Can John Wells Turn the Recession into Good TV?

William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum (Brendan Hoffman /Astrid Stawiarz/Gett Images)

William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum (Brendan Hoffman /Astrid Stawiarz/Gett Images)

Where Emmy-winning funny man Kelsey Grammer came up ratings-poor, can veteran drama auteur John Wells strike it rich, mining the recession for good TV?

Wells, who has brought us such acclaimed fare as ‘ER‘ and ‘The West Wing,’ is now executive-producing a Showtime pilot about a working-class Chicago family waylaid by the recession.

In ‘Shameless,’ William H. Macy (‘Fargo‘) plays the alcoholic patriarch of the Gallagher clan. With Dad often incapacitated by his inebriation and Mom missing from the scene, 18-year-old daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’) is left to mind the family’s expansive brood.

Other casting includes ‘West Wing’-er Allison Janney as a potential love interest for Macy’s character, and Justin Chatwin (‘War of the Worlds‘) as a car thief who falls for Fiona.

But even with such a solid lineup of talent, Wells and cowriter Paul Abbott (who created the UK series from which ‘Shameless’ is being adapted) face the tricky task of turning the all-too-real recession into TV the rest of us want to watch. As referenced above, Grammer attempted to play the economic downturn for laughs on ABC’s ‘Hank,’ portraying a downsized CEO, but the concept – and the so-so scripts that supported it – left viewers cold.

Working in Wells’ favor, however, is not just his proven pedigree but also Showtime’s own track record.

If ‘Shameless’ is picked up as a series, the Gallaghers would live alongside similarly edgy Showtime denizens as ‘Dexter‘ (forensics geek kills killers!) and ‘Nurse Jackie‘ (RN pops pills!). The pay cabler also provides safe harbor for ‘Weeds‘ drug dealer Nancy Botwin and ‘Californication’s‘ serial fornicator Hank Moody.

In fact, the more we talk about it and juxtapose ‘Shameless’ with its would-be on-screen neighbors, perhaps an engaging hour set in the recession would prove to be the least unsettling piece of Showtime fare. Bring it on.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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