Back to You
Empty8-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19
There's no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to new TV series, but "Back to You" is as close as it gets. Created, written, directed and acted by some of the most respected people in the shrinking world of TV sitcoms, there is only one significant question to be raised about this show: Why is it on Fox? More about that later.
Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton star as TV co-anchors Chuck Darling and Kelly Carr. Ten years earlier, he left the Pittsburgh station where they anchored the news. He had a succession of jobs in larger markets until, in Los Angeles, a much-too-candid rant with the mike on and the camera rolling got him fired. Putting the best possible face on it, he returned to Pittsburgh and his former co-anchor.
It's a new series, but in only a minute it will feel as if you've been watching it for years. Grammer and Heaton are familiar faces, and their roles, while not exactly like Frasier Crane and Deborah Romano, bear striking similarities. He is still pompous and smug; she's still controlling and rational.
At the same time, the TV newsroom is one of TV's most reliable sources of comedy and satire going back to when spunky Mary Richards was hired by Lou Grant at WJM in Minneapolis. The ultrasexy weather girl, the remote stand-up in the midst of torrential rain -- it's all in there, albeit with fresh energy.
The multicamera format adds to the show's familiar, as well as conventional, feel. It's what creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd know best, but it might be tiresome to a growing number of younger viewers. Only the superior acting and writing of "Back to You" will keep them from becoming bored by the format and annoyed with the studio laughter. Maybe we've reached the point where no comedy can revive the multicamera format and the best one can do is overcome it.
Levitan and Lloyd certainly have done that. They wrote a pilot that is packed with good lines, sometimes even great ones, and sprinkled with the right amount of sexual innuendo to create a hint of romantic tension. A second episode, also sent to reviewers, is just as smartly written.
Levitan and Lloyd also stack their deck by recruiting James Burrows, arguably TV's foremost sitcom director, as the third executive producer. They also assembled a versatile and talented supporting cast. There's irrepressible Fred Willard as the former jock sports anchor, Ayda Field as the superhot weather girl, Josh Gad as the young and easily intimidated news director and Ty Burrell as the reporter with an unpronouncable last name that dashes any hope of becoming anchor.
This is as good as multicamera gets, but in the end, it's still mostly about middle-age adults and is utterly void of flashy, animated or computer-generated gags. That makes it an unlikely addition to the Fox schedule. Some say people watch shows, not networks, and that they'll find a good show wherever it is. Maybe so, but it seems so much more likely that more viewers would find this one if it was on CBS on Mondays or NBC on Thursdays, where it seems to belong.
BACK TO YOU
Levitan/Lloyd Prods. in association with 20th Century Fox Television
Executive producers: Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, James Burrows
Co-executive producers: Jeffrey Richman, Abraham Higgenbotham, Chuck Tatham, Andy Gordon, Dan O'Shannon, Gail Lerner
Supervising producer: Sally Bradford
Line producer: Maggie Blanc
Director: James Burrows
Teleplay-creators: Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd
Director of photography: Tony Yarlett
Proudction designer: Bernard Vyzga
Editor: Ron Volk
Set designer: Mark Johnson
Casting: Liz Marx
Chuck Darling: Kelsey Grammer
Kelly Carr: Patricia Heaton
Marsh McGinley: Fred Willard
Gary Crezyzewski: Ty Burrell
Ryan Church: Josh Gad
Montana Diaz Herrera: Ayda Field
Gracie Carr: Laura Marano