What is it with TV shrinks: Must they always be droll, follicle-deprived white guys? Well, just this once we're willing to forgive. You see, Frasier Crane and Bob Hartley's lesser-known brother-in-scalp, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, makes for some pretty hysterical couch sessions.
The year-old animated Katz follows a put-upon, hemming-and-hawing analyst who throws out an occasional laugh line: ''It's tough for me to make ends meet it took me years for them just to acknowledge each other's existence.'' But most of the yuks come as Katz plays straight man to his slacker son, his bitchy receptionist, and a parade of therapy-seeking neurotics. Professional neurotics, no less. Katz's patients are real-life stand-up comics who weave their shtick into the show's loopy, improvised dialogue. In one episode, Dr. Katz asks Steven Wright if he's afraid of heights: ''I used to be then I realized there are lots of other directions. Why focus on one?'' In another he asks Don Gavin if his father had been affectionate: ''We actually communicated as a family mostly by rumor.''
The three-dimensional man behind the cartoon doctor is Bostonian Jonathan Katz, 48, a comic and writer (he coauthored David Mamet's 1987 thriller House of Games). ''We wanted to do Dr. Katz: Professional Dentist,'' he jokes, ''but you could never understand what the characters were saying.'' Katz ended up deciding that the shrink's couch was a close cousin to another comedic forum: the talk-show couch. And since nobody was offering him Jay Leno's spot, Katz teamed with computer specialist Tom Snyder (the brains behind the show's squiggly animation) and launched the show, which kicks off its second season Nov. 26. And how are Katz's empathy skills? Says diplomatic comic Wendy Liebman, ''Well, he's much less expensive than my real therapist.'' And he does the job in only half an hour.