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Tuned In: Jason Alexander defends his sitcom

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Different week, different network, same perception problem.

Last week NBC faced questioning over its supposedly "troubled" sitcom "Emeril." Monday it was ABC's turn as the cast and producers of the "troubled" Jason Alexander sitcom "Bob Patterson" sought to defend their sitcom.

Like "Emeril," everyone involved with "Bob Patterson" claimed the show "tested well" with audiences in research screenings. Like "Emeril," everyone involved with "Bob Patterson" thought the pilot turned out pretty well. Producers of both shows said they were doing some recasting to achieve a better balance or mix.

These are the same things TV critics heard about last year's sitcom starring a "Seinfeld" alum, "The Michael Richards Show." It proved to be a disastrous flame-out.

But unlike Richards, who claimed the bumbling private detective he played was nothing like the bumbling Kramer on "Seinfeld," Alexander acknowledged Bob Patterson and George Costanza share some similarities.

"We purposely created Bob out of the ashes of George," Alexander said. "We wanted to do a character that was going to be comfortable for the audience that had come to know me as that, but that had some room to grow and had some differences so I didn't pull out what's left of my hair repeating myself all over again. But it's purposefully meant to be a continuation of sorts of George."

Like George, Bob is insecure, especially when it comes to women. Bob is a little whiny and neurotic, but he's more advanced in the sense that he's the No. 3 best-selling self-help author in America.

"The things about George that I think were funny and that people related to were exactly the kind of stuff where you're at your most vulnerable when you're dating or involved sexually with somebody," Alexander said. "The dating arena is absolutely a place we'll go off into."

In addition to Alexander, "Patterson" stars Robert Klein as Bob's best friend and agent. Jennifer Aspen ("Party of Five") plays Bob's significantly younger wife, Janet, who walked out on him eight months prior to events in the pilot, when she returns to share his home, but not his bed.

Having seen the "Bob Patterson" pilot, I can safely say it's nowhere near as awful as "The Michael Richards Show" (or "Emeril"). But it's not great either. It has "Seinfeld"-esque moments, but in its first episode, it's no "Seinfeld."

Where does the "troubled" stamp come from? Alexander attributes it solely to the departure of one of the pilot's executive producers, who he claims was only loosely involved anyway, and recasting of two actors in prominent roles. But the primary reason for the label is that critics have seen the pilot and most think it's mediocre at best.

"The only thing that's going to make or break our show is whether or not we do a good job of it," Alexander said. "If we do, people will watch and we'll be around. If we don't, they won't watch."

To achieve that, Alexander is happy to milk the "Seinfeld" connection. Teaser ads for "Bob Patterson" have featured celebrities such as John Tesh and Charlie Sheen lauding the value of books by the fictional Patterson. Jerry Seinfeld himself has committed to filming a spot touting Patterson.

"If I was in the audience, I'd go, 'Well, is this going to be as good as 'Seinfeld'?" Alexander said. "It can hopefully be as good without having the same show."

After the failure of "The Michael Richards" show, all eyes are on "Bob Patterson" to see if it's possible for a "Seinfeld" cast member to headline a successful follow-up sitcom. Next the spotlight will shift to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has a deal for a mid-season comedy series on NBC.

" 'Seinfeld' was a troubled show," Alexander said. "We did the pilot and they said, 'You're not going on the air' and dropped all our contracts. And then they threw us on somewhere and you guys wrote about it and they said, 'Maybe we should rethink that position.' We weren't a troubled show, we were a non-show. There was no show."

Alexander is confident there is a show with "Bob Patterson" and he's hopeful it will last more than a few weeks.

"All I really care about is, 'Are we doing a funny show?' " Alexander said. "And that is yet to be determined."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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