When the aging patriarch of a Southern California newspaper empire learns about his son-in-law's mistress, he beckons him and parcels out this advice: "If you're going to sleep around, get yourself a hooker, for God's sake. Be discreet."
The real-life Chandler newspaper dynasty unknowingly inspired "Pasadena," Fox's new drama about the Greeley family, which spends its days publishing the Los Angeles Sun and its nights battling demons, lust and malice.
Created by Mike White, "Pasadena" comes to viewers tonight in an episode directed by Diane Keaton and starring Dana Delany. The running joke on the set is that the drama can't continue for a second season.
"If the show survives the season and finds an audience, we'll have to figure out what to do because we will have burned this family down," White said.
"This is an intimate show, about the twisted relationship between Dana Delany and her daughter. There aren't cat fights where people throw one another into swimming pools," White said. "Dana is so great at doing this--half the time you hate her, and half the time you really feel for her."
But where is all this smut coming from?
Otis Chandler, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times, hadn't heard anything about the drama until a Times reporter called him at his automotive museum in Oxnard.
"I still have members of my generation ... who live [in] Pasadena. They're very quiet and kind of hermits. They don't get out of Pasadena, and I think it would kill them to see some sitcom or drama loosely based on the Chandler family," he said. Chandler asked for the time of tonight's premiere, and said he would watch it with a skeptical attitude.
"I don't know if it will have much of a following," he said. "The Chandlers are pretty dull."
That may be true, but Hollywood is known for not letting the facts get in the way a of a juicy tale. White grew up in San Marino, the town next to Pasadena, and he admits he grew up in the shadow of wealthy local families and their children.
"I was definitely looking in from the outside," he told a room full of television critics earlier this year. "Growing up, I always hated rich kids.... I think we're going to be very honest about how this family breathes rarefied air."
But it is a fictional family, and there is no way to watch "Pasadena" and discern members of the real Chandler family.
Tonight's episode concludes with a warning from Lily Greeley McAllister, the youngest girl in the family who serves as the show's narrator. As the Greeleys pose for a portrait, Lily intones: "This was the last time we were photographed all of us, together."
Alison Lohman plays the high school-age Lily and tries to capture a young woman simultaneously fascinated and terrified by her family's uncovered past. As Lily attempts to reveal the violent pathology of her relatives, she runs up against her mother, Catherine, who is played by Delany.
"We're discovering that this is all about the sins of our mothers," said Delany. "We do the same damage to our daughters that our mothers did to us. I'm sorry to give mothers such a bad rap, but it's good drama. [Catherine] is really searching for love and approval that she never got from her mother, but there's a lot of self-loathing, because she can't give it to her own daughter."
Delany said when she got the script for "Pasadena" she immediately saw Catherine's motivations.
"I know a lot of women like this, being from Stanford, Conn.," Delany said. "That WASP world where everything's held in and underneath it all everything's falling apart."
Delany hasn't had a starring role in a television series since "China Beach" (1988-1991). Keaton directed one of those episodes, as well, and Delany said Keaton came to the "Pasadena" pilot with a list of furniture and pottery she wanted to use in decorating the set. Keaton also advised the costumer on Lily's accessories, like the tightknit cap she wears and pin curls.
Other than the pilot, which was shot locally, the rest of the series is being shot in Vancouver, Canada, a location that the family-focused Keaton wasn't interested in, according to Delany. Keaton is, however, an executive producer for the entire season.
In a telephone interview from Vancouver, where the cast and crew will shoot 13 episodes until December, Delany said she has spent the last decade avoiding jobs that would have forced her to spend 15-hours a day on a set far from home.
"But I forgot how much I enjoyed it, how the writers start to write for you, the sense of family you get with the crew, the character development you experience."
Playing Catherine's brother, Nate, is Balthazar Getty (the real-life grandson of the late J. Paul Getty), who knows something about having his family's reputation and monetary value precede him. Getty said he liked the idea of playing a drug-loving black sheep who can't seem to hold onto his monthly trust fund allowance.
"On the page, he was not necessarily a likable guy, depending on how you played it," Getty said. "And one thing I want the viewers to feel is that he is a nice guy, but he's just on the wrong pathway. I wanted them to think he had a chance of coming back on the pathway. That he wasn't completely lost."
This is Getty's first series, but he said he was surprised at how it became funny and more haunting as the episodes progressed.
"It's not a nighttime soap, although it has those guilty pleasures that keep you watching. But it has really strong writing and great characters. We always say it's 'Dynasty' meets 'Twin Peaks."'
White knew humor would be a critical element, and he assured Fox that his writing credits on last year's "Chuck and Buck" (which he also acted in) and "Freaks and Geeks" showed his comedic talent.
For the network, "Pasadena" brought the promise of another soap opera audience, like the viewers who had been dedicated to "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Melrose Place" and "Party of Five." When asked if the Chandler family had any input in the drama, White was quick to point out the show is fictional, although it plays with the "old WASP suburb in California."
White can probably relax about being held accountable for rewriting the Chandler family history through a television drama. Otis Chandler said that while his Pasadena relatives despise and distrust publicity, "they don't sue, either."