By Mandi Bierly
Updated September 20, 2007 at 09:04 PM EDT

Is it just me, or does Kelsey Grammer’s presence on the small screen feel so large that you can’t help but be glad that he’s back on TV? It’s like the man can physically force any line of dialogue into submission — either it will be genuinely funny, or, at the very least, not totally groan-worthy. (Plus, he apparently appreciates the comic stylings of costar Fred Willard, which is something I look for in a person.)
Here’s the scoop on Back to You, which premiered last night on Fox. Grammer (pictured, far left) is Chuck Darling, a TV anchor who finds himself returning to the Pittsburgh station from which he ascended 10 years earlier. An (oops!) on-air tirade in L.A. just got him some serious play on YouTube and a pink slip. His co-anchor Kelly Carr (Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Patricia Heaton, center) doesn’t exactly welcome him home: He’s pompous, self-absorbed, and, we find out at episode’s end, fertile. He fathered her 10-year-old daughter on his last night in town, which he never knew because he didn’t return her calls.

Like EW’s Ken Tucker, I worry that this hook could potentially muck up my ability to pretend that this sitcom is Murphy Brown. Grammer is, after all, at his best when he’s sniping at Heaton or one of his lesser colleagues — such as the young news director Miles Ryan. Luckily, creators Christopher Lloyd (Frasier) and Steve Levitan (Just ShootMe!) seem to get that: the daughter doesn’t appear in episode 2, and when Kelly tries to end an argument about whether Chuck is ready for parenthood, we get this saucy exchange:

Chuck: We have to stop just because you’re done?
Kelly: Now you know what it feels like.

Sitcom pilots are usually a bit painful because of all the exposition that has to occur. Hearing someone say, “Remember when we…” is just not as funny as watching them do it (unless the writing is phenomenal). Once this show gets going — and puts the newsroom characters in fresh situations, as opposed to having field reporter Gary Crezyzewski get Tasered (next week) — it should live up to Grammer. And Heaton (anyone watching this show for her?). Even Willard (right), who’s perfectly cast as sexist, spacey sports reporter Marsh McGinley.

Who’s tuning in next week, and who just wants to moan about missing Murphy Brown and NewsRadio? And, of course, make sure to check the magazine for our critic’s official take on the show.

addCredit(“Carin Baer”)