Leave it to Cosmo Kramer to make a noisy entrance. ”Seinfeld” star Michael Richards returns to NBC as wacky private investigator Vic Nardozza on ”The Michael Richards Show” (debuting Tuesday, 8 p.m.). But critics have been buzzing about the sitcom since June, when network execs responded to the show’s low test scores by asking Richards’ producers, Castle Rock, to scrap the pilot, recast the supporting players, and try again. ”The first pilot was good, but it was like a poor man’s film,” says Richards, 52. ”I think the changes will be much better in the long run.”
The original pilot’s edgy feature film approach (one camera, shot on location, no laugh track) was promptly shelved, in part because of the grueling 16 hour workdays needed to film in multiple locations (”It broke my back,” moans Richards). The new pilot adopted a more conventional sitcom format (four cameras, studio sets, a live audience) and shifted the focus from Richards alone to a seasoned ensemble cast including ”Knots Landing”’s William Devane as Richards’ media savvy boss, ”Saturday Night Live” alum Tim Meadows as a voyeuristic surveillance expert, and ”The Others”’ Bill Cobbs as the office’s grizzled old codger.
But even though the series has a new and improved pilot, don’t expect to watch it Tuesday night. NBC is instead showing the second episode, ”Mr. Irresistible,” in which Richards poses as a gigolo to test the virtue of a client’s fiancée. The network claims this episode better represents what the sitcom has to offer, adding that the pilot will possibly be aired on Oct. 31.
But not everyone is convinced. ”I think this show is completely doomed,” says media analyst Marc Berman, who believes it will be squashed by such heavy hitting competition as the WB’s ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” CBS’ ”JAG,” and ABC’s ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” ”You have to be wary of any series that retools before it airs, and I don’t think this show has a chance in hell of getting an audience.” Berman notes that NBC didn’t send out review tapes of the ”Mr. Irresistible” episode until Oct. 20, too late for many media outlets to file reviews.
NBC counters that the decision to bump ”Mr. Irresistible” to Oct. 24 is responsible for the tape delay, and that reviewers had already been sent copies of the pilot to critique. ”They really need to see the show before they can judge it,” an NBC network spokesman tells EW.com. Still, Berman fears the unfunny promos for the show are proof that the show is a turkey. ”It looks like Richards is just playing Kramer again,” he says. ”And without Jerry, Elaine, and George? Forget it.”
Richards for his part argues that his nutty gumshoe is more of a stretch than ”Seinfeld” fans might expect. ”Going undercover, each week I’m another character, sometimes even a character within a character,” says the actor. ”The format is full of possibilities, and I don’t think I’d be stepping into this project if I didn’t think we could create some fresh comedic life.”
Yet even costar Devane admits that Richards may be haunted by his well loved ”Seinfeld” character. After all, if Nardozza is too different from Kramer, ”Seinfeld” fans may tune out, but a character as eccentric as the beloved sidekick may not be leading man material. ”Michael is struggling with that right now,” says Devane. ”He can call himself Vic Nardozza as much as he wants, but ultimately to be successful he has to play it in the Kramer colors. When Kelsey Grammar went to his own show from ‘Cheers,’ he expanded on the Frasier colors, he didn’t deny them. And I think Michael has to embrace that.” Hey, maybe Jerry and Elaine are available for a Sweeps cameo or two.