How Cincinnati Inspired Jenna Elfman's New 'Imaginary Mary' TV Series

Mar 27, 2017

Academy Award-winning director Patrick Osborne thought of his little brother's imaginary friend when creating potential TV series for Hollywood producers.

That's why Jenna Elfman ("Dharma & Greg") returns to ABC in "Imaginary Mary" with an animated imaginary friend who gives her relationship advice (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 9).

Patrick remembered his brother Nick had an imaginary friend named "Red Light Green Light" when they were growing up in Green Township.

"I think there's something kind of nice about abstracting a child's version of kind of a hodgepodge of elements from a kid's drawing, and pulling that into real life… When we set it there in the world of CG (computer-generated imagery), it feels believable," Osborne, a 1999 St. Xavier High School graduate told the TV Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles in January. His brother Nick, a 2001 St. X grad, lives in Chicago.

Eric Tremblay, Matreya Scarrwener, Stephen Schneider, Jenna Elfman, Mary the imaginary friend and Nicholas Coombe star in ABC's "Imaginary Mary."
Credit ABC Television

On ABC, Elfman's character Alice is visited by her childhood imaginary friend Mary (voiced by former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Rachel Dratch). Mary helps Alice, a successful single career woman, sort through her emotions after she falls in love with a divorced father (Stephen Schneider, "Save Me") with three kids.

The "human side" of "Imaginary Mary," as Osborne put it, was provided by executive producer David Guarascio, a writer from "The Goldbergs," "Community," "Marry Me" and "Just Shoot Me."

Patrick Osborne
Credit ABC Television

"It's about David and his wife. He had two kids when he met his wife. The show is about a professional woman who never thought of having kids until she met him, and her imaginary friend from childhood appears to guide her through it," Osborne told me earlier this month.

Adding an animated character to illustrate the voice in Elfman's head to a live-action sitcom "technologically is on the edge to do it fast enough to make it work" for television," he said.

Osborne, who lives in Los Angeles, left Walt Disney Animation Studios after winning the 2015 Academy Award for best animated short film for "Feast." As an independent director-producer, he met with many studios and producers pitching ideas for TV series, animated shorts and feature films.

His agents suggested a meeting with Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions, which produces Adam Goldberg's autobiographical ABC sitcom, "The Goldbergs." They knew that Goldberg loved "Star Wars" collectibles.

"He has a lot of 'Star Wars' toys in his office, and my dad (Tom Osborne) is a toy maker" who used to work for Cincinnati's Kenner Products, Osborne said. They made a deal for "Imaginary Mary," which moves next week to its spring time slot, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, after "Fresh Off The Boat."

Osborne is very busy this year. His 5-1/2-minute animated "Peal" film for Google Spotlight Stories was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award, the first Oscar-nominated film made in 360-degree video and virtual reality.  He's about half-way through the three-year process of making his first animated feature, "Nimona," for Fox and Blue Sky Animation. He's also talking to studios about four more features, one animated and three live-action projects.

"It's a lot to juggle, but a lot of fun," Osborne told me about his life as an independent director-producer. "I didn't know what it would be like. I'm not starving yet, and I'm not rich, either."