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The Time NBC Was Actually Right

When I think of how consummately inept and meddling network television executives can be, I think of how NBC treated The John Larroquette Show which premiered in 1993. The early offering was a brilliant show of which the actor of the eponymous show plays John Hemingway, a recovering alcoholic who is sent to manage a run-down, inefficient, urban bus station in St. Louis. The whip-smart scripting that bravely addresses uncomfortable issues dealing with class, race and other stereotypes. An iconic sequence was during the pilot when Larroquette's character Hemingway and Dexter the black proprietor of the bus stop cafe, were being held up at gunpoint in Hemingway's office. Dexter tells the black stick-up man, pointing to Hemingway, "Shoot him, he's white!" Hemingway responds, pointing to Dexter "Shoot him, you'll do less time!" The comedy is balanced by the pathos of the main character desperately trying to stay on the wagon while dealing with the type of problems that would push the best of us to the bottle.

But, nope, Cheers had just been cancelled and the suits at GE wanted to recreate that magic, so they forced the writers to tone down the cynicism and lighten the mood. In later seasons, the show was mostly based in the main character's apartment and might have been known as John Hemingway's Place. So the show eventually made an unmourned demise two years later, mission accomplished.

The year The John Larroquette Show premiered was the same year that Frasier also premiered, and one of the creators, Peter Casey, was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on how it happened while guest-blogging on Ken Levine's page. That time, the creators wanted to do a show with Kelsey Grammar that would play him as a highbrow, multi-millionaire publisher paralyzed from the waist down who had a "sassy" Latina for a caretaker who will show the crusty old bird how to be more human. Yes, I know, ugh. Fortunately (this time) the Jack Donaghys intervened and insisted that the Frasier character remain intact so that they will retain the following that watched Cheers. Being the creative geniuses that they are, David Angell, David Lee and Casey worked around that limitation and eventually put on a hit show that was in their own image. I recommend reading the whole three part series, it's really illuminating.


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