Michael Jeter as Herman Stiles -- The actor plays a geeky assistant football coach/math teacher on CBS' ''Evening Shade''

By Alan Carter
Updated January 08, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Michael Jeter as Herman Stiles

Maybe he doesn’t wear his pocket protector anymore, but Herman Stiles, the thoroughly odd, geeky assistant football coach/math teacher played by Michael Jeter on CBS’ Evening Shade, is still so pathologically shy that he can’t ask a woman on a date and he continues to emit a nasal twang that is in itself the true revenge of the nerds. ”Yes, Herman’s a little off,” says Jeter, laughing. ”But I’m a little off. Actually, I’m gloriously off!”

In fact, it is this off-ness that makes Jeter gloriously on for his many admirers, among them producer David E. Kelley, who wrote a special guest role for the Emmy-winning actor in CBS’ Picket Fences, airing Jan. 8. To picture his character — a reclusive frog breeder — Jeter says, ”just let your imagination run wild.”

Which is what Jeter, 40, clearly has done in creating Stiles’ shtick — as well as two other memorable parts: the dying accountant in Broadway’s Grand Hotel (for which he nabbed a 1990 Tony) and the antic, suicidal, transvestite bum in the 1991 film The Fisher King (in which he stole scenes from Robin Williams).

Off camera, the Lawrenceburg, Tenn.-born son of a dentist and a homemaker occasionally tethers himself to the real world — and can get downright preachy about politics and human rights: ”What kind of asinine animals live in Colorado who could vote for that [antigay ordinance]?” Despite the fact that Shade‘s creator-producers, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, are in Bill Clinton’s kitchen cabinet, Jeter reports that the set is a politically balanced place. ”A mock election was held a few days before the election,” he says, ”and it was like Clinton, 15, 14 for Perot, and 13 for Bush.”

On weekends, Jeter has been filming a part in a comedy movie with the working title Bank Robber, starring Patrick Dempsey and Lisa Bonet, in which he portrays an opportunistic villain. ”I love playing people over the edge,” he says. ”I played a bored colonial housewife in this Off Broadway show [Cloud 9] once, and one day on the street, waiting for the light to change, this well-dressed man came up and said, ‘When you first walked out on stage I thought, ”Why would someone hire such an ugly woman?” But you grew on me.’ And that was one of my favorite compliments I’d ever gotten.”