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Celebrities goofing off for good cause

Christy Lemire Associated Press

Dr. Joyce Brothers drops to the floor and thrusts her hips to do it. Jill Clayburgh flails her arms and screams obscenities in the middle of it. And Kristen Johnston takes off her tennis shoes and does it barefoot.

These stars and dozens of others are just getting down and dirty to play “Celebrity Charades,” a new series premiering tonight at 9 on AMC (cable channel 67 in Spokane, 72 in Coeur d’Alene) and running nightly throughout the week.

The initial five-episode run comes from executive producers Bob Balaban and husband-and-wife Chad Lowe and Hilary Swank, who were inspired to bring to television a game they’ve played among friends at their homes.

“Out of playing, we realized we had this great group of people who were really eclectic and everybody had such a good time, it was kind of a bonding experience,” Lowe said during a recent visit to the show’s set, a 5,000-square-foot Manhattan loft.

“And we thought, ‘There’s so much great drama and comedy and conflict that’s happening here, this would make a great show.’ “

So they made some phone calls and amassed a truly random cross-section of humanity, including Stanley Tucci, Isaac Mizrahi, Rosie Perez, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bebe Neuwirth, Vanessa Carlton and Loudon Wainwright III.

Part of the fun is the frenzied energy of the game – called “running charades” – in which two teams compete against each other to guess a series of movie titles, then figure out what they have in common.

And part of the fun is watching celebrities interact who you’d never expect to see together. During a break between rounds, Carson Kressley from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” playfully throws his arms around former New Kid on the Block Joe McIntyre, sniffs his neck and correctly guesses the cologne McIntyre is wearing: Carolina Herrera.

What sealed the deal for everyone, Lowe said, was having the players donate money to their favorite charities.

“It’s not that we’re doing a show about charades necessarily – it’s that were doing a show for charity and it seemed like the most fun for everyone,” said Swank. “It’s active, there’s movement. It’s a bunch of people who perform so they get to perform, acting things out.”

But everyone involved agrees that acting skill in no way comes into play. It’s “just goofing off, having a good time,” Swank said.

“You think you’re gonna goof off,” said Hoffman, “but then you get in the middle of it and it gets really competitive and it immediately just becomes fun – because everyone gets so surprised at how seriously they start to take it.”

Balaban, the writer and director who seems the most serious in the midst of this chaos, said he recalls watching “Pantomime Quiz,” a celebrity charades show that aired from 1950 to ‘63.

But that wasn’t the inspiration here, he said: “Really the idea is, it’s fun to watch other people having fun.”

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