Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kirstie Hires "Kramer"

I dig Kirstie Alley.  Going back to the early 1980s, I always noticed her when she was onscreen.  I thought she was a major babe.  Just like Lucille Ball, she was a babe who really sparkled as an actress when she was given comedy to do.  The proof started weekly on Cheers.  Since then, she's proven to be a Master of Reinvention.  She was a Dancing with the Stars highlight.  One night, a noted TV columnist friend invited me to a screening of a new 2005 Kirstie Alley sitcom for Showtime.  It was called Fat Actress.
She'd be playing a hot mess of a middle-aged Hollywood star no longer getting work because of her plus-size.  My columnist friend and I expected the show to be mediocre.  The entire audience was howling with laughter within the first ten minutes. Those two episodes were just so wrong that they were right.  Alley had the brass ovaries to get up there and totally lampoon her own image, her weight challenge and how network TV operates in Hollywood.  Her clueless character forged ahead through a series of show biz humiliations as she job hunts in a town that worships skinny women.  Those were two of the funniest sitcom episodes my friend and I had seen of any show that entire year.
I was sipping a Coke.  A scene with the frustrated Kirstie ordering too much food at a drive-thru made me do the DTST (Danny Thomas Spit Take) laugh.  You need to see those early episodes on DVD.  Especially the one with Mark Curry, formerly of Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, as the African-American NBC executive attracted to full-figured women.
Kirstie's coming back with another sitcom -- for TV Land.  She'll play a Broadway star whose world is turned upside down when her long lost son re-enters her life.  Former Seinfeld star, Michael Richards, returns to the sitcom scene as a cast member.
He has not been seen on TV much seen Seinfeld ended its run in 1998.  He had his own very short-lived sitcom after that.  Then, in late 2006, there was his widely-reported racial slur rant onstage in a comedy club. TMZ reported this.  The rant did not appear to be part of routine.  Black people in the audience were offended.  So were white folks.
I saw that comedy club footage.  If Michael Richards had stood on a corner in Compton, California, in parts of Chicago or in Newark, New Jersey and shouted "Nigger!" like that, he probably would've been in physical danger.  It was pretty raw and vile.  Now he's returning to TV in a project with two other former NBC sitcom stars.  The other is Rhea Perlman, once a Cheers co-star with Kirstie Alley.

I'm really interested to see how Michael Richards navigates his way through the early part of this new sitcom.  He'll play the Broadway star's limo driver.  With those three stars and with TV Land being a major channel, there will probably be publicity and interview opportunities for entertainment press.  How is he going to handle facing black and Latino members of the press?  Will he be available for press?  Will black and Latino members of the entertainment press want to interview him if he is available?  I add Latinos because, on Seinfeld,  his Kramer character stomped the flag of Puerto Rico after he accidentally set it on fire during the Puerto Rican Day Parade.  (Season 9, Episode 20)
Many Latinos in the New York area alone did not find that episode funny.  I didn't find that flag-business funny.  So many Latino viewers were irate that, as the New York Times reported in 1998, NBC had to apologize for the offensive episode.  Maybe all this business has blown over and Richards can breezily return to the world of sitcom work.  We'll see.  He did get on late night CBS after the TMZ reports broke and apologize, saying that he's got nothing against us "Afro-Americans."  For TV executives, that whole business has blown over obviously -- because he booked a good new gig.  I interviewed Michael Richards in WNYW's Good Day New York.  He was promoting a 1997 comedy movie called Trial and Error.  Lots of folks in the station came down to the studio to watch our live interview.  He was quite popular as "Kramer" at the time.  I'd like to interview him again and ask what he learned from that ugly comedy club incident and how it changed him.  If it did.

I hope the TV Land sitcom is a big hit for Kirstie Alley.  She makes me laugh.  A lot.

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