Karl T. Wright proposed to Wendy Miller by hiding the ring in her bowling ball, because on an episode of The Flintstones, Fred hides an engagement ring in a bowling ball. (Miller got the reference right away.) “This is not a test, folks,” blared their TV set – shaped wedding invitation. “Must-see matrimony!”
The wedding itself was set up like an episode of The Newlywed Game. Ten questions, for 10 points each. Get at least 100 points, the judge announced, or you can't get married.
Who spends more time in the bathroom? Name the movie title that best describes your love life. What is Karl's favorite decadent snack? The pair got only two questions right.
“I was just trying to be funny,” Miller says.
“And I was answering honestly,” Wright says.
The guests held their breath. It couldn't be! But then, a 100-point bonus question – the only one that was rigged: Since you've been engaged, how many hours have you spent apart? Why, 812 hours, 46 minutes and 9 seconds, of course.
Walk into Wright and Miller's Sherman Oaks home 17 years later, and it doesn't take long to figure out that these two live and breathe classic TV – and have for their entire lives. Both grew up watching nearly six hours of TV a day. And these days, both work in their chosen medium: he as an actor, she as a producer and development executive.
Scattered around their house are antique wooden television consoles, sourced in part on eBay – one holds a functioning color TV. Another came with a clunky Zenith Space Command, the first wireless remote control; one has been converted into a working bathroom sink. Other TV-shaped objects include a lamp, a Peanuts air freshener, a chalkboard wall sticker, a photo frame and cabinet knobs. (The only digital TV visible on the main floor is an unassuming, 19-inch Vizio in a corner of the kitchen.)
On a Sunday afternoon in early January, Wright, 52, relaxes in jeans, a Dr. Pepper T-shirt, frameless glasses and a Rainbow Loom bracelet made by their preteen daughter, Addison. His hair is a distinguished gray and his manner is slow and thoughtful. Miller, 49, plays the ham, the Dick Van Dyke to his Mary Tyler Moore. She wears loose black clothing and has bangs and a warm face.
“She always tells my stories and I go, 'Wow, OK, that's the funny part,'?” Wright says.
“Karl's from NPR, and I'm from real TV,” she explains.
Back in Chicago, where they met and both grew up, Wright hosted a few shows for WBEZ, the local public radio affiliate. Since moving to L.A. in the mid-'90s, his dignified manner has helped him nab bit parts as reporters, doctors, lawyers and detectives on scores of TV shows, including Grey's Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory and Curb Your Enthusiasm. (“He's what white people call 'articulate,'?” Miller explains.)
As a child, Miller also found her place in front of the camera, appearing in ads for McDonald's, Sears and Apple Jacks. She was the first person whose face appeared alongside Morris the Cat in a 9Lives commercial, which aired for at least a decade.
By 14, though, she knew she preferred to be out of the spotlight. She started out writing promos for a TV station in Chicago that played old shows, an easy task for someone who has entire seasons of The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy memorized. Soon, Miller's zany sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge brought her to the networks' attention, and by the late '90s she was cutting and writing commercials for NBC's “Must-See TV” bloc.
Over time, she graduated to working on the shows themselves, relishing the process of making content for the box she had so worshipped as a kid. Sure, she's proud of the Daytime Emmy Award she earned for producing The Wayne Brady Show, but the accomplishment she most cherishes happened back when people still read TV Guide: She received both a jeer (for an NBC promo featuring an obnoxious singing peacock named Johnny Chimes) and a cheer (for producing a TV Land special on the history of African-Americans in television).
Four years ago, she became head of development at Playboy TV. Soon after she took the job, Wright protectively accompanied Miller and some colleagues on a research expedition to a swingers' party at the Hilton Woodland Hills. At the meet-and-greet, an older woman made eyes at the group and took out one of her boobs – a major no-no before the real party began. At midnight, when they ventured up to the presidential suite, where the usual soft yellow lighting had been replaced with red bulbs, the woman was waiting at the door, naked, slurring to anyone who would listen, “I want some cocks in me!”
Wright nearly gags at the memory. And how could they not have put sheets on the furniture? he asks. He has avoided accompanying his wife on any work-related adventures since.
But Miller approaches the salacious absurdities of her job with cheerful frankness. She thinks it's hilarious that swingers call her “dirty vanilla,” that her fellow soccer moms ask for vibrator recommendations and free lube, and that legendary adult-film star Nina Hartley once asked if she could feel up Miller at a Playboy mansion party.
The question, of course, is when they will explain the full extent of mommy's work life to Addison. Unlike the freewheeling binge-watching of their youth, their daughter's TV diet is strictly regulated: nothing that promotes “white boys saving the world,” and no Disney Channel live-action comedies with their sassy, rebellious kids.
So when, exactly, do they plan on addressing the meaning of that cute little bunny logo?
“We're going to wait until after her eighth birthday,” Miller says.
“Eighth?” Wright says with alarm. Addison's eighth birthday is the following week.
“Yeah. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“It seems really early,” Wright says.
“It's OK. You won't be there.”
“But I want to know!” He puts his head in his hands.
Miller smirks at her husband's naivete, but when he looks up they exchange a tender glance. Their baby is growing up, and it's hard, sometimes, to recognize that the good old days won't be around forever.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter: