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Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Updated: August 23, 12:39 PM ET
Questioning Nate Corddry

By Keith Law
Special to Page 2

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Nate Corddry, a rabid baseball fan and the actor who played Tom Jeter on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," one of my favorite TV shows of this past season. (It's been canceled, which is part of why this interview was possible.) Corddry and I are both friends with Mike Wilner, one of the Toronto Blue Jays' radio broadcasters and an avid player of dice-based fantasy baseball games, which is how I hatched the idea to contact Nate to talk about baseball, fantasy baseball and the late, lamented "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

Nate's fantasy days:

Nate: I was playing in a league, and then I got "The Daily Show," in N.Y., and things started to get a little rough scheduling-wise. I was a total idiot, I was the slacker of the group, I never turned in my stats, I got really horrible e-mails basically every day, like, "Hey, Hollywood, why don't you do your stats for once?" And I still have stuff that I owe them. I just love playing -- I was on tour doing a play for a year, and there was a lot of time, and a friend of mine said, "Oh, you're such a big baseball fan, you would love this game called Strat-O-Matic," and I had never heard of it. He had a really old set, with these old cards, and we'd play with teams from the '70s, and I just got hooked; it was like I couldn't stop playing, I would play myself, roll the dice for both teams -- I couldn't get over it. So I thought, I want to get serious about this, I want to join a league, so I found a league online …

KL: So it was totally random that you ended up in the league with Wilner?

Nate: Totally random. I searched online for Strat-O-Matic leagues, and someone had dropped out of that league and they needed someone new. I was like, I've only been playing this for a couple of months, I'm really confused, but they said it was all right. So I took over this guy's team, which was terrible. You play a 60-game season and I won about 12 games. I think the second season I won 16 games, I mean, it was terrible. I'm a big baseball fan, but when it comes down to stats and figuring out how to win a game, I sort of lost interest, and then I got the job (on "Studio 60") and had to move to California, and I thought, I can't do this, I need to devote more time and I have less time, so I bailed out. It was fun, I'm a big fan of fantasy baseball and football.

KL: That'll make my editors very happy.

Nate: Good, tell them I have an ESPN.com team.

About Nate's favorite team:

Nate: I only got to one game this year at Fenway, but thankfully it was the Mother's Day game. I guess I've had this feeling before, being a Red Sox fan, it's kind of difficult, but I knew it was going to happen. There was a pop-up on the infield and the first baseman dropped it; I said, "That's it, we've got it."

KL: Do you get to games much in California?

Nate: My manager has season tix to the Dodgers, four seats to 40 games, and they're right behind the plate, I mean, they're amazing, food and waiter service, which is insane.

Nate: I've been holding on to Jon Lester in my fantasy league all year. I just need to get over it and drop him.

KL: I guess they've talked to other athletes who've had cancer, and they all say that they hit a wall in that first year back. You're fine, fine, fine, then you just hit a wall. And his velo isn't all the way back.

Nate: When he throws that slow curve to left-handers, it's a beautiful thing. And that cutter to right-handers, too.

KL: I think what you saw last year was a kid who was just advanced too quickly, but his stuff was great.

Nate: I picked him in my dice team as my one prospect, and I was watching his stats, watching his walks per nine every time he pitched in the minors.

KL: He's still just 22 -- he'll be fine.

Nate: I moved on from dice baseball to "MLB: The Show" on PlayStation. I didn't bring it with me, which was a smart idea, but we have friends in L.A. -- this is how pathetic we are -- Friday nights we have a barbecue, get a lot of beer and just bet on The Show for four hours.

KL: That's the Hollywood life, huh?

Nate: That's it, man. Starlets … and video games. And Coors Light. I've broken maybe three controllers, which are like $50. You get to the bottom of the ninth …

KL: Broken them from overuse, or …

Nate: From throwing them against my wall.

KL: I respect that.

Nate: Yeah, I wish it was overuse. I have an issue with rage. I'm going to work that out, long term. You know who's a huge baseball guy is Tim Busfield. He plays in a men's league; he's played all his life. He's a pitcher in a men's league, an over-40 league in the Valley somewhere. Our trailers were right next to each other, and we'd sit around and talk baseball or play catch. He's an unbelievable baseball player. When he was doing "thirtysomething," that's when Clemens and Lee Smith were on the Red Sox, and he was a huge TV star. During the All-Star break, he was doing press, and he went to the clubhouse and met all those guys. He even -- this is a hilarious story -- he was at Yankee Stadium in 2004 for Game 7, and he's a Tigers fan, from Detroit, but was rooting for the Red Sox. You know he was in "Revenge of the Nerds," right?

KL: Absolutely.

Nate: So he's in the stadium, and it's like the seventh inning, and it's over, everyone knows what's going to happen, they're going to win, and the Boston fans are getting a little surly, and this one knucklehead is taunting the Yankee fans, and he's just wasted, you know the type … so he's getting really bad, and he is hammered, can barely stand up. So he's six sheets to the wind, and people start surrounding him, so he's going to get his ass kicked. The Yankee Stadium security people are looking the other way, so Tim goes up to the guy, grabs him by the arm, and says, "Hey, man, chill out, or get the heck out of here, or you're going to get killed." And the guy was so drunk, he just looked at Tim, got sober for one second, and said, "OK, Poindexter," which is his character from "Revenge of the Nerds." And Tim was like, "All right, guys, do whatever you want to him."

