In the opening of Courteney Cox's seductive new FX series, the actress is seen as a red, satin-swathed colossus dominating the Hollywood landscape.
In fact, Cox's beautiful, even beatific Lucy Spiller is wallowing in the gutter as the editor of tabloid magazines whose mission is reflected in the show's title: "Dirt."
Turns out, though, Lucy has company: The stars and executives who publicly scorn her include those who also use her. She rubs that in a producer's face in the debut episode, 10 p.m. EST Tuesday, Jan. 2.
The series is a surprise in several ways. It deftly layers glamour's standard trappings over a surreal heart of darkness — Lucy's favorite paparazzo is schizophrenic, and we see his pained hallucinations as he pains his celebrity targets.
The photog, Don Konkey, is brilliantly played by English actor Ian Hart, who immediately establishes himself as one of the best things on TV this season.
"Dirt" also allows Cox, 42, to effectively vanquish her "Friends" character of Monica, which made her one of America's sitcom sweethearts, and slither into the driven Lucy, who struggles with her own unstable psyche.
Then there's the show's layered depiction of the relationship between the entertainment industry and the tabloids — this from an actress who has been the uncomfortable object of celebrity feeding frenzies.
Cox isn't just going along for the ride: "Dirt" is from the production company she runs with her husband, David Arquette, 35. The two are executive producers with series creator Matthew Carnahan and writer Joel Fields.
"It all stemmed from when I was pregnant," Cox said in a phone interview, efficiently conducted while she exercised on an elliptical machine. "The paparazzi was really hounding me ... and some really crazy stuff happened. They got in my face more than anything I experienced before."
The much-hyped end of "Friends" in 2004 added to the madness, which Cox said included car chases in which she was surrounded by photographers and feeling especially vulnerable because she was expecting (daughter Coco is now 2½).
"The head of development at our company saw what I was going through ... and had the foresight to know it would make an interesting show," Cox said.
It was a project she intended only to produce. Then FX Networks president John Landgraf suggested reworking the concept, originally centered on shooter Konkey and other men, to include a woman editor.
"Matthew Carnahan took the seed of an idea and made the most unexpected characters, the richest characters," Cox said. "I thought, wow, if I can't play Don Konkey, which is one of the all-time great roles, I really want to play Lucy.
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