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Lovitz, a friend of the late Phil Hartman, plays a friend of the late Bill McNeal

Jon Lovitz hoping to honor Hartman with 'NewsRadio' role

Web posted on: Thursday, October 08, 1998 3:20:24 PM

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Replacing Phil Hartman on the cast of NBC's "NewsRadio" is something that comic actor Jon Lovitz did not want to do.

Hartman, who was killed in May, was Lovitz's longtime friend, and Lovitz said he didn't want to brush aside Hartman's memory.

"I didn't want to do it at first because I just didn't want to face the fact that he was gone and it was hard," Lovitz says.


But friends tried to convince Lovitz that Hartman would be honored by the act.

"A lot of my friends, we had the same friends, said 'No, he would want you to do it,'" Lovitz says.

The comic actor, who spoke with CNN at the Emmy Awards, says he finally agreed to do "NewsRadio" after a call from Hartman's mother.

"What really tipped it for me was when his mother said 'Thank you for picking up the flag and doing it.' So then I felt it's OK," Lovitz says. "I don't want it to look like I'm profiting from my friend's death, because they hire you and you get paid. It's confusing."

Lovitz now plays Max Lewis, a character who knew Hartman's character, Bill McNeal, on the sitcom; though he has a spotty employment record and no experience in news radio, the show's main cast decides to hire him because they believe McNeal would have wanted them to hire a friend.

Lovitz on the set with "NewsRadio" cast members

Although Lovitz denies that he is replacing the man he had known since their days in improv, he adds that he's realizing that he has huge shoes to fill.

"He was like the dad on the show, so in a way it's like they lost the king," says Lovitz. "I lost my older brother, the father figure on the show, so that's why it's so especially hard for everybody, cause this is the guy who was supporting everybody, the backbone, lifting you up when you were down and now that's the guy who's gone."

Lovitz says his character -- Max Louis -- is a tribute to Hartman.

I'm gonna make my character like how Phil was in real life, which was, you know, one of the nicest people ever, who got along with everybody." Lovitz says. "He was an expert sailor, he had his own plane, he was a pilot, he was a graphic artist ... he was an artist, you know, a great artist. He was just the best."

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