KL: That's great -- he's my new hero.

Nate: He's just a huge baseball fan. We used to talk baseball all the time.

KL: So I wanted to ask, what was the set like? I was a huge fan of the show. Everyone I know watched it. I'm still a little shocked that it was canceled.

Nate: I think it was just money, the huge amount of money that it cost to create it and then run it. They needed it to be a huge hit to make money. The set was expensive, and it was expensive to pay all those people.

KL: Oh, the cast was unbelievable.

Nate: And Aaron Sorkin costs money. We had OK numbers, but it wasn't big enough. Which sucked, so they pulled it. It was great, it was really intimidating, but it was like grad school. I learned how to be a TV actor.

KL: This was really your first TV acting role, right? Because "The Daily Show" was most of your TV before.

Nate: And some commercials and other little stuff. But it was my first long-term thing. And to do my first TV thing with those guys was great. Everyone was just a pro. Everyone knew how to do it, where to stand, what you need to do to make it go faster, to get your stuff done. So it was great, it wasn't just like a show where it's all 20-year-olds who've never done it before.

KL: My wife and I would always end up playing the game -- "Where have we seen him before?"

Nate: Exactly, all pros.

KL: The cast was really unbelievable. Sarah Paulson was incredible.

Nate: She's coming up here to do a play next week. And Alison Janney …

KL: "The Disaster Show"! That was awesome, great episode.

Nate: Yeah, that was hilarious. She's also coming up to do a show here later this summer.

Talking about the last six episodes of "Studio 60" …

KL: That was the best writing of the whole season.

Nate: It was. Those were the best episodes.

KL: They finally gave you some real meat to work with. Story lines were great. They cut the romantic comedy stuff, and instead they went for more serious stories.

Nate: I think at that point he [Sorkin] knew it was getting canceled, so he said, screw it, I'm going to write "West Wing" episodes. And there were real stakes in those episodes, life and death, while before, the stakes were whether a TV show would get done or whether a writer could write a sketch. There's just no weight to that -- no one cares. So that was one of the biggest differences.

KL: My friends and I were all breaking it down, why didn't it work, why did it get canceled? And one thing we noticed was that, at the end, you stopped showing sketches -- and nobody cared! It was the characters, for me at least, that mattered.

Nate: Exactly. You don't have to prove that the sketches exist or are funny. And he writes every word -- he's not a sketch-comedy writer.

KL: But his style of humor is, for me, at least, that's what was so brilliant.

Nate: He's fast, great wit, really smart man, and he knows how to craft a joke while you're walking down a hallway. People at the top of their game, battling each other, that's what it comes out like.

KL: Had you ever done anything like that before -- that fast?

Nate: No, nothing like it.

KL: I can't imagine the difference for you guys, because even for me, it's like I can't watch other shows now because they're too slow.

Nate: Did you watch "West Wing"?

KL: A little bit.

Nate: You should get the DVDs of the first four seasons -- they're just great. It's all like that. They're walking and talking a mile a minute, it's elevated language. All big issues, you're not sure what's happening, but then at the end of the show it all comes back and it's tied up in the end.

KL: That's amazing that he could write all that, all the story lines, keep all the characters straight, just one man doing it.

Nate: Twenty-two episodes. And you've got all these people screaming at you, this is due tomorrow, and you have to take care of everybody -- this person wants more, this person wants this, and so on.

KL: Is it seven days a week?

Nate: Just five, Monday to Friday.

KL: So you have some semblance of a life, to play "MLB: The Show," at least.

Nate: That's exactly right. And NCAA Football. But mostly The Show. But I don't always work every day -- sometimes it's five days, sometimes it's one, depending on the episode. Matt Perry was there every day, though. He was so burned out by the end of the year. He'd sleep on the weekends, but he had no life -- there at 7 or 8 every morning, not done until 10.

KL: This is something I think the average fan doesn't even understand -- that it's real work, that's a 14-hour day for Perry.

Nate: Doing a sitcom is much easier. Show up on Monday, read the script on Monday, you're gone in 90 minutes. Come in Tuesday and rehearse for four hours. Come in Wednesday and you rehearse for three or four hours. You have an eight-hour day on Thursday. Then you tape on Friday night -- show up at 7:30, you're out by 10. You work, cumulative, maybe 20 hours.

KL: So you're looking for a sitcom now.

Nate: No kidding. Brad Whitford said this was like doing 11 feature films back to back to back to back, because the episodes were an hour long, so that's 22 hours you were shooting, with no breaks except for Christmas. I don't know how he did "West Wing" for seven years.

KL: But he went right back for more!

Nate: I know. I was there for his last take; "West Wing" shot on the stage next to where we shot, and we went over and watched him do his final take, and he said to us, "See you in the morning." And the next day, we started. But it was really a great experience. I just learned a lot.

KL: I was devastated when I saw it was canceled. I knew it was coming, but I was still upset, and then when I saw how good those last six episodes were, it was even worse.

Nate: He'll have another show on in two or three years. It'll be a cop show, or a hospital show; it'll be set in a place where there are stakes, where people's lives are at stake. He's too good of a writer.