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Reba McEntire's A Hit On TV, Too

Country superstar Reba McEntire smiles on the set of her television comedy "Reba," at the 20th Century Fox studios in Los Angeles
AP
"Reba Hart is a lot like Reba McEntire," says the country music star about the sitcom character she plays on the WB's "Reba."

"We're very fiery. We are both very loyal to our family. And we are very protective mothers," McEntire explains. "And we get ourselves in jams every once in a while by things we say or do."

The singer-turned-actress was talking in her dressing room on the 20th Century Fox lot where "Reba" is filmed. Now in its third season, the series (8 p.m. EST Fridays) is a solid hit, particularly with teenage and adult women.

During rehearsal of a scene involving a loud family argument for the episode airing Friday, McEntire halts the heated exchange to note the lack of a key detail in the script.

An adjustment is quickly made; one gets the feeling little gets past this country girl.

The Grammy-winning performer has sold more than 48 million records in her 25-year career. She's currently on a 33-stop tour, featuring songs from her latest album, "Room to Breathe." She also sings the "Reba" theme song, "I'm a Survivor."

In 2001, she starred on Broadway as sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the musical "Annie Get Your Gun," a role she also played in the TV miniseries "Buffalo Girls."

But she was a neophyte in the world of weekly sitcoms when she auditioned for her current series, which was initially titled "Sally."

"The reason for her success in every part of her life is that she never hesitates to ask for help," says Christopher Rich, who plays Reba's ex, dentist Brock Hart, now married to his hygienist, Barbra Jean (Melissa Peterman).

Perhaps best known as dim anchorman Miller Redfield on "Murphy Brown," Rich first worked with McEntire in the 1991 made-for-TV movie "The Return of the Gambler: The Luck of the Draw."

"She always keeps her spirit up, as much as you can ask anyone to do," he says, expressing admiration for her "work ethic."

McEntire, 48, describes herself as "an easy going person," usually soft spoken, but no pushover when it comes to taking care of business.

"I stand up for my rights and I like to say it with a smile, but if it's not perceived as something I really want, they are not taking me seriously, then I have to give a little bit more volume," she says.

Recently there were rumors McEntire might hold out for more money on the series. Asked to comment, she lightly but firmly responds, "Everyone wants a reward for your hard work," but then adds she'll do the show "as long as the audience is willing to watch it."

She loves portraying "a roller-coaster of emotions" on "a great family show about real family situations."

"I've cried. I've prayed. I've thrown fits. I've laughed. I've gotten drunk ... I've fought with Barbra Jean, with Brock. It's just so interesting. It totally keeps my attention," she said.

Rich, 50, says the series about the aftermath of divorce - "a very common American story" - resonates with audiences because "Everybody's had some sort of heartbreak and you have to continue on. This is a show about continuing on."

Executive producer Michael Hanel feels McEntire is a perfect fit for Hart, a woman who's "had the rug pulled out from under her" but remains strong.

"She's never said this to me," Hanel continues, "but I believe her entire career is built on doing songs about women who find themselves in unexpected, sometimes untenable situations and climb their way out through their own strength and fortitude, and do it with a smile."

By Bridget Byrne