Rick Bentley

Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson together again on Netflix comedy

Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson are working together again on the Netflix series “The Ranch.”
Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson are working together again on the Netflix series “The Ranch.”

Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson have been talking about working together again since “That ‘70s Show” went off the air a decade ago. Both have been so busy with other projects that their schedules never lined up to accomplish that goal.

They finally got in synch and are co-starring in the new Netflix comedy “The Ranch.”

Kutcher and Masterson play brothers who have taken different career paths. Colt (Kutcher) left the family ranch for a professional football career. Older brother Jameson (Masterson) stayed home. Financial troubles at the ranch bring the pair together again.

Kutcher and Masterson originally wanted to do a series that would be “hip and cool” and shot like a feature film. Then they decided it would be better to do a comedy shot in the same style as “That ‘70s Show” – a format their fans are accustomed to seeing.

“Every time we would come up with an idea either timing wasn’t right or what we had written didn’t fell like we were doing anything great,” Kutcher says.

“The shows that work are about family and broken relationships we all have with our families,” he says. “There’s this cultural phenomenon of kids graduating from college and then moving back in with their parents. Parents are having to be parents to grownups.”

Toss in the additional freedoms that come with making a TV show for the streaming service Netflix and the pair finally had the project.

Both praise Netflix for letting them do the comedy they want. That means the characters talk the way real people do, the lighting is not always bright, not every scene will have a joke and there are no restrictions on story topics.

Kutcher sees the show as a re-invention of the TV situation comedy format that hasn’t changed in decades.

“From time to time we are going to try things that aren’t going to work,” Kutcher says. “But, the hope is to take this genre and re-invent it, re-package it for a new generation on a new distribution network.”

One big way of re-packaging the show is to cast actors who aren’t familiar faces in the sitcom world. “The Ranch,” debuting Friday, April 1 on Netflix, also stars Sam Elliott and Debra Winger.

Although Elliott and Winger bring years of acting experience to the series, neither has starred on a sitcom. Masterson and Kutcher have been helping them learn the mechanics of making a TV comedy. Their lack of knowledge was a plus.

“We could go out and find funny people, but we needed actors because we are breaking the sitcom conventions, because we are going to be doing drama inside the comedy,” Kutcher says. “We are trying to sell authenticity with the show and if you don’t believe the emotionality of the characters, then it doesn’t work. These guys are REAL actors.”

Just to be near her

Actors go after roles for a lot of different reasons. David Alan Grier, who stars in the NBC comedy “The Carmichael Show,” chased a role in the 2012 Broadway revival of “Porgy and Bess” just to work with Fresno’s Audra McDonald.

He was not disappointed.

“Audra gives it all up,” Grier says over the clatter of glasses at an NBC press party. “There was not a performance where she did not go all out.”

During the storm in “Porgy and Bess,” Grier stood in a certain part of the stage where he could not see McDonald’s face. A month into the production, he decided to move so he could watch the singer/actress work.

“She turned around and looked at me. Me and the actress standing next to me just burst into tears,” Grier says.

Although Grier is best known for comedy work on TV shows like “In Living Color,” “Life With Bonnie,” “Bad Teacher” and now, “The Carmichael Show,” he’s no stranger to theater. He starred in the live NBC production of “The Wiz” as the Cowardly Lion.

The TV musical was different for Grier. After months of rehearsals, there was only a single performance in front of the cameras.

“I kept saying ‘Tomorrow night ...’ and then I would realize there would be no tomorrow night,” Grier says. “But, I think these kind of productions are a great way to get theater to the masses.”

Other news

Back to work: The third season of “Barnwood Builders,” on the DIY Network, will begin at 9 p.m. April 24. Master craftsman Mark Bowe and his crew as take apart barns and cabins that are centuries old to use the wood to build new homes.

Sound casting: “Mike & Molly” star Billy Gardell has been cast in the CMT production “Million Dollar Quartet.” He will play Colonel Tom Parker, the man behind the career of Elvis Presley. The eight-episode series will be broadcast later this year.

Back for more: AMC’s Revolutionary War series “Turn: Washington Spies” returns for a third season at 10 pm. April 25.

Legendary: Kirk Fogg has joined the cast of the Nickelodeon TV movie “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” The film is based on the cable channel’s ‘90s game show that Fogg hosted.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1