Life's Work aired from September 1996 until July 1997 on ABC.
Lisa ( Lisa Ann Walter) was a 33-year-old woman who wanted to " have it all" in this very '90s career comedy. She had gotten married, had two kids, and simultaneously attended law school; now, with her degree in hand , she was starting work as an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore. A loud, abrasive superachiever, she struck some of those around her as a little over-the-top; others just got out of her way. Her easygoing husband Kevin ( Michael O'Keefe), a college basketball coach, whined a bit but was supportive, helping take care of youngsters Tess and Griffin ( Alexa Vega, Luca & Cameron Weibel). At the office the chief skeptic was smarmy, sexist, politically ambitious Lyndon ( Andrew Lowery), who never failed to put her down. Jerome ( Larry Miller) was the prickly division chief, DeeDee( Molly Hagen) a perky associate, and Matt ( Lightfield Lewis) the bald, eccentric office helper. Connie ( Lainie Kazan and later Jenny O'Hara) was her worrywart mom.
Here's How ABC Described the series
Having it all sometimes brings a person more than they've bargained for. Lisa Hunter (Lisa Ann Walter) finds this to be true in "Life's Work," the half-hour comedy chronicling her hectic life as a wife, mother, and Assistant State's Attorney.
Following graduation from law school at Baltimore City College, Lisa Hunter is jazzed up about her new job as Assistant State's Attorney. She has wanted to practice law for a very long time (her parents told her since she loved to argue, she should be a lawyer -- Lisa didn't take that as a compliment). But, as usually is the case, life got in the way and temporarily sidelined her ambitions.
She married Kevin (Michael O'Keefe), a basketball coach, and eventually had two children -- Tess (Alexa Vega), who is now 7 years old, and Griffin (Cameron and Luca Weibel), their toddler son to whom Lisa gave birth during law school.
Her office co-workers include DeeDee Lucas (Molly Hagan), her only female colleague who often puts her conservative pumps into her mouth; Lyndon Knox (Andrew Lowery), whose snide put-downs and phony airs make him a favorite target for Lisa; Matt Youngster (Lightfield Lewis), the office manager whose brain synapses need stapling; and her harried boss, Jerome Nash (Larry Miller), whose caseloads are as high as his hairline.
Lisa has her work cut out for her, both at home and in the office. She even enlists the aid of her overbearing mother, Connie Minardi (first portrayed by Lainie Kazan, later by Jenny O'Hara), to help keep her homelife together. She's pulled and shifted back and forth, depending on the priority of the moment. She wants to have it all, but nobody told her it would be this crazy!
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
THE MOMMY PIT
SITCOMIC LISA ANN WALTER'S FAMILY AFFAIR NEEDS 'WORK'
B-By Bruce Fretts
Now that almost every stand-up in America has gotten a shot at starring in his or her own sitcom, networks have started to recycle comics whose first series flopped. Lisa Ann Walter, late of the 1995 Fox blip My Wildest Dreams, has returned in LIFE'S WORK (ABC, Tuesdays, 8:30-9 p.m.). If you're asking yourself ''Lisa Ann who?'' you're not alone: CNN's Showbiz Today recently ran a segment on Walter that referred to her as Lisa Ann Walker.
What sets Walker's -- er, Walter's -- show apart from ABC's other working-mom 'coms, Roseanne and Grace Under Fire? Well, she plays a lawyer with the Baltimore state attorney's office and... not much else. Just like Rosey and Grace, Work's Lisa Hunter is a mouthy feminist trying to balance her job with her home life. Walter delivers her zingers with gusto, yet there's still a sense of been-there-done-that about her character.
