Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! I’m just going to level with you — I’m ensconced in all things Sitcom Tuesday at the moment and I’m a bit too tired (and busy) to do with this post what I initially intended. (“What did you initially intend, Jackson?”) I intended to do a full-length post discussing Encore! Encore! (1998-1999, NBC), the single-season Nathan Lane sitcom from Grub Street Productions (Wings, Frasier) that was created by the Angell-Casey-Lee trio along with Frasier vets Chuck Ranberg and Anne-Flett Giordano. But, honestly, devoting a whole entry to this series seemed a tremendous waste of energy — especially because there was no way I could pick a favorite episode. So, instead, I’ve decided to go in a different direction — I’m going to share a clip from the first broadcast installment (and offer the full thing for interested subscribers who comment below) and then give a few sentences worth of commentary. (Truly, kids, that’s all I can muster.) For the sake of efficiency, I’ve decided to provide the same for the premiere episodes of two other sitcoms that debuted on the same network at the start of the same season: Conrad Bloom (1998, NBC) and Jesse (1998-2000, NBC).
You see, the Peacock Network premiered four new comedies in the fall of 1998 and only one of them hit: Will & Grace, which originally ran from 1998-2006, but was “rebooted” last year. (Why did that have staying power? Well, creatively speaking, I think it had the freshest voice…) Now, you can read more about this trio of short-lived comedies elsewhere, so my thoughts on them are intentionally brief (as are the accompanying clips). If you want to see any of these full-length premieres, please subscribe (if you haven’t done so already) and comment below! And stay tuned for more interesting short-lived vehicles in the weeks ahead…
Conrad Bloom (1998, NBC)
Created by Marco Pennette, whose most notable credit was the four-season moderate hit Caroline In The City (which, during its debut year, followed Seinfeld on MSTV Thursdays), Conrad Bloom starred Mark Feuerstein, then coming off a stint on both Caroline and the two-season MSTV flop Fired Up! (perhaps fodder for future coverage). The premise had him playing an addled Manhattanite surrounded by women — Lauren Graham, Linda Lavin, and Ever Carradine among them. His only male support was veteran funnyman Steve Landesburg. Regular scribes during its run included Heide Perlman and Michael B. Kaplan.
Unfortunately, this is the most forgettable series on the list. Not a laugh; not a smile; not even a cringe. I watch an episode — and I have seven — and I forget everything the second it’s over. It’d be hard to find something so seemingly mediocre (and here I’ll refrain from making a comment on Caroline In The City, which I think would make for revelatory full-length coverage, even though I probably won’t have the time for a series of its qualitative ilk), and critics panned the show upon its premiere. Slotted between Suddenly Susan and Caroline on Tuesdays at 8:30 (and then later moved to 9:30), nine of the 15 produced episodes were broadcast. A clip from the “Pilot,” aired September 21, 1998, is below. James Burrows directed; Pennette penned.
Encore! Encore! (1998-1999, NBC)
A strong cast that included Nathan Lane, Joan Plowright, Ernie Sabella, James Patrick Stuart, and Glenne Headly seemed surefire with scripts from some of Frasier‘s finest (like Ranberg & Giordano). The premise, of Lane as an opera star whose injured vocal chords leave him no choice but to move back with his mother, sister, and nephew at their Northern CA winery, is flashy and unique. But the fish-out-of-water concept is diluted by its protagonist — so, a pretentious character is trapped in a pretentious location; big deal! — forcing the show to rely heavily on comedic scenarios (as opposed to well-earned character conflicts). The ensemble doesn’t seem constructed to help shoulder any burden; Lane, for better or worse, dominates.
After a troubled pilot that was razzed, several roles were recast and the script was tweaked. Sandwiched in between Mad About You and Just Shoot Me! at 8:30 on Tuesdays, the revised version debuted to terrible reviews and was yanked after four episodes. It returned in a new Wednesday slot in December, where seven more (of the thirteen total produced) were broadcast. The entire 13-episode run was seen in syndication; I have 10 plus the original pilot. Here’s a clip from the first broadcast outing, “Pilot,” which aired on September 22, 1998. It was written by Ranberg & Giordano with Angell-Casey-Lee, the latter of whom directed.
Jesse (1998-2000, NBC)
Okay, of all the shows on this list, I have to say that Jesse‘s premiere comes off the best. (Right now I’ll admit that, while I have all 42 broadcast installments from the series’ two-season run, I’ve only watched a couple from each year, so I can’t comment on the show’s trajectory. In theory, I’d love to be able to do so at a later date, but I’m not convinced that this opportunity will ever present itself.) Produced by Bright/Kauffman/Crane of Friends (coming here soon), this vehicle for (a post-Bundy) Christina Applegate was created by Friends‘ Ira Ungerleider, who ran Jesse during its first season with Stephen Nathan (Love & War). Applegate was a single mom living in Buffalo with her two kooky brothers and their cranky father, in whose German bar she worked. Vying for her romantic affections were her Chilean neighbor and her returning ex-husband. Cast members included Liza Snyder, David DeLuise, and John Lehr.
Jesse finished its first season, in the hammock between Friends and Frasier at 8:30 on MSTV Thursdays, as the year’s fifth most watched show (tied with Veronica’s Closet, from the same company). It held the identical time slot for its 20-episode second season, but finished at #13. Wil Calhoun (Friends, What I Like About You) took the reins and changes were made to the ensemble. Also, Jesse went from a barmaid to a nurse, while more stories concerned her friends and co-workers (instead of her family). Again, I can’t comment much at this moment on these developments, but here I’ll say the opening is snappy and Applegate is inherently likable. The ensemble is not up to her level though, and may have posed problems in terms of story-generation… But, here’s a clip from the premiere, “A Side Of Chile,” which NBC broadcast on September 24, 1998. Ungerleider wrote; Burrows directed.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Tuesday for more Frasier!