Surely you’ve heard the story by now: A slew of ”hot!” series debut on Fox last season. They are quickly coldcocked by viewers. The network plunges into a Nielsen black hole. Then suddenly — Heavenly chorus! Sunshine! — a punky 11-year-old kid and his nutso family burst onto the scene. Rave reviews. Huge ratings. And just like that, Malcolm in the Middle becomes savior of the family sitcom, not to mention Fox’s fanny.
Flash forward seven months to an August afternoon. One can only imagine how hugely the heads have swollen on the show’s Studio City, Calif., set. The fame … the fortune … the lavish network gifts … ”This is something Fox gave me,” says Jane Kaczmarek, displaying the revised version of a silver plate that was sent after her Emmy nod for playing matriarch Lois. ”It had chocolate-covered strawberries on it — and my name spelled incorrectly. It’s funny, I started thinking that one of the good things about the show being so successful is, my name is spelled correctly pretty consistently. Even in fan mail, they get it right.” She shakes her head and smiles. ”Things like this really keep you humble.”
If an innocent typo is all it takes to keep this endearing clan of freaks in perfect disharmony, then so be it, Jayne Casmric, Frankee Mewnis & Co. After all, this sitcom has made a name for itself by transforming everyday family knickknackery into a symphony of destruction and punishment (Watch daydreaming man-child dad Hal and the kids wreak havoc with a wood chipper! See Lois torture the tykes after finding her dress torched and in the toilet!) and, gosh darnit, nothing’s gonna stand in the way of that. ”The motto is ‘everybody suffers,”’ declares Malcolm exec producer Linwood Boomer. ”And it’s not just a motto, it’s a dictate.”
Yikes. Could this mean curtains for Dewey? When we last saw the little guy in May’s season finale, he was chasing a paper bag down a random street after his babysitter, guest star Bea Arthur, suffered a heart attack. (Interestingly, Arthur’s character was originally going to kidnap him, but when Fox became skittish about promoting the story line, the producers changed it to Dewey wandering off. ”Even for us, it’s probably not in the best taste to make light of child kidnapping,” notes Boomer, ”so we killed Bea Arthur instead, for the good of America.”) All summer, the net pumped a ”Where’s Dewey?” campaign, which revealed snippets of the sweet tyke wandering all over the country. Alas, trying to glean any hints from the cast as to his whereabouts was about as easy as persuading Survivor contestants to reveal the million-dollar winner. Witness our chat with boy wonder himself, 9-year-old actor Erik Per Sullivan.
EW: So, how many times have your friends asked you, ‘Where’s Dewey?’
Erik: [Sighs] Quite a few. How many times have I given the answer? Zero. They’re like, ‘Where’s Dewey?!?! We’ve got to find this out!!!’ and I’m like, ‘Can’t tell ya, bud. Tough luck.’
Will you tell me if I give you a really yummy candy bar?
[Leans back in chair, smirking] Nope.