Before TV Land started making original sitcoms, former prime-time stars simply disappeared into retirement, played a grandparent on a new series or made occasional guest appearances. But now these actors can continue to collect a paycheck in throwback cable sitcoms that feel as relevant as an episode of "The Single Guy" or "Caroline in the City."
Yes, TV Land is stuck in a time warp, producing new programs that have the stars and rhythms of '90s comedies. And that's probably fine for some viewers who find comfort in the familiar. But for anyone wanting something fresh, shows like TV Land's latest, "Kirstie," won't offer much entertainment value. The jokes, while occasionally funny, almost all feel reheated.
Created by Marco Pennette, co-creator of "Caroline in the City," "Kirstie" stars Kirstie Alley ("Veronica's Closet") as Madison Banks, a Broadway diva who is found by Arlo (Eric Petersen), the now-grown, ambitionless son she put up for adoption 26 years earlier. She's, of course, a terrible mother, rushing him out of her apartment and handing him a book as he goes, saying, "And if you have any more questions for me, here's my autobiography."
Her staff shows more concern, including blunt assistant Thelma (Rhea Perlman, Ms. Alley's "Cheers" co-star) and driver Frank (Michael Richards, moving with the same spasmodic jerks and stumbles as when he played Kramer on "Seinfeld").
Anyone who ever watched a '90s sitcom will be able to predict the scenes before they happen. When Madison says her baby had a memorable birth mark, you just know the next scene will feature Arlo bent over while the rest of the cast stares at his rear end.
By the end of the pilot -- tonight at 10, followed by a second episode at 10:30 guest starring Kristin Chenoweth -- Madison has a change of heart and embraces Arlo in the expected snobby fashion of a wealthy celebrity.
"I'm gonna make you my project, and not like that school in Africa," she says. "I'm gonna finish you."
Some viewers may wonder why TV Land bothers making new shows that are essentially the same old shows because the network could air reruns of actual old shows for less money. The reality is, advertisers pay a premium for new, original, scripted content, and TV Land wants a piece of that advertising pie.
Never forget that TV is show business -- emphasis always on business -- but at least some programs have a degree of originality, some smarts and a point of view. "Kirstie" exists solely for commercial reasons; there's little that's creative about it.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.