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Listen Up aired from September 2004 until May 2005 on CBS.
Tony and Bernie ( Jason Alexander, Malcolm-Jamal Warner) were the mismatched cohosts of the cable sports talk show Listen Up. Short, blustery Tony had never been much of an athlete and was happily married, while dreadlocked single Bernie, a former professional football player, led an active social life. They were good friends, despite their occasional confrontational style on the air. Several real-life professional athletes appeared as themselves on the show-football's Steve Young, Doug Flutie, and Eric Dickerson, basketball's Dennis Rodman and soccer star Brandi Chastain.
Tony may have been a celebrity to his fans, but to his family, he was a goofball dad and they were not particularly excited when he started writing a syndicated newspaper column that included observations on his home life. His wife, Dana ( Wendy Makkena), who paid little attention to sports, was a zoo administrator and whiny Megan and easygoing Mickey ( Daniella Monet, Will Rothhaar) were their two children. Megan was a good student who played on her high school's soccer team while Mickey was a talented amateur golfer. Tony took great pride in Mickey's golf prowess and hoped it would be his ticket to success, since the kid was barely scraping by in school.
Listen Up was adapted from the writings of real-life sports commentator Tony Kornheiser whose ESPN TV show Pardon the Interruption with fellow Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon had been airing since September 2001.
A Review from The New York Times
TV REVIEW | 'LISTEN UP'
A Celebrity on TV, a Schlemiel at Home
By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN
Published: September 20, 2004
Tony Kleinman's name loads the dice. First off, that surname - little man - has the kind of allegorical freight associated with socialist theater. Second, it sounds Jewish, which suggests that the lead character on CBS's "Listen Up," a figure based on Tony Kornheiser, the Washington Post columnist and the co-host of a talk show on ESPN, may be one of the few, if not the first, Jewish heads of a family on a network sitcom since Molly Goldberg dominated "The Goldbergs" in the 1950's.
Does "Listen Up," which starts tonight, really need this kind of responsibility? The show is merely a rickety vehicle for Jason Alexander, whose Tony is a smug jerk with a talk show, a comb-over, a newspaper column and an inexplicably supportive, attractive family. (He is not visibly religious.) The banality of this setup suggests the hundred reasons that people keep saying sitcoms are over. Yes, Tony's sullen 14-year-old daughter, Megan (Daniella Monet, who is great), gamely resists her father's bullying on tonight's episode. But by the end she has been chastened by her mother (Wendy Makkena), who gives a father-knows-best speech. Tony gets the last word, and we are stuck with Tony Kleinman, unopposed.
Having to play a third-rate Larry David shoehorned into a daddy comedy - Tony is almost as contemptible as Larry is in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," but he is not as paranoid, eccentric or ingenious - Mr. Alexander is stranded with nothing but his skills. And those skills are irrepressible. Mr. Alexander is a powerful actor, a natural. He is never controlled by the flush and smirk that used to betray self-consciousness in many of the actors on "Seinfeld." (This affect seizes so many comics as soon as they find themselves near a sitcom couch. Is it the blocking? The light?) Sitcom lines trip off Mr. Alexander's tongue as if he has never talked any other way.
In one scene Tony mounts a chair that is too high for him in an understated act of physical comedy that will make you laugh out loud. A musical sequence is a showcase for Mr. Alexander's song-and-dance talents. And his trailing-off delivery of a line requesting a phone message ("Megan, do you have, uh, anything?") perfectly expresses a father's fearful, defensive and fake-casual overture to a teenage daughter.
But Mr. Alexander is simply carrying far too many burdens on "Listen Up." Forget making a case for the common man or doing justice to "The Goldbergs." On tonight's episode, he has to spit milk into a glass, and then toy with drinking the milk, and then drink the milk, and somehow keep it from being revolting. No one could pull that off. And Mr. Alexander, more cosmically, must break the "Seinfeld'' curse: the bad luck that for years has seemed to keep "Seinfeld" alumni from having hit shows.
That curse stands. With its grubby jokes about training bras and baldness, and its stiff supporting cast - including Ms. Makkena and Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Bernie, Tony's co-host - even Mr. Alexander can't make "Listen Up" funny.
A Review from The New York Daily News
'LISTEN' JOKES DRAW SILENCE
BY DAVID BIANCULLI
Monday, September 20th 2004, 7:23AM
LISTEN UP. Tonight at 8:30, CBS.
