You can call Diane English the $5 Million Woman. That's how much money was thrown away to get the Buffalo native to take over the new newspaper comedy "Ink."
CBS agreed to kill four already-filmed episodes of the romantic comedy, which stars the husband-and-wife team of Ted Danson ("Cheers") and Mary Steenburgen.
So it's only natural for the creator of "Murphy Brown" to feel some pressure before her expensive rewrite premieres (8:30 p.m. Monday, Channel 4).
"I have every reason to feel pressure. I have not let myself feel pressure," English said in a telephone interview a few days after filming her first episode. "I went into this only with the desire to have fun. . . . If I really let myself stop and think about (the pressure), it would become probably very hard to move my head from side to side.
"I don't think there is a precedent for mounting a series in four weeks of this size and scope and profile."
Then she was asked to think about the pressure and explain it.
"First of all, Ted Danson is coming back to television," English said of the man who made Sam Malone a
legendary television character.
"Just on a purely personal basis, you really want it to work for Ted, because there's a lot of pressure on him to come back. People are going to be comparing this to the old show and comparing him to Sam Malone and 'Is this as good a character?' and 'Is the show going to be as good?' . . .
"The pressure also is because it's very high-profile. I think critically the bar is going to be set very high, because it has been overhyped, unfortunately, due to all the circumstances surrounding it.
"And for me personally, I've had a couple of things ('Double Rush,' 'Louie') in a row that haven't, for whatever reasons, caught the attention of the public, and I would very much like to have this a success for personal reasons. And for DreamWorks, it's a huge expenditure of money."
English won't have to worry about "Ink" not getting attention. The $5 million gulp that CBS and DreamWorks swallowed has been heard throughout the country, even if most of the people who have seen the original pilot are television critics.
Does English think the earlier negative ink will help or hurt the show?
"It could work both ways," she said. "I know the press really disliked what they saw of the original incarnation. If we do better, we're heroes. But I think ultimately the show is going to have to be judged on its own merits and not compared to something that the rest of America didn't see."
What did she think of the original pilot, which was created by "Mad About You" writer Jeffrey Lane?
"Since I've changed everything, I guess you can figure that out," English said.
In the pilot that America won't see, Danson and Steenburgen played reporters who had a very brief marriage and worked together after it dissolved. She became his boss almost by accident.
In English's version, Kate Montgomery (Steenburgen) and Mike Logan (Danson) have been divorced for 10 years and have rarely seen each other despite sharing custody of their 15-year-old daughter. They are thrown together again when Kate returns to New York to take over as managing editor of the newspaper where Mike is the star columnist.
"There are a lot of romantic comedies," English said. "I wanted to put a different spin on it. This show is about life after divorce. . . . I felt that the characters couldn't have any sexual chemistry if they were being introduced to us on the day they were divorced" (as they were in the original pilot).
She also made Danson's character a newspaper star instead of just another reporter.
"He is not just another guy on the newspaper, and she didn't get the job by accident," said English, who wanted the characters to behave like adults.
"These people are pushing 50," English said. "They are deep into their 40s -- at least Ted is. I just felt they shouldn't be behaving like young singles. That's why I gave them a kid."
In the pilot, their 15-year-old daughter, Abby (Alana Austin), gives them less-than-accurate personal details in hopes they will rekindle their romance.
English wrote the premiere and has reassembled members of the writing staff that she used on her previous series. The staff, which includes Buffalo natives Shannon Gaughan and Stephen Nathan, met with English on Martha's Vineyard shortly after she took over the show.
By coincidence, English was planning a vacation there when she got the rescue call from CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves and DreamWorks SKG executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. She met for two days with the stars, who share her love of Martha's Vineyard and were vacationing there, too.
Six months earlier, English pitched a series set in a magazine to Danson and Steenburgen, only to lose them to the production company that is run by Steven Spielberg, Katzenberg and David Geffen.
"I was very aggressive in trying to get them when they announced they wanted to do a show together. . . . We met with them three times. I think it ended up being between us and DreamWorks. It was kind of nice when this came back into my lap as a co-production."
She is enthusiastic about working with Danson and Steenburgen.
"How often do you get a shot (with actors like them)? Ted Danson is so extraordinary. And Mary is so great. She's been a great discovery, because we didn't really know how she would fit into this medium.
"Ted is a given. He takes my breath away, he's so effortless. You never see him work, like Michael J. Fox. He's tremendously likable. (Danson and Fox) can get away with murder and the audience still likes them. You don't come by that very often, and that's very seductive for a writer."
Because she already has had two series with a media component ("Murphy Brown" and "Love and War"), English saved some valuable time researching the new series.
"It's an area I know really well," she said. "And it's the first time I've ever done a show with a kid in it. . . . I don't feel like I'm going over old territory."
She is pleased with her supporting cast, which includes Charles Robinson ("Love and War") as a police reporter, Saul Rubinek as a neurotic financial reporter, Christine Ebersole as an "On the Town" columnist and Jenica Bergere as a hip, judgmental editorial assistant.
English says the supporting cast gets an opportunity to shine in next week's second episode, in which Kate must make management budget cuts and fire someone. Naturally, Mike supports his fellow staffers.
But, of course, the big question Monday will be whether CBS was wise to throw away $5 million and start over.
Before the reviews came in, English was encouraged by the audience response the night the first episode was filmed.
"It went great," she said. "It got a standing ovation at the end of the evening. The laugh spread (the time the audience laughter extends during the filming) was double what is average. Normally, the average is about two minutes, and we were at four. We know we have a funny show."
If viewers are doubled up with laughter Monday, you'll almost be able to hear the million-dollar sighs of relief from CBS executives all the way from California to Buffalo.