Thursday

Fall TV Preview

Good Morning, Miami

NBC, 9:30-10 PM DEBUTS SEPTEMBER 26

We smell a conspiracy. NBC's new sitcom follows a thirtysomething morning-show producer named Jake Silver (Conrad Bloom's Mark Feuerstein) who is called a wunderkind and works in Miami. Meanwhile, NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker is a thirtysomething former morning-show producer who's been called a wunderkind and is from Miami. Jake Silver, Jeff Zucker -- even their names sound alike. So it's not too surprising that Zucker gave Good Morning, Miami the green light -- and the plum post-Will & Grace slot -- is it?

''While Jeff Zucker is the center of our universe,'' says cocreator Max Mutchnick, ''he is not the inspiration for the show.'' Rather, Mutchnick and partner David Kohan say the impetus was their brief stint as producers on Mike & Maty, a B-grade mid-'90s Regis & Kathie Lee. ''We were at the lowest point in our careers,'' Mutchnick says. ''We couldn't help but think of a parody.''

Seven years later, after creating the Emmy-winning hit Will & Grace, Kohan and Mutchnick were asked to whip up another Must See product. ''We looked at each other and said, 'What about Mike & Maty?''' Mutchnick recalls. ''We rushed Jeff Zucker into our office, and you can imagine, it's something that felt very familiar to him.'' Adds Zucker: ''Certainly I can relate to it on a few levels. But the level I want to relate to it most is having it be successful.''

There is one major difference between art and reality: While Zucker spearheaded the top-rated Today show, Good Morning, Miami is the least-watched morning show in America, thanks to a neurotic station director (Jere Burns), feuding cohosts (The Mask of Zorro's Matt Letscher and newcomer Tessie Santiago), and a trash-talking nun (Brooke Dillman) doing the weather. So why does Silver take the job? Not just to be closer to his grandmother (Suzanne Pleshette); the real draw is Dylan, the show's adorable hairstylist -- but she's already dating the host. ''We hinged the entire series on a guy who makes a decision based on the fact that he's fallen for this woman,'' says Kohan, who worried they'd never find the perfect Dylan. ''We wrote in the pilot [script] in parentheses, 'Good luck casting!'''

About the same time, Ashley Williams, fresh from an understudy stint Off Broadway in The Shape of Things, had headed to L.A. to crash with her big sister, actress Kimberly Williams (According to Jim). ''I bought a priceline.com ticket and stayed in her basement,'' remembers Ashley, 23, who had to raid her sister's wardrobe for her audition. ''Kimberly opened up her closet and goes, 'I'm feeling denim.'''

After filming the pilot, though, the producers weren't feeling the relationship between Williams and Burke Moses, the theater vet originally cast as Miami's smarmy cohost, so they replaced Moses with the younger Letscher. As Williams puts it, ''Instead of going 'What's she thinking?' they're going to go, 'What's going to happen?'''

Whatever happens, we'd wager Zucker will be keeping an eye on Miami. (''I'll be watching Mark very closely,'' he jokes.) Feuerstein welcomes the attention: ''Just for fun, I'm going to add facial tics and speech impediments to mock my boss. Kidding!''

Originally posted Sep 13, 2002 Published in issue #671-672 Sep 13, 2002 Order article reprints