In one of the more unlikely product endorsements of recent years, a group of major advertisers is touting provocative comedian Chris Rock as the next poster child for "family-friendly" television.
Everybody Hates Chris, a new comedy that Rock created, produced, and narrates about his childhood, was showcased this week at a TV industry symposium presented by a Madison Avenue group called the Family Friendly Programing Forum.
It singled out Chris, which debuts Thursday on UPN, as a perfect example of what it says advertisers and viewers want more of in prime time--shows that appeal to both kids and their parents, without seeming sanitized or preachy.
The forum, founded in 1998, reviews several dozen TV scripts submitted by the major networks each year and picks those it deems worthy of support. This year it underwrote the development costs of 16 scripts, four of which, including Chris, made it into series production.
Forum cochair Dawn Jacobs, advertising vice president for consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson, admitted she was initially skeptical of a show involving Rock, a comedian known for his often-edgy and decidedly adult humor in such HBO specials as Bring the Pain and Bigger and Blacker.
"In the first two seconds, you see the title of the script and you see, 'Inspired by the life of Chris Rock,' and you wonder what's that about," Jacobs said. "But past that it was just a terrific script, a great pilot [episode], and it's going to be a great series."
Advertisers are not alone in their praise of Rock's work. TV critics, too, have given the show enthusiastic reviews.
The Hollywood Reporter called Chris a "fresh and appealing comedy." TV Guide named it as one of the few new shows with that could rescue the faltering TV comedy genre.
Chris also is generating the heaviest volume of positive Internet "buzz," according to a recent survey by ad-buying agency Initiative Media that measures advance awareness of new shows by monitoring online chat rooms and discussion boards.
The show features Rock voice-overs narrating stories based on his youth in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where as the eldest of three children he was the lone black kid attending an all-white school two bus rides from his home.
Young actor Tyler James Williams stars as the 13-year-old Chris, who endures the slings and arrows of school bullies, a romantic crush, and a no-nonsense mother with "a hundred recipes for whoopin' ass."
The stories are all infused with a wry nostalgia and Rock's own offbeat commentary, as when he recalls hearing gunfire erupt from the junior high school across the street from his home as he boarded a bus for the trip to a cross-town school.
"Like rock 'n' roll, school shootings were also invented by blacks and stolen by the white man," he says.
The show airs on Viacom Inc.'s UPN, the smallest of the six major broadcasters with a weeknight-only lineup.