Smartly, Walter has surrounded herself with a solid supporting cast. Michael O'Keefe, a likable if not particularly funny presence on Roseanne over the past few seasons, is likable if not particularly funny as Lisa's basketball-coach hubby. As the spaced-out administrative assistant at Lisa's office, Lightfield Lewis puts an amusingly loopy spin on his punchlines. And the always-reliable Larry Miller does a terrific slow burn as Lisa's boss. Larry Miller -- now, there's a stand-up who deserves to star in his own sitcom. B-
A Review from The New York Daily News
SHE'S FINDING HER 'LIFE'S WORK' AT LAST
By RICHARD HUFF
Tuesday, October 1th 1996, 2:01AM
LISA ANN Walter is hoping her second time around in sitcom land will be sweeter than her first.
Walter, star of ABC's "Life's Work" (tonight, 8:30), first starred in last season's short-lived "My Wildest Dreams" on Fox. She wasn't overjoyed with the experience.
"It's easier this time around because of the people around me," Walter said, citing "Life's" executive producer, Warren Bell. "It's an exponentially better situation. I'm so much happier."
The Fox series was a knockoff of "Married . . . With Children," in which Walter was fitted with tight, cleavage-focused outfits, a la "Married's" Peg Bundy.
Critics weren't impressed with the series and audiences did not watch in numbers large enough to keep it on the air.
"There were things that sort of got pinned on me that I had been fighting," Walter said of the Fox experience. "I spent every night crying."
She said the show's creators pushed too much in the direction of "Married," while she wanted "something my friends would watch and not be embarrassed."
It's no surprise, then, Walter was "skittish" about getting into the sitcom game again, although this time she's on board as a producer and it's the kind of show that won't make her friends uncomfortable.
In "Life's Work," Walter plays a married, middle-class mother of two who has just become an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore. Michael O'Keefe ("Roseanne") stars as her husband. The story revolves around the classic '90s family struggle of balancing work and family.
Airing after "Roseanne," "Life's Work" has delivered modest ratings, and is keeping more than 90% of the lead-in audience delivered by the veteran sitcom.
"The reason I knew this show would have an audience was because everybody around me had this life," Walter said. "I want people to be able to look at it and say, 'Yeah, that's my life.' "
An Article from The Seattle Post
Lisa Ann Walter Could Be A Standout Among Standups
October 01, 1996|By John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In baseball, they say the quickest way to get to the major leagues is to be a catcher.
In TV, the quickest way to get your own show may be to catch on as a comedian.
This fall, the stars of 12 new shows and one retread--about one-third of the networks' new offerings--are standup comedians by trade. As you would expect, all 13 shows are half-hour comedies, or at least alleged comedies.
The networks probably will never learn that a person who can get laughs by telling jokes isn't necessarily the person you want headlining a situation comedy on TV. For every Bob Newhart, there's a nightclub full of George Carlins: very funny guys trapped in the wrong vehicle.
But the hits of recent years--Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne, Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres, Brett Butler--are sufficient to convince the dangerous minds in network programming that there's sure to be another master of mirth among the misses.
If there is a comic who emerges with a Top 20 show this year, it could be Lisa Ann Walter, whose "Life's Work" has been favored with a comfy hammock on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. between ABC's "Roseanne" and "Home Improvement" on WLS-Ch. 7.
In "Life's Work," Walter plays an ambitious woman with two kids and a night-school law degree who wrestles with the conflicts created by wanting to have it all: career, kids, a fulfilling marriage.
Walter sees similarities to "Roseanne," but she thinks "Life's Work" breaks the shackles of a stultifying network philosophy.
"I always wanted to do a show in that style," she said. "But it seemed to me that, historically, when women are strong and funny they (the networks) tend to balance out what they feel America might think may be inherently threatening in a woman by giving them a job that's not a career, that's not a real goal."
Last year, Walter had a five-show run with a Fox sitcom, "My Wildest Dreams." But she said differences over the direction of the show doomed it almost from the start and left it far from her wildest dreams.
"Luckily, here we don't have that problem," she said hopefully.
"Here" is Touchstone Television, a unit of Disney, which also owns ABC.
