Wednesday, January 27, 1999

'Seinfeld' lawyer argues case

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Maybe Jackie Chiles isn't the slick attorney we think he is.

        Chiles, the Johnnie Cochran parody from Seinfeld, can't get much work these days because of a legal loophole, claims Phil Morris, the actor who plays the role.

        Jerry Seinfeld and Castle Rock Entertainment, which own rights to the character, have blocked most of Mr. Morris' requests to appear as the flamboyant, fast-talking lawyer. The men who created the show about nothing won't let Jackie Chiles do anything.

        “I run them all by Jerry. I just call him up directly,” says Mr. Morris, who plays Chief Purser Will Sanders on UPN's Love Boat: The Next Wave (9 p.m. Friday, Channel 25).

        Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of Jackie Chiles. University of Cincinnati Law School students considered him for a graduation speaker in May, though they never made an offer.

        “It would be very difficult for me to make a speech as Jackie Chiles without Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (Seinfeld co-creator) writing it, or approving it,” he says.

        Mr. Seinfeld, who canceled his top-rated NBC sitcom last May, only recently relented. Just once.

        So Jackie Chiles will come to the defense of the new Honda Odyssey during Super Bowl XXXIII (6 p.m. Sunday, Channels 19, 45). The appearance, and script, had to be approved by Mr. Seinfeld and Mr. David, he says.

        “When I tell Jerry what they want (Jackie for),” Mr. Morris says, “he usually says, "I don't really see the character going in that direction.'”

        Going in what direction? Jackie Chiles doesn't have a show. It was canceled eight months ago! Hello?

        “The more the character is seen out there, the more it becomes mainstream,” explains Matt Gromada, Castle Rock Entertainment publicist. Too much exposure could “hurt the value” of Seinfeld “culturally and maybe monetarily,” he says.

So mean-spirited
        Mr. Morris, son of Mission: Impossible star Greg Morris, made six memorable appearances on Seinfeld in the final three seasons (1995-98).

        Jackie Chiles first showed up representing Kramer (Michael Richards), suing Java World for burns from a spilled caffe-latte, on Oct. 5, 1995. Seinfeld's timing was perfect, two days after a jury found O.J. Simpson innocent of murdering his wife and her friend. Mr. Cochran was Mr. Simpson's defense attorney.

        Three months later, he reprised the role, representing Kramer and Jerry. They were suing a woman for wearing a bra in public, a distraction that caused them to wreck their car. Parodying Mr. Cochran, Jackie told the judge: “If the bra fits, you must acquit!”

        Jackie Chiles also defended Kramer, Jerry and Elaine in the final episode last May.

        “A lot of people didn't like Johnny Cochran, so they enjoy seeing him parodied,” he says.

        “Jackie Chiles is that kind of a character that people have a visceral response to. Maybe it's his use of words. Maybe it's because he's so mean-spirited.”

Spin-off talks
        Mr. Morris, who grew up in Hollywood, doesn't worry about Mr. Cochran suing for defamation of character.

        “He's actually very thrilled it's me. He's known me since I was almost like 11 years old, so it's kind of an honor for him to see me do that character, as opposed to maybe somebody else who wouldn't be as kind to him,” the actor says.

        And there's a chance that Jackie Chiles may eventually win the freedom to do his own TV show. Mr. Morris was talking to TV executives early this month about a potential series.

        “A year ago, there was a lot of talk of spinning that character off for its own show,” he says. “It still might happen.”

        Not that there's anything wrong with that. Right, Jerry?

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.