'Mike & Molly' aims to show real people with regular lives

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. —When Melissa McCarthy heard about "Mike & Molly," she wanted no part of it.

"Before I read it, just the thought of it upset me," said the 39-year-old actress and Plainfield, Ill., native.

"Mike & Molly" is a new CBS comedy for the fall, and it follows the relationship of the title characters, who get to know each other at Overeaters Anonymous meetings. McCarthy, who played chef Sookie St. James for seven seasons on "Gilmore Girls" and has appeared in films such as "The Nines" and "The Back-up Plan," had to be talked into reading the script, which she feared might contain "potshots and cheap writing."

After she was told that the comedy would be shot near her house, that it would have the easier hours of a multicamera sitcom and that it was co-created by comedy guru Chuck Lorre ("The Big Bang Theory," "Two and a Half Men"), she relented and read the script.

"I didn't take it as making fun at all, and I think I'm really sensitive to that stuff," McCarthy said.

And though it isn't perfect, "Mike & Molly," which premieres Sept. 20, is more sensitive to its lead characters than you might expect. McCarthy and co-star Billy Gardell play a fourth-grade teacher at the fictional Wrigley Elementary and a Chicago cop, respectively, and though the show depicts them dealing with weight issues, it also shows them struggling with shyness and self-confidence.

At a recent panel on the show at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, executive producer Lorre and creator Mark Roberts insisted that the show will be more about the couple's blossoming romance than it is about their weight.

"I didn't set out to write a show about Overeaters Anonymous. I wanted to write a show about two people at the beginning of a relationship, and that was the part of it that intrigued me the most," Roberts said.

Part of the impetus to make the show came from his desire to depict real people and their regular lives. "Most of the stuff on TV seems pretty unrealistic to me," Roberts said. "People ... dress really nice, and their apartments are really nice. And I don't buy any of their problems."

McCarthy said she liked the idea that "Mike & Molly" depicts middle-class and working-class people, a la the classic sitcom "All in the Family."

And she's well aware that many people in Hollywood can be astonishingly clueless when it comes to the lives of regular people. On a recent project she worked on — not "Mike & Molly" — she was given an outfit for her Midwestern character, one that she and the wardrobe people "really loved."

"All the people from the studio were like, 'What is she wearing?' They said, 'She looks crazy,' " McCarthy recalled.

"And I said, 'This is a brand-new outfit from Kmart, and probably half the people watching this show have these pants. It's not crazy, it's real.' ... The week before, I had been in Plainfield, Ill., and I said, 'This is exactly right.' "