Executive producer Warren Bell, whose resume includes stints with "Coach" and "Ellen," sees "Life's Work" as "family comedy that the `Seinfeld' audience would enjoy."
He added that when he was casting the show, he saw a tape of Walter's comedy act and said, "That's obviously the person."
Walter's standup routine tends toward the salty and off-color--she calls it "rough and tumble" humor--but she said that shouldn't preclude her playing a TV mom.
"Historically, we've stayed away from anything that has to do with sexuality when we deal with mothers on television," she said. "I'm not sure why. I don't know if people think that after you spit out the kittens you lose use of the apparatus."I will not shy away from sexuality and those issues on the show," she continued, "because I think that's part of being a woman. . . . You can wear lingerie and be a mother."
Why Life's Work Didn't Last
As with everything on TV, "Life's Work" had a lot of tough obstacles to face from the start. Here's a few reasons that it didn't make it in the fast paced world of TV:
First of all, it's lead-in show, Roseanne, which was in its' final year, took a major dip in the ratings. The way they say it works is that if you watch Roseanne, you're going to watch the show that follows it, but you won't tune in just for the new show. Roseanne's previous season was supposed to be the last, but they (like "Murphy Brown") unsuccessfully tried to have a spectacular talked-about final season. All they talked about in Roseanne's case was how bad it was. A further blow came when John Goodman, who played Roseanne's husband Dan, left the show for the majority of the season. The storyline had the Conner family winning the lottery and enjoying their newfound wealth during wacky adventures, the near-break up of Dan and Roseanne when he has an affair, the arrival of Darlene and David's daughter, and the most misunderstood final episode of all time. Towards the end of the season, ratings improved slightly but not enough to save Life's Work. Following "Life's Work" on Tuesdays, were "Home Improvement" and Michael J. Fox's new "Spin City," both of which flourished in the ratings.
Moving on: ABC = Sitcom Death. Despite the fact that most shows get better as they mature and the actors become more comfortable with their characters, ABC is notorious for cancelling shows after just a few episodes have aired (for that matter, ALL of the networks are doing that these days...). I could go on for pages about this, but I'll move on. . .It is also heavily rumored that the head of ABC at the time didn't care all that much for the show or the female lead.
"Life's Work" went on "hiatus" (a word TV junkies like me loathe) after airing the episode "Neighbors" on January 27, 1997. During February Sweeps they replaced scheduled episodes of "Life's Work" with "The Drew Carey Show." After Carey's Tuesday run was over, reruns of "Ellen" were shown, and finally, Dan Ackroyd's daft sitcom "Soul Man."
When the 1996 season started, ABC had a post-board for each show through their AOL website, where fans and critics of the show could share thier opinions. To everyone's surprise, Lisa Ann Walter began posting from time to time, answering questions and giving some info out about the show and cast. Shortly after "Life's Work" officially went on "hiatus," a guy named Joe (credit where credit is due) and the people who had been posting banded together to try to save the show. There was an internet petition; and a letter-writing campaign, which got huge support in Chicago (where a local paper was backing it) and Massachusettes. Right around the time they brought the show back, someone at ABC got wind of the post-board and it was promptly turned into a restricted area.
Finally, on May 27, 1997, ABC was so annoyed at the attention brought to the show that they put it back on the air with three unaired episodes and summer reruns. The networks like to "burn off" unaired episodes and reruns of lower rated shows during the summer, when people have seen all the reruns of the higher rated shows. Shortly thereafter, "Life's Work" was officially cancelled, despite the fact thier ratings had considerably improved. In fact, according to reasearch, "Life's Work" had a better Q Rating than "The Drew Carey Show" and held onto 90% of the audience that watched "Roseanne," whose ratings had also slightly improved (Even "Spin City" didn't hang onto that much of "Home Improvement"'s audience).
Sadly, the cast and crew had to seek out their new life's work, and "Life's Work" was forgotten.... But obviously it wasn't completely forgotten or you wouldn't be reading this!
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