Sunday, October 22, 2000

New fall TV

Richards wants to leave Kramer out of this show

        He's not Kramer. Let's get that straight now, OK?

        He looks like Kramer, but three-time Emmy-winner Michael Richards is the polar opposite of the bumbling goofball he played on Seinfeld.

        Mr. Richards wants everyone to understand that he's a serious artist, a student of the great physical comedians — Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy — as he talks about his new TV character, detective Vic Nardozza, on NBC's Michael Richards Show (8 p.m. Tuesday, Channels 5, 22).

[photo] Michael Richards as detective Vic Nardozza in the Michael Richards Show
(NBC photo)
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        “I'm just creating again. It's another canvas. Like a painter doesn't hope the canvas will be like the last canvas he painted, he goes on and creates another canvas. It's why I'm on this planet,” says Mr. Richards, 52.

        “I think an artist is known for more than one masterpiece. Peter Sellers didn't stop with Inspector Clouseau. He went on to make more than one wonderful film. His last film, Being There, was indeed a masterpiece.

        “It would be like telling Ben Kingsley: "You've always got to be that Gandhi in every film you do.' ”

        So, no, he's not Kramer in his first sitcom since Seinfeld signed off 2 1/2 years ago. But he expects the comparisons.

        Cosmo Kramer, the wackiest neighbor in TV history, “is part of the root of the plant. It's what gives me the stature I have now as a comedic artist,” says Mr. Richards, who was “never approached to do a (Seinfeld) spinoff” as Kramer “because everybody knew I wouldn't do a spinoff.”

        Nardozza, a Los Angeles private eye, “will be different, and we'll see how the audience responds,” he says.

        So far, we know how NBC executives have responded, and it wasn't good. NBC trashed the original pilot shown to station managers in May.

        Then NBC ordered a new show, with new co-stars: William Devane (Knots Landing, Space Cowboys), Bill Cobbs (The Others, The Bodyguard), Tim Meadows (Saturday Night Live) and Amy Farrington.

        But the second pilot was so bad that it will air as the second episode Oct. 31. The third episode shot will be broadcast as the premiere Tuesday.

        Mr. Richards, who started in TV on ABC's old Fridays late-night sketch show (1980-82), describes Nardozza as a master of disguise.

        “He does not like to be that recognized by the people he's getting information on, so there are disguises and different characters I'll be playing,” he says.

        “There are a lot of methodologies that Vic Nardozza employs — highly unconventional, certainly deeply eccentric,” he says. “I love the eccentric.”

        I've screened the second pilot, and wasn't impressed. Disguise expert Vic Nardozza looked a lot like Kramer bungling his way through interrogating witnesses, impersonating a doctor, teaching a golf lesson and driving an ice cream truck.

        Mr. Meadows, one of the most versatile performers in SNL history, was given the embarrassing role of a pervert fighting his Peeping Tom fetish. The two old pros, Mr. Devane and Mr. Cobb, virtually had nothing to do.

        Another big change made since last summer was abandoning the single-camera format without a studio audience (like Malcolm in the Middle and Sports Night) in favor of the traditional four-camera studio-audience sitcom.

        Mr. Richards explained that the movie-like single-camera production required exhausting 15-hour days on location around Hollywood.

        “We got an interesting look, but it broke me. I can't go week to week in a single-camera show. We had no time to rehearse the material,” says the comedian, who also is an executive producer on the show with former Seinfeld writers who created the “Soup Nazi” and “Muffin Tops” episodes.

        Long days prevented him from perfecting his pratfalls. “I wasn't able to put in the time I need to develop physical comedy to its max the way I wanted to,” he says.

        As Mr. Richards prepares to make a new entrance on TV, he begs fans to be patient.

        “I'd just like to say: Just stick with us,” he says. “We're working hard here, and I think that you'll see something quite special this fall.

        “Let me breathe as an artist, and give me as much support as you can in this endeavor, because it will be a work in progress.”

        He may stumble on NBC. But he's not Kramer. OK?
       John Kiesewetter is TV/radio critic for the Enquirer. Write to him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330; E-mail:


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