Warner Bros. Discovery Cooks Up New Serving of ‘Dinner & A Movie’ For TBS

Jenny Mollen’s and Jason Biggs’ next date night will likely capture more attention than usual.

The actors, husband and wife, on Saturday will attempt to revive a cable-TV mainstay for decidedly new purposes. When “Dinner & A Movie” debuted on TBS in 1995, it did so in an era when cable had yet to gain its fullest traction among viewers. A male-and-female duo gabbed and quibbled about movies such as “Breakfast Club” or “Fargo” and scarfed up gourmet snacks before throwing to a commercial. In return, executives hoped, viewers would stick around longer than they might otherwise. In 2024, Warner Bros. Discovery, TBS’ corporate parent, wants to use a retooled version of the show — off the air since 2011 — to throw a spotlight on everything from the company’s movies to the chefs from its Food Network.

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When Biggs and Mollen watch “Aquaman,” they will do so accompanied by a seafood extravaganza created by a popular Food Network personality, says Karen Bronzo, chief global marketing officer of U.S. networks and news, at Warner Bros. Discovery. When it’s time for the company’s annual “Shark Week” to roll around, the duo will watch the 2018 film “The Meg,” about a monster shark. The show “gives viewers something more to sink their teeth into,” says Bronzo,  and it answers “natural questions, like ‘What do you want to watch and what do you want to eat?’”

As such, there’s a lot of what made “Dinner” so digestible in the past. And maybe some other treats. Because of their show-business background — Biggs is best known for his role in the “American Pie” franchise and the Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black,” while Mollen has done films, written books and even filled in on “Live With Kelly and Mark” — this pair may bring extras to the “Dinner” feast.

“We have a lot of friends in movies,” says Mollen. “We have insights and backstory. What was going on during the shooting? That’s always fun to have.”

“Not fun is seeing a movie…”says Biggs

“..that you auditioned for…”  Mollen adds

“…that you didn’t, for one thing or another, get,” says Biggs. “If we can steer clear of those. We’ll bring it on there. We will talk about it: ‘This guy, he and I used to audition all the time, and now he’s a superhero.’”  Did you know Biggs auditioned for “Uncle Buck” as a child but lost the role to Macaulay Culkin?

This kind of back-and-forth fueled the original, and no one wants to deviate too much from the recipe. “It was a show, certainly for me, that was part of the cultural zeitgeist,” says Biggs.

Except there may be a little more spice. Biggs and Mollen don’t get to leave their quips on the set. “We really go there,” says Mollen. “It’s our authentic relationship. We get in fights. We come back. We bicker. We banter. It’s real and I think that’s the fun of it.”

Paul Gilmartin knows what that’s like. The comedian was one of the original co-hosts, along with Annabelle Gurwtich and chef Claude Mann, and stayed with “Dinner” until the kitchen closed for good. He says the program took on a life all its own with viewers. That’s largely because the team was left alone to shape the show without much interference. He and Gurwitch made sure they were commenting on the exact scene viewers saw just before the break, and spent hours figuring out jokes and sketches that might require a fast trip to a clothing store as the team waited for the food to look just right.

“For that first year, we felt like we were on Public Access TV,” Gilmartin recalls. “The network wasn’t even giving us notes or saying anything. There was a tremendous amount of freedom.”

Similar concepts were sprouting up across the set-top box as a growing pack of still-nascent TV networks scrambled to fill their schedules. USA, well before it was owned by NBCUniversal, ran hours of “Up All Night,” a format that had Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Gottfried chatting about B-movies after midnight. Joe Bob Briggs led “MonsterVision,” a collection of sci fi and horror films on TNT. And Comedy Central gained notice for “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” a clever show that had two robots and a stranded space traveler make fun of silly old sci-fi films.

Such stuff flourished in cable’s early era and fizzled out as the upstarts became more corporate. Gilmartin says he and his on-air cohorts had less screen time as TBS doled out more product placements in the series. “By the end, it felt like we were limping along. Our creative time was down to 30, 40 seconds,” he recalls. “It was a shell of itself. But in its heyday it was really fun, and I loved the people I worked with.”

The assignment — to squabble on screen and hope the meet-cute moments stir something in viewers — can lead to bigger issues. Gilmartin says that he and Gurwitch were once sent to therapy because “there was a lot of tension between us,” which he ascribed to different personality types.  Before nabbing the “Dinner” assignment, Gilmartin had thought he was going to end up in a writers’ role somewhere off camera. Gurwitch, meanwhile, was eager to mix it up, he remembers. At one audition, “they paired me up with Annabelle and she was just steamrolling me. She was talking and talking and so I just started making fun of her, because I didn’t give a f—k. I think that’s when they saw what the show could be,” he recalls.

Neither Biggs nor Mollen are strangers to hosting. The pair did a stint on a game show for Lifetime called “My Partner Knows Best,” and Biggs has in recent years tried his hand at leading “Cherries Wild:” for Fox and “Cash At Your Door” for E! “It looks so easy, but in fact it’s incredibly difficult,” he says.

In one new episode, the pair host a viewing of “We’re the Millers,” and get ready to feast on Mexican themed cuisine. Mollen asks Biggs if he’d rather be with Jenifer Aniston than her, and Mark L. Young, an actor who plays a small but pivotal role in the film, pays a visit and reveals Adam Driver was once considered for his part. Mollen and Biggs are a team, but one that that is built on its members occasionally pushing back on one another.

“We definitely have our issues,” says Mollen, “but we always bring chemistry.”

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