Getting bumped by ''Bernie Mac'' made Chris Titus angry, till he thought about it
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Titus, Christopher Titus
Credit: Titus: Carin Baer/FOX
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The dysfunctional family on ”Titus” may be screwed up for a brand new reason this year — time slot trauma. First the series lost its cushy spot following ”That ’70s Show” when it moved to Wednesdays at 9 p.m, becoming a lead-in to the newbie series ”The Bernie Mac Show.” But after critics started buzzing over ”Bernie Mac” (EW gave it an A-), ”Titus” found itself bumped again, swapping slots with the ersatz dad sitcom to land at 9:30 p.m. Not surprisingly, the mind behind ”Titus” felt a little like the Rodney Dangerfield of prime time after the flipflop was announced. ”The truth is, I was so angry at first,” says show creator Chris Titus. ”After two years of holding an audience with no promotion, I thought we had earned that slot, and then they took it away. I thought Fox was trying to kill us.”

Though the move isn’t likely to be a fatal one for the series, Titus’ reaction is understandable. ”When Fox moved the time slot, they showed a little less faith in the show than one would expect,” explains media analyst Paul Schulman of Advanswers PHD. Though ”Titus” ranked a middling 67th in the Nielsens last year, the show averaged only a million fewer viewers per week than its ”hit” lead-in, ”That ’70s Show,” which came in at 57th.

But Titus, who was peeved enough to demand a meeting with Fox president Sandy Grushow after the announcement, has since decided that Fox’s decision may be savvier than it initially appeared. ”Looking at the 9 p.m. lineup, I’ve realized Fox is protecting us,” says Titus, noting that the NBC powerhouse ”The West Wing,” CBS’ ”The Amazing Race” and ABC’s ”The Drew Carey Show” are competing with ”Bernie Mac” for an audience. ”Sandy Grushow told me he’s made an investment in us, and he may have been lying to me, but I bought it.” Grushow’s explanation may have substance beyond the spin. ”’Titus’ is a comfortable little show, but it isn’t strong enough to anchor an hour,” says Marc Berman, Mediaweek TV analyst. ”And either way, it works well with ‘Bernie Mac,’ which has a similar sensibility.”

Though ”Titus” may have to fight for ratings this year, it won’t be softening its outrageous subject matter to lure in skittish viewers. Based on the real life of stand-up comic Titus, the series’ third season will deal with his Alzheimer’s disease-addled grandmother (Phyllis Diller), the murder trial and mental breakdown of his mother (Connie Stevens), and the travails of a rebellious teenage niece (Rachel Rock) who was molested at age 5. Even the show’s feel-not-so-good Christmas special will feature Titus’ dad (Stacey Keach) and his drinking buddy Bob (David Carradine) getting wasted on Christmas spirits. ”I always say everything’s funny as long as the P-side is right, meaning the punchline,” says Titus. ”My niece being molested isn’t funny. But what happens when the rest of the family finds out about it years later is kind of funny. Our show always starts with a nightmare, then finds the humor in what happens around it.”

If envelope-pushing humor doesn’t convince viewers to turn off ”The West Wing,” the cast isn’t above bribery. ”I’ve got a Chevy half-ton pickup low-rider hot rod with a Corvette engine, and I’ll give the f—er away to the audience,” says star Zack Ward. Unfortunately, a Fox network spokesperson said that there are no plans to take up Ward on his offer. Even so, Titus is determined to face his time slot challenge by churning out the best gut wrenching humor he can muster. ”The thing is, I can’t change the direction of the river,” he sighs. ”I can only fix the freakin’ boat.”

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