Why The Paul Reiser Show Never Could Have Worked

By Seth Abramovitch

Apr 26, 2011

Making a network TV show is hard, often thankless work. It’s a constant struggle between maintaining one’s vision and satisfying a committee of executives whose jobs involve questioning and challenging that vision at every opportunity. But once in a very rare while, lightning strikes, and every creative element intersects and explodes in a blinding supernova known as a “hit.”

The Paul Reiser Show was definitely not a hit. The NBC comedy, which brought the former Mad About You star out of cold storage (he said he decided it was time to go back to work after his son asked what to put down on a school form under “father’s occupation”) was yanked from the network's schedule on Friday, one day after the second episode had aired. I had only watched the premiere, and that was plenty. The show was a mess, and beyond retooling—it was basically a hackneyed ripoff of Curb Your Enthusiasm, except scripted, toothless, and unfunny. It’s asking a lot of an audience to play along with a bored, rich Hollywood guy playing a version of himself. Larry David succeeds (for the most part) in doing this because Larry David is a comic genius, and with his Curb alter ego he’s crafted a character who would be as miserable driving around LA in his Prius as he would be slogging through the fields of Black Plague-ravaged medieval Europe in a donkey cart. The guy is just in a constant state of misery, and hilarious conflict lies around every corner and every innocuous social interaction.

Paul Reiser, meanwhile, trades in a different kind of comedy altogether. It’s the same genus—the Jewish-American point-of-view—but Reiser’s persona is far happier that David’s (or at least on the road to happiness). He wants people to get along. He wants things to run smoothly. He wants his son to be proud of him, and know what his dad does for a living. He basically wants you to like him. And that’s where the show’s set-up failed, because watching a guy search for self-fulfillment amid the trappings of obnoxious Hollywood wealth is not compelling. It’s the opposite of compelling—it’s off-putting, particularly when so many American families are living through their worst financial nightmares right now. (Did you see that 60 Minutes piece on Florida families who've been kicked out of their homes and are living with neighbors and in motel rooms? It’s heartbreaking!) Reiser’s show couldn’t have been more out of touch. And while I suppose the argument could be made that, with strong-enough writing, any set-up can be made funny, The Paul Reiser Show did not have that writing.

And so it tanked, breaking modest records, in fact, with its low ratings. (It was NBC’s lowest-rated, “in-season” sitcom premiere ever, whatever that means.) Reiser had recently hinted that things may have been a little underbaked, when he mentioned a truncated development schedule for the show, saying, “This was the shortest ramp-up in the history of television. Literally 20 days ago [NBC] said, ‘We’re putting you up,’ and we said, ‘Okay, great.’” But who cares, really? Is that our problem? No. We just show up on our couches with our pints of ice cream, and want to see something worthwhile. That’s the law of the TV jungle.

NBC execs clearly hadn’t anticipated they’d be pulling the plug so quickly when they scheduled Reiser to appear on last night’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But they did, and Reiser fulfilled the booking, using the stage to take some shots at the network that just humiliated him.

"NBC, to my knowledge, they don't traditionally make bad decisions,” he said. “Listen, when you're the last-place network, you don't want to jeopardize that.” Okay, Paul Reiser. I get it. You’re the new Leno. Or Conan. Or whatever. You’re NBC’s punching bag and now you’re giving a few right hooks back. Except, for once, NBC seemed to make the right call here. (Well, the right call would have been not to rush this show onto the schedule in the first place, but baby steps.) But you can’t blame the guy for being bitter. You’ll rue this one, NBC! This ratings disaster was your one shot at turning that ship around, I guess? What do I know. I’m no network scheduling maven.

So what lies ahead for Reiser? His son still needs something to put in the “father's occupation” field of those school forms! Will he just return to the oblivion from which he just came, or will he come back harder, faster, funnier than ever, Rocky montage-style? I know The Office is looking for a new boss. And there’s that Alien pre-boot. A Mad About You reunion? Whatever the case, don’t count him out just yet. If Hollywood loves anything more than a comeback, it’s second second chances.

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  • 27neil May 03, 2011

    Maybe now that that horrible show has been cancelled they'll bring back Perfect Couples.It had it's charms and certainly wasn't given enough time to find it's audience.

  • mkbjon Apr 28, 2011

    Hubby and I only made it halfway through the pilot before turning it off. Perfect Couples is a much better show, and I'm glad to see that some people agree with me.

  • bjoanz Apr 27, 2011

    Instantly thought "Larry David Lite" after getting through both episodes, and that's too bad... because i hate the Larry David-style kvetching-type sitcom, and realized I had pretty much seen enough the moment the locked the jailhouse doors on Jerry, Elaine, Kramer & George. Good riddance!

  • tjaman Apr 27, 2011

    Wow, I've somehow stumbled into the convention of People Who Wish Paul Reiser Would Be Kicked in the Balls and Shoved Out an Airlock. You guys carry on; I'll leave you to it.

  • Verjigorm76 Apr 27, 2011

    After watching the premiere it was pretty obvious that the show wouldn't work. The only 2 slightly funny scenes, where the dialogue with Larry David and the stupid answers of the quiz show candidates.
    Paul just seemed out of place and none of the other characters were interesting or funny.
    I was really looking forward to this show, cause I like Reiser but it's outcome was more than disappointing.

  • Bennito89 Apr 27, 2011

    I think it has been rightfully cancelled. Now please bring back Perfect Couples! It was a guilty pleasure of mine.

  • jawsthecabbie Apr 27, 2011

    Paul Reiser's greatest moment came when he was eaten alive by the xenomorph in the motion picture 'Aliens'.

  • staind47 Apr 27, 2011

    Everyone knew it was going to be awful and fail. Why the execs at NBC couldn't see that is beyond me.

  • teambff Apr 27, 2011

    it's a disgrace they took off a decent show like perfect couples for this crap series. was perfect couples the best show out there? no, but it was a good enough show to give it a few season and see where it went. i'm glad the paul reiser show failed as vengeance for what they did to perfect couples.

  • Jux_ta_pose Apr 27, 2011

    I was starting to like 'Perfect Couples' so its a shame it got pushed aside for the 'Paul Reiser show. I only watched one episode but even that was difficult. It really wasn't funny or likable. I think he should seriously think about hosting a game show because I think his time as an actor id over. Perhaps write a few more of those books.

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