Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Ricky Gervais‘ longtime writing partner and production collaborator Stephen Merchant insisted today at TCA that his new eight-episode HBO comedy series Hello Ladies that debuts on the network September 29 isn’t designed as his big move to step out of Gervais’ shadow and establish his own performing chops. “Not at all,” the shy, deadpan Merchant said. “It was actually HBO’s idea. They suggested a sitcom after seeing my standup act. And because Ricky has been in a relationship with his girlfriend Jane since he was like 20, and I have huge issues in my dating life, it just evolved as being my own.” Merchant stars, co-writes and directs the half-hour that casts him as a bumbling, gangly English web designer named Stuart who is transplanted to Los Angeles. It’s all about his hapless attempts to blend in with the sophisticated L.A. social scene and striking out with the ladies.The premise isn’t exactly pure fantasy, Merchant stressed this afternoon, noting that he typically feels socially awkward but aspires to be a dashing James Bond figure. “Instead, it usually turns out like it did for me a few years ago when I came out here for the Golden Globes,” Merchant said. “I saw Pierce Brosnan go by, and at that moment my fly burst open and my underwear was exposed to Pierce. Merchant hopes to use British actors he can “lure across the pond” for guest spots on Hello Ladies, rather than casting celebrity cameos. “We’ve already done a lot of the celebrity stuff in the past,” he explained, “and in this show we’d like to focus on more universal themes and not just about L.A.”
Merchant — who collaborated with Gervais on such series as The Office, Life’s Too Short and Extras — emphasized that he has an endless supply of anecdotes to draw from about his failures in the dating world. And in reply to a critic’s question, he insisted that he still has trouble on the dating front despite being successful and famous. “I just get rejected now by a better class of women,” he said. “Just because you’re on television doesn’t mean your fly stops bursting open at the wrong moment.”
Exec producing Hello Ladies along with Merchant are Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, who were writers and co-exec producers on the American edition of The Office.