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Lights, Camera, "Action News"

Kelsey Grammer. Patricia Heaton.

Two actors on two of the biggest sitcoms from the last ten years. Push them together and you could have a clash of temperaments. Or the expert sparks that come from a perfect pairing of disparate personalities.

FOX's new comedy series, Action News, fortunately has the latter effect, pairing the erudite Grammer with the down-to-earth Heaton as two local newscasters with some unresolved history who are forced, once again, to work together delivering some, er, gripping local stories.

I had the opportunity to attend the audience run-through on Action News' pilot yesterday on the FOX lot (though the fate of said pilot is a foregone conclusion, as the comedy has already been ordered to series for the fall) and am happy to report that the series has more than met my expectations, based on the phenomenal script by series creators Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me) and Christopher Lloyd (Frasier) and the always witty direction by legendary comedy director James Burrows.

Grammer is magnetic as fallen anchorman Chuck Tatham, in the role of a womanizing blowhard light years away from Frasier Crane. He's egotistical in an entirely different sort of way, a preening alpha male who doesn't quite realize that, in returning to the Buffalo news station where he got his start, he's admitted that he's a has-been. Heaton plays his co-anchor Kelly, who had grown used to having the spotlight since Chuck left for greener pastures. It was awfully cold there in his shadow, after all.

When Chuck returns to Buffalo after a widely disseminated on-air meltdown (involving unleashing a torrential storm of obscenities onto a moronic weatherwoman, which pops up on YouTube), the two are forced to work together again, but naturally the past has an uncanny way of catching up to everyone.

Rounding out the stellar cast is Battlestar Galactica's Paul Campbell (yes, that Paul Campbell, also of Nobody's Watching) as in-way-over-his-head news director Nate, Ty Burrell (Friends with Money) as long-suffering reporter Roger (passed over once again for the anchor slot), the incandescent Fred Willard (take your pick of any Christopher Guest film) as sports anchor Marsh McGinley, Aimee Garcia (George Lopez) as sultry Latina weather anchor Montana Stevens, and Laura Marano (The Sarah Silverman Program) as Kelly's daughter Gracie. [UPDATE: Campbell and Garcia have since been replaced by Josh Gad and Ayda Field.]

Workplace comedies may be a dime a dozen this pilot season, but Action News definitely stands out from the pack, presenting a smartly funny comedy with some emotional heft. Grammer and Heaton are perfectly balanced as a leading pair, with the right amount of chemistry and hostility (along with some battle scars) to make their relationship believable. Action News doesn't shy away from its prickly personalities, instead it takes those flaws and makes them strangely endearing, whether it might be Chuck's refusal to learn anyone's name, Nate's near-panic, Roger's tendency to drop things (in an ongoing gag, his klutziness is blamed on frostbite from reporting outside one too many courthouses in the winter), Montana's theory that she can't feel safe in the workplace unless the alpha male is trying to sleep with her.

Home might be the one place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in, but Action News wisely asks its audience what the price that homecoming might have. Fortunately, the answer to that question is a hysterical and entertaining comedy that I already plan to add to my TiVo Season Pass.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Jericho (CBS); Friday Night Lights (NBC); America's Next Top Model (CW); George Lopez/George Lopez (ABC); 'Til Death (FOX)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); Crossing Jordan (ABC); Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll (CW); According to Jim/In Case of Emergency (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Medium (NBC); Lost (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: America's Next Top Model.

On tonight's episode ("The Girl Who Impresses Pedro"), the girls are given a quick crash course in acting by Efren Ramirez (yes, THAT Pedro) and Tia Mowry before appearing with past ANTM contestants in a photo shoot recalling scandalous moments of the past.

10 pm: Lost.

I can't tell you how happy I am that Lost is back on the air again. On tonight's episode ("One of Us"), it's reunion time as Jack finally makes it back to the beach, but his fellow castaways are less than pleased when they see that Juliet is with him, we finally get some answers about Juliet's past (and get to see that submarine), while Claire is suddenly stricken with a mysterious illness. Uh-oh.


Bill said…
I was already kinda jazzed for this one, but now I'm really excited. I knew about the cast and writing team, but James Burrows too? I admit to skipping past your summary of the plot, cause I'm spoiler paranoid, but with that kind of talent and a positive review here, I'm on board.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the great report. As a huge FRASIER fan, I'm looking forward to the return of Kelsey Grammer on TV this coming fall.

That being said, the show's on FOX, so I don't really expect it to last any longer than it's 13 episode commitement.

It will air, be put on hiatus for three months due to baseball and return when IDOL returns only to realize that everybody's forgotten about the show.
I have really high hopes for this show. Unlike "thetvaddict" I can see this one going the distance. It has an extremely talented and likable cast, good writing, and a concept that should appeal to a wide audience. Oh, and James Burrows.

I haven't been a fan of traditional multi-cam comedies for awhile (give me "The Office" or "30 Rock" any day!) but "Action News" and the wonderful "Old Christine" prove that multi-cams can still be funny and creative.
Anonymous said…
In its favor, for me: Great cast, decently good script (one of the better comedy pilots, though I didn't LOVE it), writing pedigree.

Against it: Patricia Heaton.

For me...the nay is overwhelming.

Laura Marano...Vanessa's sister.
Anonymous said…
just read that both paul campbell and aimee garcia have been replaced by josh gad and ayda field. both will be guests in the pilot. and the new title is back to you.
despite these changes, it still sounds extremely encouraging.
Vance said…
Man, and Ty Burrell TOO???
I can't WAIT for this show. Too bad it's on Fox, which has pissed me off a few too many times of late...
Anonymous said…
'danielle' - don't get me wrong. I am definitely cheering for Grammer et al to succeed. I just am not confident in FOX's scheduling prowess.
Anonymous said…
DISAPPOINTING PILOT! Not funny at all! What show did you watch? I was also there during the run through and thought the show was full of cliches and regurgitated one-lines.

Only good thing going for it was Patricia Heaton, who was amazing, and of course the legendary Fred Willard. Grammer was emotionless, robotic and playing the SAME character he always does.

I had high hopes for the show, maybe the writers will get inspired and give us more original material. BTW, hope they take out the "latina" joke which will upset A LOT of people.

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