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Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.
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Decatur native Tone Bell stars in CBS sitcom ‘FAM’ with Nina Dobrev

Originally posted Wednesday, January 9, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Nina Dobrev - best known for her serious turn on “The Vampire Diaries” for six years - has taken a 180-degree acting turn, now starring in an old-fashioned CBS sitcom called “FAM.”

She plays Clem opposite her fiance Nick, played by Decatur native Tone Bell. During the pilot, Clem’s 16-year-old drop-out half-sister Shannon (Odessa Adlon) shows up and reveals Clem’s secret: her ne’er-do-well detective dad Freddy (Gary Cole) is alive, not dead.

By the end of the episode, Clem and Nick take in Shannon and the comedic “set up” is complete. Like most CBS three-camera sitcoms, this one breaks no new ground and features a fair share of jokes about sex and drugs. And their apartment set, as a Boston Herald reviewer noted (and I noticed as well), looks like a revamped version of the “Seinfeld” apartment. 

“FAM,” debuts at 9:30 p.m Thursday, January 10 after “Mom.”

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Bell, 35, is a stand-up comic and has plenty of TV comedic experience. He said Dobrev was suitably nervous entering the comedy world.

But he said he was able to make her more comfortable because they had literally just played a couple in the 2018 romantic film “Dog Days.”

“Nina wasn’t really trying to do TV again,” he said. “I was signed on to do it and she called me. ‘Should we work together again?’ I was down. ‘Let’s do it! Let’s lock it up!’ She had never done live performance in front of a live audience.” 

Bell said it was great watching her over the episodes “grow and get silly. Some takes, she’d say, ‘I’m going to try something new.’ ‘Oh! So you’re going to go out on your own now! The student becomes the teacher!’”

He said he and 30-year-old Dobrev have a similar work ethic. “We have no problem going over lines many times, changing lines,” he said. 

And since he’s the only stand-up on the show, he will help the writers punch up jokes. And he said the fact they are an inter-racial couple rarely comes up because it’s 2019, not 1976. 

He also likes the fact that his character is from a well-off family and Dobrev’s character is more blue collar. He will point out when his character might say something a black dude wouldn’t say and fix it. 

Bell hopes this show clicks and lasts awhile. He hasn’t had that type of luck so far though he has had no trouble getting cast on TV shows. None of them have lasted e.g. ”Disjointed” with Kathy Bates on Netflix, “Truth Be Told” with Mark-Paul Gosselaar on NBC, “Bad Judge” with Kate Walsh on NBC, “Whitney” with Whitney Cummings, also on NBC.

Bell grew up in Decatur, which has generated a fair share of actors including the late Jan Hooks (“Saturday Night Live”), kid actor China Anne McClain (now on “Black Lightning”), Omari Hardwick (“Power”) and Omar Dorsey (“Queen Sugar’).

After graduating Greenforest-McCalep Christian Academy and Savannah State University, he worked in promotions with a beer company in Atlanta before moving to Dallas where he began doing stand up. As he got busier with his comedy bookings, he actively tried to get laid off but since he was the only black dude in his group he  said he stayed employed far longer than he felt he should have. (That did provide him with some great comic fodder at the time.)

In 2011, he moved to Los Angeles and signed a deal with NBC, which is why he ended up on a string of NBC shows. 

Now Bell is getting into films, too, and was cast in an upcoming Will Packer film “Little” starring Issa Rae (“Insecure”), Marsai Martin (”Black-ish”) and Justin Hartley (“This is Us”). “It’s like a reverse ‘Big,’” he said.

And his first solo comedy special is coming out on Showtime February 22. 

“I’m really excited and a little apprehensive,” said Bell, who is unmarried but has a girlfriend. “I talk a lot about social justice. That’s the way comedy is going now.”

TV PREVIEW

“FAM,” 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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