What exactly is a “Benben”? A cuddly Australian marsupial? French for “candy”? Whatever it is, it’s fun to say: Benben Benben Benben. And CBS executives hope millions of Americans will soon be saying it a lot.
The word in question is actually the surname of Brian Benben, comic actor and wannabe celebrity. If you don’t have HBO, you might not know the 42-year-old, who starred for seven seasons on the network’s award-winning sitcom Dream On. Since that show ended in 1995, he and his wife, actress Madeleine Stowe, have bought a Hill Country ranch where they spend much of the time with their two-year-old daughter, May. Now Benben is poised to reenter the public eye as the only Texan to have a show bearing his name on this fall’s prime-time lineup. “I didn’t want to call it The Brian Benben Show,” he says. “I thought if we were going to use my name, let’s call it ‘The Benben Show’ or ‘The Benben.’ But they did some audience testing on those names and found that people thought it was going to be a children’s clown show.”
In fact, The Brian Benben Show is a behind-the-scenes, Broadcast News—like look at a Los Angeles TV newscast. Benben, who is also the show’s co—executive producer, plays a veteran anchorman demoted in favor of a studly young MTV-type; to salvage his career, he becomes an over-the-top lifestyle reporter. The plots will typically feature Benben’s character maneuvering to get his old job back through dirty tricks of one sort or another. He will be playing a part similar to his role on Dream On: a neurotic, petulant, flailing schemer, though this one is a little more devious.
For CBS, which has dropped Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and spent $4 billion to lure back the NFL, the show is a critical component of a plan to attract men 35 years old and younger—a desirable demographic for advertisers. For Benben, it’s a return to the hectic Hollywood life, which is a far cry from the quiet existence he and Stowe have made for themselves. Although he was born in Virginia and raised in New York, he considers Texas his home. The property he and Stowe own is their primary residence, and it’s a working ranch (they raise Hereford-Brangus cattle).
For the next year or so, though, Benben will be in L.A. acting in and producing the show and praying that ratings are good enough to persuade CBS to order what he calls “the back nine”—the second half of a full season’s worth of episodes. “It’s great to be back in the thick of things,” he says. “Even though it’s incredibly, incredibly busy, it’s nice to have both L.A. and Texas; they’re adjuncts to each other. If you spend too much time in one place or the other without a break, something would happen to you. You’d either whither away or become so nervous you couldn’t function.”