ABC, 9-9:30 p.m.
Debuts September 25
Lest anyone accuse Jason Alexander of recycling, he’ll happily allow that, yes, Bob Patterson is partly George Costanza — but an older, richer, slightly wiser George. ”Bob is a success,” he says of the titular motivational guru, ”but he’s not the BIGGEST success, and his ambition and ability are not in accord.”
That sounds more like it. Mindful of the comic pleasure milked from Costanza’s angst, Alexander, 41, and fellow Patterson exec producer Peter Tilden plan to keep Bob miserable at work and at home. At the office, he’ll be subject to the dotty ministrations of his right-hand man, Landau, played by stand-up Robert Klein. (The pairing was inspired by Garry Shandling and Rip Torn’s barbed repartee in The Larry Sanders Show. And, yes, the character was originally conceived for Martin Landau, but it was later decided the role required a younger actor.) And in a clear one-upping of the wheelchair-bound character Seinfeld once sent brakeless down a hill, Bob’s klutzy secretary (Chandra Wilson) provides tons of politically incorrect comic potential: By making her disabled and black and a woman, Alexander says, ”you load up the plate to create an employee that you cannot, under any circumstances, fire.”
As for Bob’s personal demons, first on the list is his ex-wife (Jennifer Aspen), who returns to live with him, but is sticking to a new vow of celibacy. ”[She] has his heartstrings in some profound ways,” says Alexander. ”He just can’t get rid of her. It’s a big ‘buy’ of the situation,” he concedes. ”I don’t even think we can explain it. We just have to go ‘That’s the way it is’ and hope everybody adores her as much as we do.”
He’s had a trickier time handling the negative press Patterson got after the defection of exec producer Tim Doyle. For many, it was all too reminiscent of the turmoil that preceded last year’s execrable The Michael Richards Show, the first solo project from one of Seinfeld’s lead quartet. ”I don’t think [Doyle] found funny what we found funny,” Alexander says. ”Peter is a Philadelphia Jew, I’m a New Jersey Jew, [exec producer] Ira Steven Behr’s a New York Jew — those are the rhythms we write in. I don’t know where Tim is from, but I can tell you that he’s not a Jew. It’s not that only a Jew can write our show, but I don’t think he found funny what we found funny.” (Doyle did not comment.)
In any case, Alexander and Co. will have to keep people from all walks of life chuckling if Patterson is to hold its own against a certain other self-help professional over on NBC. ”I have no illusions about knocking Frasier off the air,” says Alexander. But, citing Seinfeld history, he suggests that the scheduling gambit just might work: ”Frasier finds itself going into the [ninth] season, where we went, ‘What do we want to do here? I mean, we’re just doing more of the same stuff.’ ” More important, he recalls, Seinfeld ”started to pick up heat when they put us on against [ratings giant] Home Improvement.” Sounds like he’s got that motivational stuff down pat.