Building a Comedy One Pratfall at a Time

Media Reviews for Media People: CBS's 'Worst Week'

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With the fall TV season set to get under way, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may prove to be the best showcases for their ads and products. This week, the focus is on CBS's "Worst Week," an attempt by the Tiffany Network to launch another popular sitcom.
'Worst Week'
'Worst Week' Credit: CBS

"Worst Week"

Where/When You'll See It: CBS, Mondays at 9:30 p.m.

What You'll See: Have you ever heard the one about the farmer's daughter? If you'll work with me here, you'll see how CBS's "Worst Week" is a modern extension of that old joke, which is a little too saucy to print in full here.

Suffice it to say that the old tale centers on a bunch of goofball guys who find themselves with a broken-down car in front of a rural farm. The farmer who owns the place offers them shelter for the evening, but on condition that they leave his pretty daughter alone. That's not the central premise of "Worst Week, to be certain, but it's that central tension between a young guy who is romantically inclined and a cranky parent that serves as the lever to pump this show forward.

Entertainment-magazine editor Sam Briggs (played by Kyle Bornheimer) wants to do the right thing. His girlfriend of several years, Melanie Clayton (Erinn Hayes), is pregnant, and the two want to get married. But they must face the problem of her conservative parents, particularly her father, Dick (played with just the right amount of arch skepticism by Kurtwood Smith, whom many will remember for playing another tough dad in "That 70's Show"). Every time Sam tries to win his would-be in-laws over, he does something that has exactly the opposite effect -- often with hilarious results.

You'll see Sam fend off the advances of a co-worker, only to have her vomit in his lap, which results in him having to show up at his in-laws' doorstep in a mint-green plastic thingamajig. "Worst Week" is filled with just this kind of cringe-inducing setback. It's funny, but in a way it's also sick -- a perfect sitcom complement to a TV world filled with voyeuristic couch potatoes who have increasingly grown accustomed to seeing pratfalls, double takes and embarrassing admissions on everything ranging from "Wipeout" to "America's Funniest Home Videos" to "Moment of Truth."

When CBS screened "Worst Week" for advertisers at its upfront presentation last May, the audience howled. This was funny stuff -- scene after scene of poor Sam messing up, flailing about and having to explain himself to Melanie's eye-rolling parents. One wonders if "Worst Week" can keep up the frenetic pace while sustaining character and story development. If so, this could be another male-skewing comedy hit. If not, it might be a short-lived farce that gets a few laughs, but doesn't offer much else.

What's at Stake? Belly laughs. Of the big broadcast networks, only CBS seems to consistently come up with sitcoms that have true broad appeal (NBC's "My Name is Earl" and "30 Rock" are just a little too smart for the room). The network is trying to incubate a second night of comedy on Wednesdays, and while "Worst Week" isn't part of that experiment, development of a big comedy hit on Mondays would give the Tiffany Network more ballast and building blocks to move elsewhere in the schedule as need be. Plus, if "Worst Week" works, playing after "Two and a Half Men," it would give CBS an alternative to the complex sci-fi of NBC's "Heroes" and the female-skewing success of ABC's "Samantha Who?" The show could also serve to bring younger men to CBS's schedule, which arguably reaches the broadest (read: often oldest) swatch of viewers.

Your Ad Here? Movie studios and fast-food marketers might find "Worst Week" to be a good roost, while marketers trying to reach the very old and very young and very female (Depends and dentures and Pampers and Swiffers) might find better luck elsewhere.

Media Buyer's Verdict: Let's hope Kyle Bornheimer has some padding. "Ultimately, his pratfalls will have to be toned down a little, because you can't keep that going indefinitely," said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat. "Nobody can be that much of a klutz or clod or idiot that often, because why would this woman be with him?" While "Worst Week" will definitely fit in with the rest of CBS's Monday-night comedies, she predicted, it will need to move beyond the shtick to find its legs. "At a certain point, you have to tone down the slapstick and hope that the characters can stand without it."
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