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September 23, 1987 - Image 72

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The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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a

TELE VISION

A Tasty New Role
Actor-comedian Tim Reid comes naturally to his
character as career-switching Frank Parrish

Sometimes art actually does imitate
life. Take the case of Tim Reid, the
actor-comedian best known for his
role as deejay Venus Flytrap on "WKRP in
Cincinnati." In the early '70s, a few years
out of college, he was a successful business-
man for Du Pont. He made good money. He
had a wife and a son and a three-bedroom
house in the Chicago suburbs. Yes, he was
even a member of the Jaycees. And he was
bored. Then he and a fellow Jaycee, an
insurance agent named Tom Dreesen, did a
community-service antidrug presentation,
and the showbiz bug bit them. Hard. The
two began to moonlight as stand-up comics,
driving to gigs in Reid's company car, and a
new ambition was born.
This midcareer make-over explains why
Reid brings a natural empathy to his
first starring role on TV. As
Frank Parrish, on the new CBS
comedy, "Frank's Place," Reid
plays a Massachusetts profes-
sor who suddenly inherits a
New Orleans restaurant from
the estranged father he nev-
er really knew. The comic op-
portunities on the series come
from the clash between the eru-
dite Parrish and the comfort-
ably funky, mostly black staff
of Chez Louisiane. Although
the situation for this comedy
sounds overly familiar-"like a
black 'Cheers'," admits Hugh
Wilson, thewriter-director-pro-
ducer of "Frank's Place"-it's
what they dowiththesetupthat
makes the show work.
"Frank's Place" is a one-cam-
era film comedy. That means no
flashing "Applause" signs, and
no cranked-up laugh track. In
most situation comedies, says
Reid, "a character walks in and
it's 'I'm here'-ha-ha-ha-and
then 'I'm leaving'-ha-ha-ha.
You can't just walk into a room;
you have to burst in with a
punch line. We went for subtle
humor." So subtle, in fact, that
"Frank's Place" has the flavor
of a light drama. But Reid in-
sists that "Frank's Place" is not
one of a new genre being called 'We went

"dramedies": "I know people are going to
want to pigeonhole it as one of those hybrid
forms, but it isn't. It's just that comedies
have gotten as broad as they can get, and we
are trying to go in the other direction."
Reid knows all about changing direc-
tions. Born in an impoverished section of
Norfolk, Va., he worked his way through
predominantly black Norfolk State College
by waiting tables at a ritzy Virginia Beach
eatery. Although he dabbled in acting
classes, he excelled in business courses.
And after graduating in 1968 with a B.S. in
marketing, Reid thought his dreams had
come true at Du Pont, where he was one of
the first blacks hired in a management-
training program. "I was an eager young
executroid," he says. Was he happy? "Are
you kidding? I was driving a company car,

had a $600-a-month expense account and,
in a month and a half, had gone from the
projects to a three-bedroom house in the
suburbs. I was looking at the incredible
figure of $10,000 a year. It was like being a
millionaire."
But after a few years the routine got too
routine. Once Reid and Tom Dreesen had
toyed with comedy, they decided to go for
broke. In 1973 they flew to New York, with
no advance promises, to wangle their way
onto "The Tonight Show." It didn't work.
So they went to the offices of "The David
Frost Show." "We figured, we're salesmen,
we can talk ourselves on. We lied like cra-
zy," Reid remembers. This time, it did
work. Flush with this one-time success,
Reid quit his job, sold the house "and
starved for six years."
Toiling in obscurity: Along the way, Reid
broke up with his wife, and with Dreesen,
and moved to Los Angeles. In 1974 he re-
calls, "I figured I'd have my own show in six
months. I got a guest part in 'That's My
Mama' in two weeks and didn't work for a
year and a half after that." After toiling in
obscurity in comedy clubs and strip joints,
and almost giving up, Reid started to get
occasional TV work. Then in 1978 came
"WKRP in Cincinnati" and the role of Ve-
nus Flytrap.
Working on "WKRP" was "terrific" for
Reid in a number of ways. Not
only did the show get a warm
critical response, Reid got a
chance to write a number of
scripts. And he became a good
friend-and tennis partner-of
one of the show's producers,
Hugh Wilson. After "WKRP"
went off the air in 1982, Reid
appeared briefly the next year
in the short-lived "Teachers
Only" on NBC. And, a few
months later, he was added to
the cast of "Simon & Simon" on
CBS. Much as he enjoyed his
role as Downtown Brown, Reid
didn't hesitate when he got the
chance to do "Frank's Place"
with Wilson.
Media experts say Reid's se-
ries has a good chance of suc-
ceeding. Wilson says that the
show's time slot-Saturdays at
8 in the East-won't make it
easy: "We're an adult show
running at a kiddie time peri-
od." But CBS has struck gold
during this half hour before,
with "All in the Family,"
which was the No. 1 show
there for four seasons. The net-
work hopes that once viewers
get a taste of "Frank's Place,"
they will come back hungry for
seconds.
t drama LEE GOLDBERG in Los Angeles

I

for subtle humor': Comedy with a dash of ligh

54 NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS

SEPTEMBER 1987 1

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