Jason Alexander tries, tries again in "Listen Up," his latest post-"Seinfeld" sitcom attempt, a series pairing him with former "Cosby Show" supporting player Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
Like so many of this year's comedies, however, this CBS show is a huge waste of some very big acting talent.
"Listen Up," premiering tonight at 8:30, casts Alexander as Tony Kleinman, a TV sports personality who begins adding to his on-air job by writing a weekly newspaper humor column about his family life.
Warner, fresh from Showtime's "Jeremiah" and UPN's "Malcolm & Eddie," plays Tony's TV co-host, Bernie.
At home, Tony is tolerated by his attractive wife, Dana (Wendy Makkena), and is found alternately exasperating and amusing by his teen kids, Lauren (Daniella Monet) and Mickey (Will Rothhaar).
Imagine "SportsNight" with a domestic-comedy element to it.
Now imagine taking all the funny lines and characters out of it.
What you're left with, sadly, is "Listen Up." It's not as wretchedly unfunny as Alexander's last series, the short-lived "Bob Patterson," but it's not even as good as "Dave's World," which mined very similar territory.
"Dave's World," starring Harry Anderson, was based on the humor-drawn-from-everyday-life columns of Dave Barry.
"Listen Up" is inspired by the Washington Post columns of ESPN "Pardon the Interruption" host Tony Kornheiser. Other than that, the humor in "Listen Up" is not inspired at all - and Kornheiser is partly to blame, because he's credited as a creator on the show.
As a concept, the series could work. As executed, though, nothing about "Listen Up" is sharp enough. The ersatz sports show, "Shut Up! And Listen," has Tony poking fun at ice skating and soccer - but nothing he says is funny enough. At home, only Monet, as Tony's surly daughter, manages to elevate her material to create an actual character, but it's an uphill battle.
One of the few genuine laughs in tonight's pilot comes when Lauren storms home, a copy of her father's first newspaper column in hand, and objects to the personal details about her he revealed for the sake of a punch line.
"You described my underwear to an entire city!" she yells at him.
"Country, actually," her dad replies smugly. "It's syndicated."
"Listen Up" tries so hard, it fills the premiere episode with a song-and-dance number featuring Tony making sport of a sport, and even has Alexander performing a spit take.
Regardless of that, or perhaps partly because of it, "Listen Up" is very, very hard to swallow.
A Review from The San Francisco Chronicle
Jason Alexander sitcom chalks one up for the 'Seinfeld' curse
September 20, 2004|By Tim Goodman
sitcom, 9:30 p.m. Mondays, UPN POLITE APPLAUSE
?Two and a Half Men,?
sitcom, 9:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS. Bad, good by default and strangely overlooked. Two new series and sophomore sitcom roll out and in tonight, each offering a little truism about mainstream TV comedies.
The first, CBS' ill-advised Jason Alexander vehicle, "Listen Up," proves a couple things right off the bat. First, Alexander is in a slump. Either he can't get the right material or he really is as annoying as George Costanza. Here he plays the fictional version of Washington Post sports columnist and ESPN host Tony Kornheiser and manages, against great odds, to be more grating than the original.
But also less than half as funny or engaging.
Kornheiser in print has a cult of personality, and, on TV (and radio), he puts that personality in your face by doing what he does best -- yelling. Mostly it's mock outrage, but often he's stem-wound like nobody's business. Perhaps the immediate face (and attitude) to play him was, in the casting director's mind, Alexander's. But that in itself is a sort of channeling of the "Seinfeld" character.
Here, even putting him in CBS' worn-leather-chair idea of a "family sitcom," he's more abrasive than anything else. If Kornheiser is often intolerable as himself, spouting off on a wide range of sports and pop culture topics, what gave the producers the idea that Alexander would be able to make that shtick palatable to the masses?
And in "Listen Up" -- after 15 minutes it's more like "Tune Out" -- the whole combination of trite writing, dull supporting actors and the Alexander buzz saw of unlikeability makes this a non-starter. Malcolm-Jamal Warner is Alexander's sidekick and leaves no impression other than stray thoughts about his hair. The problem may have more to do with the material than how Warner is delivering it, but still.
There will be a lot written about the so-called "Seinfeld" curse. But there's no hex on Alexander or any of the other alums. They've simply made bad decisions about bad material. "Listen Up" is grating and poorly executed -- and last time anyone checked, those are hardly building blocks for a successful family sitcom.
