Denise Neil

October 31, 2010

'Rules' lands Wichitan a shot at lasting fame

Over the years, I've written about Wichitans on "The Bachelor," Wichitans on "Oprah" and Wichitans on "American Idol."

Over the years, I've written about Wichitans on "The Bachelor," Wichitans on "Oprah" and Wichitans on "American Idol."

I've written about Wichitans featured in magazines for being good husbands, for being eligible bachelors and for being Playboy playmates.

But of all the could-be, would-be, might-be famous Wichitans I've ever written about, the one I'm writing about today might have the best shot of becoming and staying famous.

Taryn Southern is a 2003 East High graduate who recently landed a role on a prime-time television show —"Rules of Engagement," which stars "Saturday Night Live" alum David Spade and airs at 7:30 p.m. Mondays on CBS, Channel 12.

She plays Allison, who's having an office romance with main character Timmy, played by Adhir Kalyan.

Although she's not a series regular, Southern has filmed four episodes of the sitcom, one of which is scheduled to air on Monday. She's hopeful — and fairly certain — she'll be hired for more episodes as well.

"It's so much fun, I don't want it to end," she said during a phone interview last week. "It's been by far my favorite filming experience I've had in Los Angeles over the past five years."

Southern, 25, grew up in Wichita and was active in the theater department at East High. A talented singer, she also was a regular performer with Music Theatre of Wichita.

I first met her back in 2003, when I wrote a column about one of her very first on-air gigs — hosting a teen-issue show on The WB called "Real A.C.T.I.O.N."

She graduated and went to college at the University of Miami, where she studied anthropology and journalism. (She also managed to squeeze in making the top 50 for "American Idol" while in college.)

Not sure what to do with her degree, she learned that the Discovery Channel was looking for a television host with an anthropology background to host a travel show.

She got the job, and her career was off. Southern moved to California and has had steady work there every since, hosting shows for DirectTV, MTV, the TV Guide Channel and more.

I kept hearing about Southern's successes and wrote about her again in 2007, when she became a viral video sensation.

Southern, who's also a serious computer geek, writer and filmmaker, wrote and starred in a parody video called "Hot4Hill," a jokey video supporting Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

More than 2 million people watched the video, and it was featured on shows such as "Good Morning America."

Southern's filmmaking and writing skills also might have landed her biggest role to date on "Rules of Engagement."

Her agent told her that the show's producers had three actresses in mind to play Allison and were having trouble making a decision.

Southern made a short film of herself in character, pretending to apply for the job Allison holds on the show.

Her agent gave producers the video, which cinched the role for Southern.

"I've since been told by the casting people, 'That pushed you over the edge,' " Southern said. "And my agent told me, 'This is the first time that all of your rogue stuff you've done has come in to help you."

Southern, who's the daughter of Wichitans Kim and Rob Southern, said she's not sure how many of her former East High friends and classmates are really aware of what she's been up to, but she'll likely find out when she comes home to visit for Thanksgiving.

"I'll sometimes get a message on Facebook saying, 'I think I just saw you on a show. Was that you?' " she said with a laugh.

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