Liane Bonin
May 22, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

This season, ”Titus” has yukked it up about alcoholism, schizophrenia, infidelity, and attempted murder, but Monday’s season finale (Fox, 8:30 p.m.) may be the edgiest yet. ”The last three episodes of the year are the ones that scared Fox,” the show’s star and creator Christopher Titus tells EW Online. ”And the finale is very, very extreme. Let’s just say it’s called ‘The Fellatio Incident.”’

In the episode, Ken Titus (Stacy Keach) is pulled over for running a red light after he is distracted by the amorous attentions of a female friend. To duck a ticket, he pretends to suffer a heart attack, and blames his son Chris for causing it. ”This show, which is based on two true stories that happened to my dad, has a really chilling ending. I find a great way to get even with my dad, and one of my fortes is making evil funny.”

If truly evil behavior doesn’t sound like the usual sitcom formula, that’s exactly what Fox TV execs thought after ”Titus” started production. ”They didn’t have high hopes for it,” says the former stand-up comedian, whose one man show, ”Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding” led to a development deal at the network. ”[Fox TV Entertainment Group Chairman] Sandy Grushow kept coming by during the pilot, saying, ‘Great rehearsal, crappy show.’ I don’t know if he was trying to push me to improve, because I am one of those give me a mountain and I’ll climb it kind of guys, but I’d say ‘Screw you, it’s going to get better.’ And it did.” Still, the show didn’t score well when shown to test audiences. ”I would tell Fox, ‘I don’t care what testing says, I’ve had 16 years to try out this material in front of 500 people a night, and I know how far audiences will go, I know how smart they are, and they’re a lot smarter than you think,”’ he says.

When that didn’t win over the studio brass, Titus and series cocreators Jack Kenny and Michael Lessac (formerly producers on ”Caroline in the City”) found a riskier way to push through unorthodox ideas — like shooting the show in one take to build comedic momentum with the in-studio audience. ”I told them a couple of times, ‘I don’t need this show, I’m walking,’ and Jack and Michael backed me up. Fox thought we were crazy and said, ‘Okay, just do whatever you want,’ thinking, ‘We’ll just kill the show when it’s done.”’ (Fox executives were not available for comment by press time.) Though studio brass did kill one proposed episode, in which Titus fires his friend Tommy and his brother Dave from his car shop, they eventually warmed up to the show, giving it a heavy advertising push and scheduling it after the hit ”That ’70s Show.”

Now that his series is a bona fide hit — No. 1 in its time slot among adults 18-49 — Titus intends to push the envelope even further in season 2. ”Next year we’ll be dealing with Stepmom No. 6, and in the second half of the season we’ll have a story arc about how my mother killed her abusive husband. I guarantee it will be funny, really. Anything’s funny as long as the setup is right.” Has he seen ”Daddio”?

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