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Fall TV's next big star goes back to school

Joel McHale is set to invade televisions across the country this fall and there are no green screens or "Rock Of Love" wisecracks anywhere in sight.

The fabulously snarky host of E!'s "The Soup" has landed his first prime-time gig with the highly anticipated sitcom "Community" airing Thursday nights starting Sept. 17 on NBC.

McHale plays Jeff Winger, a lawyer who must attend Greendale Community College after the state bar association discovers that his college credentials are non-existent. He then forms a study group in a lame attempt to pick up a girl, and ends up with a colorful band of misfits who discover themselves in the process of higher learning (think an older, college version of "The Breakfast Club-" there's even a reference to the classic 80s film in the first episode)

"On the day when we're shooting, there's a recklessness and a wonderful kind of openness and looseness that permeates the whole set and I think it's a great way to get comedy," McHale said during a phone interview.

When McHale arrived in Los Angeles in 2000, he had envisioned his impending fame on the silver screen and in television shows like "Community." But like all struggling actors, success didn't come quickly or easily for the Seattle, Wash. native. McHale was primarily acting in commercials when he was offered the hosting gig on "The Soup" and he jumped at the opportunity to be the star of one of his favorite shows. Flash forward five years and "The Soup" has become not only a hit television show, but, just as importantly, a bonafide pop culture phenomenon.

Fans of "The Soup" needn't worry- McHale isn't leaving the show despite his regular paycheck from NBC and the tradition established by his predecessors back when the show was called "Talk Soup." In the 90s, the show became known as a stepping stone- a launching pad for hosts, such as Oscar-nominated actor Greg Kinnear, to achieve greater success in the film and television industries. However, McHale could never turn his back on the show that made him a star.

"I was able to get noticed through doing ‘The Soup' and get into all those audition rooms that I was not allowed into before that," he said. "It's one of those things where my first love is acting and that's what my goal is to be doing, but ‘The Soup' is one the most fun things I've ever done in my life."

This year has the potential to be the breakout year for McHale. "Community" is already a TV Guide editor's pick and has been receiving a lot of buzz due to heavy promotion and McHale's loyal fanbase. In addition, McHale stars in the comedic thriller "The Informant" alongside Matt Damon, which hits theaters this Friday.

After only a 20 minute conversation, it's evident that Joel McHale is grateful for "The Soup" and "Community." He said he hopes that "Community" will be a hit. His chances look good considering the show boasts a stellar cast, including comedy legend Chevy Chase as a chronic divorcee and the founder of an award-winning moist towelette company and comedy legend-in-training Ken Jeong (who really revealed himself in the summer smash, "The Hangover") as a Spanish professor. With the writer of "The Sarah Silverman Program" and the directors of "Arrested Development" on board as well, "Community" has the necessary credentials to become a success.

But he won't rest easy until the numbers prove that "Community" is a legitimate success. Until those ratings come in, he said that he has "no shame" in promoting the show that has the potential to make him a sitcom star and a household name.

"I'm literally walking up to homeless people and shaking them and going, ‘Please watch ‘Community' at 9:30.'"

Dana Cassidy can be reached at

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