a harder show to do," concedes Crane of focusing on the octet, plus four others, in their satellite lives. "We're really writing for 12 characters in 21 minutes."
No room for recess? Indeed, Crane hasn't taken that much time off since "Friends" broke up NBC's terrific Thursday-night schedule a few years back.
Famously partnered in the past with Lower Merion's Marta Kauffman, a colleague also with Brandeis bragging rights, Crane has co-created "The Class" with on- and off-screen partner, Jeffrey Klarik, himself an accomplished producer whose "Mad About You" has its own legion of fans and friends mad for the show.
But how the two summa-cum-laugh grads of prime-time university reached back to their elementary-school days is no Jewish blackboard jungle of a tale.
"Jeffrey and I thought of third grade because it was a time in life when [kids] aren't fully formed yet, not knowing exactly who you are."
Klarik connected readily with his memories; Crane was more like the kid cleaning the erasers: "I don't really remember third grade all that much."
Gee, won't his classmates at Penn Valley Elementary School in Narberth be disappointed? Well, at least they can console themselves seeing themselves on screen.
Uh ... no, says Crane; that school's out for summer and the rest of the year. His "Class" characters "aren't based on anyone I went to school with."
Saved by the bell, because some of the characters have never really graduated all that much mentally. And others who have may still feel like the last boy/girl picked for a game of dodgeball even if they've dodged life's bullet.
Crane, Klarik and other "Class" exec producer, the legendary James Burrows, are on borrowed time in a beneficial way, borrowing from the past to present the pain of those early school daze. If the lives these characters lead now aren't so picture-perfect, would one have been able to tell from their third-grade class photo?
Where Are They Now?
Positives from a negative? As Bob Cummings would have said, "Smile, I think you're going to like this picture." "I came across my [school] picture my father" -- the legendary Philadelphia broadcast pioneer Gene Crane -- "had sent me and Jeffrey, and I looked at it, wondering who are these people now, can you imagine what happened to them?"
From such questions are born Nielsen hits.
Just don't look for any of the stud students on-screen to be studies of Crane as a kid. "I wasn't unlike what I am now -- a lot of energy, goofy and as unathletic as a kid can get."
But can he pitch! Actually, "The Class" was not at the head of the class of their projects; it was one of three unsolicited pilots Crane-Kalinsky created for the season: One set in Connecticut, Klarik's old stomping grounds; another in Los Angeles, their current home; and one in Crane's backyard of Philadelphia.
Did the Schyulkill really beat out the Merritt Parkway and 105 Freeway?
No way ... way. But despite early mentions of the Eagles and other Philly points of pride, don't expect these older third-graders to be talking too much about growing up at Third and "Pashyunk."
Philadelphia "figures somewhat in the series, but it's not a major character," says Crane. "It's not like how New York" was such a prominent presence in "Sex and the City."
But siddur and the city?
Some of Crane's past credits are alive with Jewish jive-talkin' characters. After all, "Friends" Ross and Monica did have a Jewish moniker of Geller; and Rachel was far from green in the rich Jewish way she was written.
No simchas this Simchat Torah for "The Class," however.
"We haven't pegged any character as specifically Jewish," says Crane of the catholic characters in the cast.
No Chanukah Armadillo crawling around in this crowd, he allows -- not that Crane hasn't lifted some of his own self to infuse some of the characters with familiar reminders. Show and tell ... and kvetch? With "Friends," his own friends could see "some of me in Monica -- the same with Jeff. I also had some Ross and Chandler in me, too: Ross's endearing nerd, Chandler's sense of humor."
He senses now that those who know him well will know "that I certainly relate to Kyle -- and not just because he's gay. He tries, like I do, to cope by using his sense of humor; and he hates confrontations."
One thing that Crane won't be confronting any time soon is a "Friends" reunion, despite some reports that Jennifer Aniston has agreed to one. Don't bet your milk money on it!
"There shouldn't be one," he opines. "Some things should be left as they are. There's no need to see those characters later on."
It's not hard to imagine, however, Gunther watching "The Class" from the confines of his cluttered claustrophobic New York apartment, identifying with the unrequited lust and love that make up part of the new series' picture and appeal, and drowning his own sorrows in a latte and laugh of remembrance as he sees these new characters prove how it's possible to be friends to the end.