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Anyone who has tried to trace back their family roots over generations knows how difficult that process can be. NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? not only takes that challenge, but shoots every step of the way — and it does it with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Web Therapy and Friends star Lisa Kudrow serves as the series’ executive producer with Dan Bucatinsky through their production company, Is or Isn’t It Entertainment (along with Shed Media). And no one can say that Kudrow is asking celebrities to do anything she hasn’t done. She appeared in her own episode during the show’s first season and says she learned a lot about herself in the process.
“I ended up wondering what was it in me that never wanted to do this earlier?” Kudrow tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“I always sort of put it in a box and put it away before,” she continues. “I knew we were Jewish, there was some concentration camp stories that I heard they had been rounded up and shot, but we don’t know for sure. And OK great, we don’t know for sure, I don’t have to own any of that, none of that’s mine. And it made me realize I don’t like confronting things that are difficult or emotionally difficult things either — at all. So, it made me think, ‘Hm, you’ve gotten worse at that, too, as you’ve gotten older.’ That I got.”
On the eve of the Season 3 premiere episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Martin Sheen, THR spoke to Kudrow about the process of shooting the series and who she’d love to sign on for Season 4.
How much of the journey actually makes it on-screen?
Lisa Kudrow: Most of it does. They’re getting to answer questions of experts in certain areas in which their ancestors are involved with. We want them to have some time to make sure they’re satisfying their curiosity. But we can’t put all of that in the show, because it’s only 40 minutes long. Most of it does.
Are there scenes that you really wish could have made it in to any of the episodes?
Kudrow: Yeah, that’s definitely happened. I know in my episode, we were trying to do a whole other story about my grandfather who dies when my father was three. And we were told he worked for [mafia leader] Meyer Lansky. So, we were looking into that and it just never came together. But, there were some good scenes in there and we couldn’t show any of them.
What’s the research and production lead time for an episode?
Kudrow: It varies. There’s usually about two months of research. A couple of them this year, like Rob Lowe and Marisa Tomei, we started working on them Season 1. So, that took a really long time. And then for some people, we know there will just never be records available to us. Sometimes, we have to go to another country and it takes two weeks to get permissions, but then they close for all of August. Things happen in other countries and you can’t move one step further until you have that document. So, that’s happened.
Having done an episode yourself, what advice do you give the stars who sign on to the series?
Kudrow: Whenever I have the chance to speak to someone who’s going to do it, I want them to know this is your show, this is yours, and you’re in charge of what you’re comfortable with, what you’re not comfortable with. And ask a lot of questions, don’t feel like you’re on a clock. This is your shot to get all the information that’s for you and your family. That’s what makes it more engaging – when the person feels free enough to engage.
You’ve said before that many stars have approached you to do the show, but you’ve had to say no to some of them. Can you give me an example of that?
Kudrow: I’m not sure who officially we have told we’re not going to be doing it. Sometimes we know we can’t do it this season, but when there’s time we’re going to keep looking.
Is that what pushed Rob Lowe and Marisa Tomei to this season?
Kudrow: Yeah, because we wouldn’t get the information we needed to start production. So, that meant we had to shift focus, so we can get them shot and produced in order to deliver to NBC on time.
What’s one of your favorite discoveries over the past two seasons?
Kudrow: I was blown away that Ashley Judd was actually related to William Bradford, the separatist who came over on the Mayflower. That was extraordinary. I didn’t realize he was in prison – it’s everything we learned in fifth grade. There it is. He went to Holland. It was crazy.
Who is your dream star for next season?
Kudrow: I’m not supposed to say, but I would really love it if Christopher Walken did it. I feel that way about Diane Keaton too. Like, I could seriously just watch you look through phone directories for forty minutes, if that’s all you did [laughs].
I have heard you say that you’re working on getting some Friends co-stars to do the series. Will you tell me who you’re in talks with?
Kudrow: I can’t say, because NBC would be really upset. But, it’s scheduling that is a problem.
Martin Sheen’s episode opens the season. What makes his journey so fascinating?
Kudrow: Martin has a lot of things that could be what’s great about this show. There’s the historical stuff, the things that surprise him. It goes way back to 17th Century Spain. And then there’s that thing that’s almost a miracle that happened where there’s one original document from his great, great, great, great grandfather – he’s a judge – and there’s only one original document of any of the cases he ruled in and the players in this case become very significant later on as you find out. And the fact that we would never know how everyone was related except for that one document – it’s as if it had been preserved just for Martin Sheen to find 300 years later. That’s incredible to me.
In addition to Sheen, the third season features Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood, Reba McEntire, Rob Lowe, Helen Hunt, Rita Wilson, Edie Falco, Rashida Jones, Jerome Bettis, Jason Sudeikis and Paula Deen.
Watch a preview below.
Who Do You Think You Are? Season 3 premieres Friday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro
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