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Stepparenting Perils Familiar to ‘Are We There’ Star

If Terry Crews looks convincing as an embattled stepparent in TNT's June 2 debuting "Are We There Yet?" it could be because the NFL-veteran-turned-actor knows the territory.

"There's a lot of similarities to my own life. My wife was a single mother when I met her," he tells us. "It was one of those things, an instant family right off. Her daughter was 2 years old, and it was 'No, I don't like you. I want Mommy.' I had to deal with that all the time. You have to love the kids, but the kids don't love you. You have to earn their trust. It doesn't happen overnight."

As fans of Crews' reality show, "The Family Crews," know, his stepdaughter is now 22 and pregnant, and Crews and his wife also have three more daughters and a son, ranging in age from 18 to 3. The show begins filming its second season this month.

"I was petrified; so many things could have gone wrong," he recalls, speaking of the BET offering that follows the doings at his high-energy household. "We took a risk — what if America doesn't like me? What if America doesn't like my wife or my kids? But the opposite happened, and I'm so happy."

Crews looks like a natural to take over the role of the harassed yet good-hearted sudden father that Ice Cube brought to life in two big-screen "Are We There Yet?" hits. Still, having the rapper/actor on the scene as executive producer and co-star might seem nerve-wracking. Crews says he welcomes the star's presence on the series.

"It was like when I did 'The Longest Yard' in 2005 — having Burt Reynolds from the original movie in the new one validated the whole thing." Plus, Ice Cube put him at ease, he says. "He said, 'I don't want you to feel like you have to be me.' He was just so cool about it."

As for his wife's feelings about him playing a sitcom stepfather? "She loves it," says Crews, the former "Everybody Hates Chris" father, whose latest film is Sylvester Stallone's August release "The Expendables" action movie. He adds, "There aren't that many shows the family can enjoy together."

ON THE PERSONAL SIDE: Lisa Ann Walter is riding high these days. The second season of her hit Oxygen show, "Dance Your A— Off," launches Monday (6/7) — and this Friday (6/4) marks the release of the "Killers" Ashton Kutcher-Katherine Heigl big-screen action-comedy, in which Walter plays a cougar "with a killer wardrobe," as she puts it.

It's a pretty inspiring story, considering that not so many years ago, Walter was in the depths of despair with her marriage breaking apart and her self-esteem at an all-time low. Joining a dance class not only helped her pull herself out of the dumps, as she told us last year, it gave her the idea for a dance competition show with built-in body improvement as a bonus for the contestants. Now, "DYAO" is a way of life for the actress, who finds herself staying up late answering fan messages.

"They contact me directly on our Facebook page," she says. "I've got a book deal I'm working on for a book that deals with body image and self-loathing. I've got a lot of things I'm working on. But I read some of these letters and it just stops everything. These people are in such pain, I have to correspond with them," she says. "I had a girl, 120 pounds, writing to me about how much she hated her body. She's 'the fat one' among her friends, she's tried to stop eating — she wrote pages and pages of this. I said, 'I don't know what your height is, but if you're physically active and 120 pounds, you cannot be out of shape.' This is the kind of skewed attitude about being super skinny that we — Hollywood — have been responsible for promoting in a lot of ways."

Walter continues to be enjoying romance with her younger man beau, a film editor, and she and her children have recently moved to "a new place up in the hills. It's close to where I was before the divorce," says the funny lady. "It's actually within hiking distance from my ex, so we can hike up and do the tradeoffs with the kids. It's the modern equivalent to a close-knit family."

COOL SCHOOL: The Disney Channel is getting ready to go to "The Prom" — as in production gearing up for an original movie starring Aimee Teegarden of "Friday Night Lights." The tag line: "Every couple has a story." Forget the movie; this sounds like a natural for a reality show.

CRUEL SCHOOL: With the subject of bullying much in the news these days, it's not surprising to find that film and TV projects that touch upon the theme are cropping up. For instance, John C. Reilly is not only making "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which deals with a school massacre, he also has a film called "Terry" in preproduction. In it, he plays a school counselor who takes under his wing a 14-year-old obese boy who is the main caregiver for his aged uncle — and who gets mercilessly teased at school. Reilly's former "monster" character can identify.

There's also a documentary called "Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History," in the works under the auspices of the Southern Poverty Law Center. It's the true story of Jamie Nabozny, who suffered extreme anti-gay bullying every day at his Wisconsin school and saw the perpetrators go unpunished. The boy tried suicide. He did home schooling and transferred to a different school in a different state. He grew up and sued the school district and three administrators. And he won. The film will be distributed to schools as part of SPLC's Teaching Tolerance series. Nothing like a little legal liability to wake people up.

To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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