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Wayans brings back traditional father

Sunday, March 25, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's the last project you'd expect from Damon Wayans. The outrageous actor, best known for giving two snaps up on Fox's "In Living Color," stars in a new ABC sitcom that hearkens back to the family-friendly nature of "The Cosby Show."

Wild Wayans in a warm family sitcom like "My Wife and Kids"? It seems inconceivable. At a January ABC press conference in Pasadena, Calif., Wayans said he's not getting stodgy, just revealing another side of himself to the public.

"My Wife and Kids"
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.
Starring: Damon Wayans, Tisha Campbell-Martin.

"For the past 19 years I've been raising kids. I've been a husband for 16 years, so with that comes a lot of experience and knowledge," Wayans said. "I guess people are looking at this as a huge 180. This is what people have been missing from me. People don't really know me. They see my stand-up, they see my 'In Living Color' characters and think, 'He's wild.'"

Mild may be more like it. On "My Wife and Kids" (8 p.m. Wednesday, ABC) Wayans plays Michael Kyle, who has conservative views on women working outside the home. One reporter was moved to ask Wayans whether he voted for George W. Bush in the last presidential election (he didn't).

Wayans makes no apologies for the portrayal of a "Father Knows Best"-style dad.

"The only message that I hope resonates throughout this series is that dads are back in the driver's seat," Wayans said. "I really think it's important to have a good, strong authority figure. And especially when children are not old enough to make their own decisions, you make the decisions for them. You've still got to play with them and be their friend to some extent, but draw a line. You're there to shepherd them through life or at least the first part of their life so they make the right decisions."

And if it takes a spanking here or there to accomplish that, so be it.

"No one talks about spankings on television," Wayans said. "Nobody spanks their kids anymore. I grew up with spankings and whuppings. My father raised 10 kids with whuppings. Five of them are very successful and the other five are doing pretty well, so there's something to the spankings. You look around and people who don't spank their kids, their kids spank them. You have to have an authority figure in the house. You can play good cop and bad cop, but someone has to take on the roles. I'm the bad cop."

Wayans, who has four children ages 10 to 18, doesn't appreciate recent TV portrayals of fathers as stupid and inept.

"I think it's bad for society as a whole," he said. "You listen to a lot of rap songs and it's all about 'my biological father' and 'I hate my dad.' I love my father. I can't relate to that."

In Wednesday's premiere, Wayans' character disapproves of his wife's desire to advance her career by spending more time away from home working. Wayans said he believes someone, husband or wife, must stay home with the kids.

"Just look at society right now," Wayans said. "There's a lot of dual-income homes. And the kids, they aren't under anybody's watch. And especially when you don't need the extra income, I think then it becomes selfish. I would sit home and let my wife go work if she could make the money to provide the lifestyle, but I think someone needs to be there."

Wayans' 16-year marriage recently broke up, and his 18-year-old son is about to make him a grandfather at age 40. Wayans said his estranged wife is studying psychology in school full time.

"Now she wants a job, now she wants a career and what it does to a man, or me anyway, is it kills my incentive to be a warrior," Wayans said. "I take pride in taking care of my family. If we're both taking care of the family, what happens to my pride, to my drive to slay the dragons?"

Wayans said such blunt talk isn't meant to be inflammatory, it's just his experience.

"A lot of men don't say it. We've been conditioned to be more sensitive, but that doesn't work for us," Wayans said. "Men get nothing out of being more sensitive. More loving, yes. More sensitive by crying and talking? That's an area we just don't know."

Wayans said stories for "My Wife and Kids" come from his own life experiences (he's also one of the show's writers), but he's been counseled about taste by ABC executives.

"They want to do a more tame show," Wayans said. "The reality of families today has to be reflected on television. The reality is kids are experimenting with drugs, kids are experimenting with sex. We watched 'Father Knows Best' and 'Bewitched'; kids today are watching 'Jackass.' A show must reflect what's going on to get viewers to relate to it. They can't relate to little 'Leave it to Beaver' scenarios."

So despite his conservative views on parenting, "My Wife and Kids" won't always play it safe.

"We did a masturbation episode," Wayans said. "Parents may be uncomfortable watching with their children, but that's reality. That's what a 16-year-old boy is thinking about."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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