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It’s ‘Hot in Cleveland’ for Valerie Bertinelli and star-studded cast

By BARRY GOODRICH

valerie

Imagine a television sitcom with an ensemble cast of four of the most beloved, recognizable actresses in the history of television. Imagine those women of a certain age delivering some of the funniest dialogue imaginable. And, finally, imagine that show being set in Cleveland.

“Hot in Cleveland” was an instant success after its premiere in 2010, being picked up for a second season by the TV Land network after just three weeks on the air, an unheard of occurrence in the industry. With a Hall of Fame cast featuring Betty White, Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli, the show found an adoring audience of all ages, becoming the highest-rated series in TV Land history and the number one comedy on basic cable.

“How did we all get so lucky?” said Bertinelli, calling from Los Angeles shortly after the show wrapped up its fourth season. “For some of us it’s the second or third time around. And for Betty, it’s about the fifth or sixth time around.”

White was a fixture on several shows, most notably “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Golden Girls.” Malick, who once auditioned for the role of Diane on “Cheers,” starred on “Just Shoot Me” in addition to several films and Leeves was a major part of the success of the long-running “Frasier.”    Bertinelli, the youngest cast member at the age of 53, grew up on TV as Barbara on the popular “One Day at a Time,” (for which she won back-to-back Golden Globe awards) before starring on “Touched by an Angel” in addition to several movies.

“We are so blessed and so happy to be doing this,” said Bertinelli. “It’s a very happy set. These women are just amazing, kind human beings. I’m in awe of what amazing people they really are.”

As writer Melanie Moretti, Bertinelli joins Leeves as “eyebrow archer to the stars” Joy Scroggs, Malick as former soap star Victoria Chase and White as the opinionated caretaker Elka Ostrosky, who came with the house the ladies settled in after a flight to Paris was diverted to Cleveland.

Bertinelli describes the show as “a little love letter to Cleveland.” She also compares it to “comfort food” for its viewers. “It’s one of those shows where everything is familiar and you enjoy yourself for half an hour. And you don’t feel guilty after it like you do after eating comfort food,” she laughs.

Food was a large part of Bertinelli’s Italian upbringing and her success with the Jenny Craig diet program was a major force in changing her lifestyle. She lost some 50 pounds and went on to run in the 2010 Boston Marathon. Bertinelli also wrote her autobiography “Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time” in addition to a second book.

A bigger change in her life followed in 2011 when Bertinelli married Cuyahoga Falls native Tom Vitale, who proposed to her during a trip to Italy. The couple plans on attending a family reunion in Cleveland this month and Bertinelli is already looking forward to visiting two of her favorite downtown locales — the Greenhouse Tavern and Lola.

“We make it back to Cleveland at least twice a year,” she said. “Tom has been a Browns’ fan since he was in the womb and I’m a Browns’ fan now. I was a Saints fan for years and I keep telling Tom if the Saints can win a Super Bowl, so can the Browns.”

“Hot in Cleveland” always films before a live studio audience and is one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. The show went live last month when William Shatner made a visit. What is normally a two-hour shoot had to be performed in just 20 minutes. “It was so much fun,” said Bertinelli. “It was very nerve-rattling before we did it but now I want to do it again. We had a few small flubs and by the end we couldn’t contain ourselves.”

Despite her assertion that she is “the opposite of an icon,” Bertinelli received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year. “I was in shock when they told me about it. I asked them if they were sure they knew who I was.”

A particularly memorable episode on this season’s show featured a “Mary Tyler Moore” reunion with Moore, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman. “That was surreal,” said Bertinelli. In another episode, Carol Burnett guest starred along with Tim Conway.

“It’s so easy to get people to laugh when you have such great actors and such great lines to read,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do a show in front of a live audience and to be able to do this at 53 is pretty mind-boggling. I count my blessings every day.”

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