More effective is UPN's "Second Time Around," a pleasantly forgettable romantic comedy that would, on any other network, qualify as just another middling offering. But this is UPN, which set the bar so low in years past it was buried with the fiber optic cables and sewer lines. This season, however, there's been a dramatic turn-around in terms of quality content at the network. So "Second Time Around" seems exponentially better when it's really just average.
This sitcom's premise is, like most others, flimsy. Two people marry -- for the second time -- and try to learn from past mistakes and build on their new maturity.
It's unclear whether there's a full season's worth of a material in that -- much less an extended run -- but the stars are real-life couple Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Parker, who met on the set of Showtime's "Soul Food," and they are very, very easy on the eyes. And yes, they have chemistry. And yes again, equally flimsy sitcoms have turned out to be decent hits. So who knows.
It's just hard to believe that the hook of the pilot -- their pasts keep coming back to haunt them -- won't become a very old joke by episode eight. But credit UPN for upping its talent level and this series will make a fine companion on Monday nights with its network lead-in, "Girlfriends."
What we learn from these two new series is fairly obvious. It's very difficult, in the case of "Listen Up," to recreate someone who is a legitimate, original character -- emphasis on character. And casting, long an overlooked culprit of failed TV shows, plays an integral part in the downfall of "Listen Up." Alexander, whether he likes it or not, has an acting style and a comic delivery that, no matter what he does, closely resembles his George Costanza character. At this point, he may need to shave his head like Michael Chiklis and get into drama.
In "Second Time Around," network personality -- something rarely talked about -- comes into play. Cynical viewers have wondered whether HBO doesn't get some special critical slack merely by being HBO. Put another way, would an HBO series on ABC, for example, meet with the same reverence (provided it could pass FCC standards, naturally)?
There may be some truth to that argument, but this much is certain: HBO earned its reputation. Sadly, so did UPN. And now that UPN is on the upswing, innocuous fair like "Second Time Around" may benefit positively from past comparisons.
A Review from The Pittsburgh Tribune
Alexander tackles another abrasive comedic character
By Laura Urbani, FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, September 20, 2004
Jason Alexander can't seem to escape loud characters. Maybe it's because he was so perfect as George Costanza on "Seinfeld."
In his new CBS sitcom "Listen Up," Alexander once again plays a loud guy. Tony Kleinman is a lot like George, just more successful and more arrogant. Tony is a columnist who also co-hosts a sports talk show. He is fearless when it comes to his job. He will sing and dance, if it makes a segment funnier. And it does. He will hide behind rocks to watch his daughter play soccer. He will challenge anyone at anytime.
As with all boisterous personalities, they must have calming influences. Tony's personality is cooled by his wife, Dana (Wendy Makkena), and best friend Bernie Widmer (Malcolm-Jamal Warner).
Bernie, a former NFL player, co-hosts the "Listen Up" sports show and provides just enough zing to get Tony's blood boiling. He enjoys teasing Tony, especially about Tony's columns which have recently switched from sports to humor.
"I didn't know you could squeeze so many columns out of being bald and fat," he tells Tony.
Tony feels insecure about his appearance, including his height, but he more than makes up for it with his feelings. And his ability to express himself. He is always expressing himself.
"I feel things," says Tony. "I feel things so big they just come out."
The big feelings may not bother Tony's son, Mickey (Will Rothhaar), but they drive daughter, Megan (Daniella Monet), insane. Fourteen-year-old Megan declares that her dad is an embarrassment, and even bans him from her soccer games. She dislikes the way he dresses, walks and talks.
"You think you know everything," she tells Tony. "But you don't know anything. You're completely embarrassing me. You're always wrong."
With that statement, Tony realizes he has uncovered a gold mine worth of columns, which is something else to drive Megan crazy.
"Listen Up" is based on the writings of sports commentator and columnist Tony Kornheiser, which should provide a plethora of story ideas.
Alexander's abrasive "Seinfeld" character made for an interesting sidekick. But will Alexander's similar new character be tolerated as the lead guy? Warner and Makkena will have a tough job keeping the show's balance with their quieter, more conservative characters.
"Listen Up" has potential, and should be given a fair shot. While yelling can be funny, it doesn't need to overwhelm the show.
To watch some clips from Listen Up go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=listen+up+jason+alexander&aq=0
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20130406182634/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/listenup.html
To follow Daniella Monet on twitter go to https://twitter.com/DaniellaMonet?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
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Keywords: Jason Alexander & Malcolm-Jamal Warner