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'JESSE' HAS PLENTY OF BUFFALO COUSINS

It sounds like "Jesse" creator Ira Ungerleider is going to be a Buffalo booster.

The 29-year-old former "Friends" writer had a special reason for setting the series about single mom Jesse Warner (Christina Applegate) in Western New York.

"My cousins are from Buffalo. Sandy Moskowitz," said Ungerleider in a recent interview in Los Angeles. "Her mom was Molly Moskowitz. They moved to Florida.

"I visited them when I was younger and I always thought it was a really exciting, fun town. I haven't been there since I was old enough to go to bars and restaurants and things. I was there as a kid. But I remember it so fondly that I always felt comfortable there.

"I grew up in New Jersey and it was the same kind of feel where everyone was sort of nice and friendly and down to earth and I always feel safer in places like that than I do in big, fast cities, where I get nervous."

"I really liked the city a lot. I thought it would be great place to tell a down-to-earth story with real life situations, real life people that I grew up with, as opposed to the kind of people out here (Los Angeles) in the business and stuff."

"It's a really fantastic city," added Ungerleider.

If you think that he was just praising the city because he was speaking to a Buffalo critic, be advised that he said Buffalo was a "great city" in an earlier mass interview with 200 critics across the nation.

"Upstate New York is a really fabulous place and I feel about it the way I feel about New Jersey. Everybody when they think of New York, they think of Manhattan. When they think of New Jersey, they think of the more urban cities like Trenton and Newark and Elizabeth."

He even was apologetic about the weather joke in the pilot, saying he felt badly after reading an earlier story in The Buffalo News about the predictability of a punch line of "28 people being frozen to death last winter."

"I read an article about the weather that said, 'I hope it is not one of these shows that makes fun of the weather and talks about the Bills all the time,' " said Ungerleider.

"After that, I felt really bad about making one joke about the weather. It is something we've been concentrating on the first few episodes -- to not make it about weather."

"I'm just glad we didn't do more of it because it is so easy to talk about the oppressive weather. The fact is the winters can be pretty brutal, we want to keep that in the background as the series goes by. You can get six feet of snow and the weather is something you have to deal with there, but it should just be happening in the background."

He said that a future episode will revolve around Jesse's foreign-born romantic interest, Diego, watching a Bills game with a group of men and learning why football is so important here.

Another episode deals with a visit to Niagara Falls.

Ungerleider added Buffalo native Stephen Nathan to the writing staff after the pilot.

"I really just love the show," said Nathan. "I thought Christina was wonderful and it's a very novel show in a landscape in which shows are all the same. I really like the idea of doing a family show, which can also represent a town like Buffalo in a way that's not negative. It is an old industrial town that still survives on the basis of community and family and that's really not on TV. A woman who got into trouble and is trying to balance her life and get her romantic life together."

And there's a third Buffalo connection to the show.

George Dzundza, who plays Jesse's father, says he has a cousin in Buffalo, too.

"I'm not going tell you the name because he may not want me to identify with me," cracked Dzundza.

The former "Law & Order" star did give some clues.

"Their names are Mike and Sandy and they have four daughters," said Dzundza, who is of Ukrainian descent.

"I love Buffalo. I was there as a young person. My first love affair was in Buffalo. I fell in love the first time at age 16. I loved all of it. It was my first real, extended trip away from home and all the people I met really embraced me."

He still visits his cousins when he's finished with some work in Toronto, where many movies and TV shows are made because of the economic benefits to American production companies.

"I also have a couple of actor friends from Buffalo, like Jeff Fahey. We're always talking about Buffalo. I follow the Sabres. I really think they are hot. I was rooting for them."

"I've always had a soft spot for Buffalo. I hope the series treats it well. . . . I hope they entertain America with some of Jesse's problems as a single mom."

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