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Comedy has more than fictional ties to Buffalo

Ricky Blitt stood out in a Memorial Auditorium crowd at Buffalo Sabres games in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the obnoxious, 5-foot, 2-inch Canadian with curly hair who cheered when his beloved Pittsburgh Penguins scored a goal in the Aud.
Now Blitt, 42, is delivering a makeup call. He's the creator and producer of a Fox comedy, "The Winner," set in Buffalo that premieres this spring. The series follows the adventures of Glen Abbott (played by Rob Corddry of "The Daily Show"), a 32-year-old virgin who acts 14 and lives in Buffalo with his parents. Glen has been in love for 18 years with Alison Miller (Erinn Hayes), the divorced mother of his new 14-year-old best friend, Josh (Keir Gilchrist).

Glen narrates the series, which is set before he becomes the richest man in Buffalo. Blitt doesn't know yet how Glen got rich, but at least he explained why he picked Buffalo as the setting. He said over breakfast that he couldn't set an American TV series in his native Canada, so he picked an American border city.
"I lived in Toronto and used to see Sabres games," said Blitt. "And I liked the city of Buffalo a lot. I thought it was a cool city."
He envisions "The Winner" as the 1994 version of "The Wonder Years," the ABC series about growing up in the 1960s.
"The pilot deals with in sort of a tongue-in-cheek way that Glen gets his big life lesson the way Kevin Arnold would have on 'The Wonders Years' when he watched the Kennedy assassination and was crestfallen," said Blitt. "Glen is looking in wide-eyed wonder at the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase."
Best known for writing the movie comedy, "The Ringer," about an athlete who faked being mentally challenged to compete in the Special Olympics, Blitt favors irreverent, edgy humor that may sound offensive and isn't for everyone's tastes. He also wrote the infamous "Family Guy" episode, "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," that Fox refused to air for three years.
"The Winner" also has elements of what I described as Blitt's "sweetly offensive" style a day before Blitt relayed that description at a news conference here. "Absolutely," agreed Blitt over breakfast.
In one potentially controversial scene in one of the show's six episodes, Glen goes to the drug store with 14-year-old Josh to buy condoms just in case he needs them when he has what he believes is a date with Josh's mother.
"They're equals," explained Blitt. "It is so clear from the beginning that these people have had the same life experience. Glen at 14, the same age as Josh, kissed Josh's mother. Ever since then his life has stopped."
Does he know anybody like this? "Sadly, me," said Blitt, who acknowledged the series was loosely based on his life. "I wish it wasn't. But it was. But unlike Glen, I lost my virginity at the precocious age of 31, not 32."
He set the series in 1994 because that was the year that his life got better. A native of Montreal, Blitt occasionally wrote scripts for some Canadian series. But he had such a fear of failure that he more often lived off his friends and from making telephone survey calls.
"I was dead broke for about 10 years," said Blitt, who finally borrowed money from his parents to see if he could make his fortune or enough money to live in L.A.
"The Winner" is a reworked version of a pilot, "Becoming Glen," that Blitt wrote four years ago and was filmed with Johnny Galecki of "Roseanne" as the lead. Fox passed on making the series. "Johnny is a great actor, but he was too young to play the part, explained Blitt. "The problem was he was 27 going on 21. Rob looks his age."
"Rob was the last person to audition. I had never seen him on 'The Daily Show.' When I saw him, ohmygod. Finally, it is not somebody acting like a manchild or acting like a little boy ... He's such an engaging, likable guy."
Blitt thinks the backing of "Family Guy" producer Seth MacFarlane (who is an executive producer on "The Winner") and the success of the Steve Carell movie, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," brought the series back from the dead. Blitt and a friend, David Dorfman ("Anger Management") had actually written a movie with a theme similar to Carell's movie eight years earlier that was inspired by the coming-of-age movie, "The Summer of '42."
"We pitched 'The Summer When We Were 42' about two 42-years fighting to see who would lose their (virginity) first," said Blitt. He said film executives stopped him in the middle of the pitch and said they didn't believe the audience would buy the concept or relate.
"It doesn't matter that everybody has gone through exactly what Steve Carell's character or Glen Abbott might have gone through," said Blitt. "Everybody knows what it is like to be nervous to call a girl. The story of Steve Carell in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin' wasn't that weird to me."
In the series, Glen is as obsessed with television as he is with the woman next door. Blitt sets an unofficial network TV record for TV references in a half-hour script.
"It is Glen's obsession," explained Blitt, who is a huge fan of TV and doesn't drive a car, traits given to Glen. But there is one big difference between the character and his creator.
"Glen has no idea what he is good at. I knew I could write, but I put it off," said Blitt.
Now Blitt is dating a 27-year-old woman and about to get a TV series on the air. Fox plans to run two episodes on three Sundays in March. Peter Liguori, the president of Fox Entertainment, said the idea is to make the series "an event." He said he loves the show's "audacity."
If the series scores well enough in the ratings, it will be back next season. If it lasts for years, Blitt and Glen will have another thing in common. They'll both be very rich.


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