Is TV Ready for Reba? (2001)

With a new sitcom bearing her name, Reba McEntire is ready for prime time!

Like so many pioneers before her, Reba McEntire is heading west.

“Trying something different out in Los Angeles is going to be an exhilarating adventure,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Living in L.A. in the wintertime is not gonna be bad either!”

The reason for this expedition? L.A. is where Reba is filming her new TV sitcom, simply called Reba. So she, husband and manager Narvel Blackstock and their 11-year-old son Shelby are packing up again (they already spent months in New York this year while Reba starred in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway). “We’ll be in L.A. until December,” she reports, “and you know what? I’m looking forward to it. We’ve rented us a place and Shelby’s going to school there for these last months of the year.”

Still, Reba laughs at gossip that she’s leaving Nashville for good. “We’re selling our home in Nashville,” she declares. “That’s been the big rumor here lately. It’s so funny how rumors start flying when people make a few changes.”

For Reba, the changes have come fast and furious lately. She’s just finished headlining her landmark all-female Girls’ Night Out tour, also featuring Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Jamie O’Neal and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Earlier this year, her five-month run as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun thrilled audiences and wowed hard-to-impress theatrical critics. And even as she was knocking ’em out on Broadway, Reba was planning her upcoming Greatest Hits Volume III: I’m a Survivor album and cooking up her entrance to the world of weekly network TV.

“I’ve always been able to juggle 10 projects at once and still have home life,” she says. “I guess it’s because my attention span is about the level of a 2-year-old! But when I do get started on a project, it’s very important that I concentrate. Like when I was doing Annie Get Your Gun I slept and drank it. It was just that important to me. And that’s the way this sitcom will be.”

On the show—which recently premiered on the WB Network—Reba plays a Texas mother of three whose dentist husband has just taken up with his hygienist and whose 17-year-old daughter is pregnant with the child of the high school’s star quarterback.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s a comedy? Your daughter gets pregnant, your husband’s mistress gets pregnant, that’s a comedy?’” says Reba. “Well, yes, it really is. Because even in the most disastrous things in life, you have to have humor to get through it or you’d lose your mind.”

In addition to the humor, Reba wanted to do the show because she identified so strongly with her character. “We’re both really strong women who know how to deal with situations we may not like; you deal with it and pull your family together,” she explains. “I’m a real strong family person, and so is she. We’re very similar.”

The show’s theme song, “I’m a Survivor,” also happens to be Reba’s newest hit—though it wasn’t planned that way. “We recorded the song for the new album, and everybody who saw the sitcom and then heard the song later would say, ‘Golly, that fits the show!’” she recalls. “And so we presented it to the folks at the WB, and they agreed.”

The tune is one of several new tracks on Greatest Hits Volume III, Reba’s latest collection of smashes. How does it feel to have three albums worth of greatest hits? “It makes me feel old!” Reba laughs.

She’s not old just yet, but Reba has become an inspiration for a new generation of female country stars, several of whom joined her on the Girls’ Night Out tour this summer.

“It was so great getting to talk to the girls on the tour,” she says. “This is Jamie’s first big tour, and oh, I remember mine—it was back in the ’80s, with the Statler Brothers and Conway Twitty. I remember all the fun, and the learning experience was just overwhelming for me. I’m really tickled for all the girls.”

While all the women on the tour were busy with their own schedules, they made time to bond. “I wanted to be with them, so we hung out asking questions of each other,” Reba recalls. “I was asking Martina how she’s getting her daughter, Delaney, back on school time instead of on-the-road time. And then Sara, Jamie and I were talking about acting. Sara wants to get into acting, and I was encouraging her to try it.”

Reba enjoyed the all-girl tour so much, she hopes to do it again in the future—and the same is true of performing on Broadway. “I’d love to do it again,” she says. “I miss being on that stage, I miss my friends, I miss the actors. I miss New York—I love the hustle-bustle, the convenience of having 40 restaurants out the front door to your right, and 40 restaurants out the front door to your left. It’s a really neat city, and they’re very friendly. They’ve gotten a bum rap of being a hateful, snobbish town, but they’re not at all.”

But considering how time-consuming and exhausting it is to work on Broadway, the next play would have to grab Reba the same way this one did. “When I saw Annie Get Your Gun,” recalls Reba, “I said to Narvel, ‘I’ve got to do this show.’ I craved the stage. I was so anxious to get onstage I couldn’t hardly hide it. And it’s got to be that way with the next show, because it’s such hard work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in the entertainment business.”

But it did pay off—with packed houses and ecstatic reviews. “Before the reviews came out, everybody told me, ‘Reba, don’t get your hopes up, because they’re sometimes not very nice,’” she says. “So when the paper came with the first review I opened it up real quick to read it, and my people couldn’t have written anything nicer. I ran to Narvel and said, ‘You’ve got to read this!’” The show was such a success that Reba is planning to star in a TV version soon, and she promises there will be an Annie Get YourGun soundtrack album. But no matter how many Broadway shows, TV series or movies Reba stars in, one thing’s for sure: her heart is still firmly in country music.

“Saying I’m going to leave country music behind would be like me saying I’m gonna quit eating tomorrow,” she declares. “That’s not a possibility. Country music is what flows in my veins, it’s what I love. So leaving it behind is not in the works.”

Reba’s soul is in her music, perhaps never more than in the chorus of her latest hit: With gentle hands and the heart of a fighter / I’m a survivor. Through triumph and tragedy, her stardom and influence have been growing for nearly three decades.

“It’s been a great experience,” she says, “and I wouldn’t trade all the fun—and even the hard times—for anything. Because that’s what life is all about. You’ve got to experience the good with the bad, or you don’t appreciate the good.”

Acting Up

Reba is now starring on her own TV show, but her acting list is pretty hefty already. And you may have even enjoyed some of her performances without realizing it—she was once an unseen caller to Dr. Frasier Crane’s radio show on Frasier! Here are a few of her more visible roles:

  • Tremors (1990)
    Reba is one of the residents of a desert valley town defending themselves against giant worm-like creatures who burrow underground in this entertaining cult favorite.
  • The Gambler Returns: The Luck Of The Draw (1991)
    Reba plays Burgundy Jones in the fourth of Kenny Rogers’ Gambler TV movies.
  • The Man From Left Field (1993)
    Burt Reynolds, as a homeless man, falls in love with single mother Reba. She had earlier appeared on Burt’s sitcom Evening Shade as herself.
  • Is There Life Out There? (1994)
    Reba stars in this TV movie about a devoted wife and mother who returns to college.
  • Buffalo Girls (1995)
    Annie Get Your Gun wasn’t the first time Reba portrayed Annie Oakley—she also appeared as the legendary sharpshooter in this TV-movie.
  • Forever Love (1998)
    Reba plays a woman who begins her life over again after 20 years in a coma in this made-for-TV film.
  • One Night At McCool’s (2001)
    Reba—this time as our heroine—plays a psychiatrist in a comedy about a double-crossing young woman’s effect on men.

Did you know?

Reba was offered the role of Molly Brown in the movie Titanic, but her tour dates conflicted with the movie’s shooting schedule and she refused to disappoint fans by canceling shows. Kathy Bates was chosen to replace her in the role—and received an Oscar nomination for her performance.

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