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Hooperman ran from September 1987 until September 1989 on ABC.

The mid-1980's vogue for " dramedies" ( half-hour comedy/dramas) was perhaps best exemplified by this odd cross between Hill Street Blues and Barney Miller, which contained humerous moments with hard action.

Det. Harry Hooperman ( John Ritter), was a little like Lt. Goldblume of Hill Street, a thoughtful cop who hated to use his gun. His supperior on the San Francisco P.D. was Capt. Stern ( Barbara Bosson), whose demanding manner masked basic insecurities, especially about her failed marriage. Mo ( Sydney Walsh), was a female officer dedicated to " saving" her handsome -but - gay partner Rick ( Joseph Gian), Clarence ( Felton Perry), was a black inspector, Bobo ( Clarence Felder), was the office redneck and Betty ( Alix Elias), the cheerful dispatcher.

Hooperman's private life was just as colorful. His landlady had been murdered, leaving him her broken-down apartment building and her yapping little terrior Bijoux-so he also had rebellious tenants to placate. Susan ( Deborah Farentino), was the building handyman and aspiring writer with whom he had a somewhat rocky romantic relationship, but who by early 1989 was about to bear his child. Unfortunately she suffered a miscarriage and left him in the fall.

Dan Lauria was occasionally seen as Lou Stern, C.Z.'s ex-husband. Bijoux, a Jack Russell terior was played by Britches.

An Article from The New York Times

For John Ritter, Playing The Comic Isn't Enough

Published: August 30, 1987

FRED ASTAIRE HAD IT. CARY Grant had it. It is that rarest of on-screen attributes: the ability to break new ground, to grow artistically, while appearing to the public as effortlessly entertaining. For the past decade or so, Hollywood insiders have suspected that a man named John Ritter - primarily a commercial TV actor, of all things -has more than his share of it, too.

Their suspicions may be confirmed when a series called ''Hooperman'' makes its debut on ABC on Wednesday, Sept. 23. In it, Mr. Ritter portrays Harry Hooperman, a San Francisco police detective. The show itself is something out of the ordinary: It skips away from standard TV formula like a sharp phonograph needle on a worn-out record.

TV crime-fighters usually occupy hourlong time slots; ''Hooperman'' is a 30-minute show. Half-hour shows are almost invariably situation comedies; this one has humorous elements, but it is filmed without a live audience and will be broadcast without a laugh track.

Mr. Ritter's acting skills get a healthy workout; yet, it isn't until the final credits have rolled that one realizes the range of emotions he's attempted to coax out of a mere 23 minutes of dialogue.

He plays, as he often does, a good-natured, good-looking, well-meaning-but-impulsive, non-macho man - whose comically clumsy gestures mask the actor's uncanny grace and body control. In the course of the premiere episode, Harry Hooperman experiences some fairly standard comic situations: a shower interrupted in mid-shampoo, a gruff boss and a digestively misbehaving dog. During one sequence in which Hooperman is trying to hire a superintendent for his apartment building over the telephone, Mr. Ritter manages to deftly deliver clues to the character that are imbedded in funny lines: ''How's your plumbing? [ pause ] No, no, I'm not referencing your internal organs. I'm just trying to determine if you have skills in that area.''

He also, however, looks genuinely terrified as he sidles out onto a window ledge to talk to a potential suicide. Intertwined with it all is his reaction to the brutal murder of one of his closest friends, an elderly woman who lives in his building. In the final scene of the episode, while sorting through his friend's possessions, he breaks down in tears.

Even though wisecracks were bouncing off him just seconds before, Mr. Ritter has smoothly shifted emotional gears. Few other well-known television stars would even have been called upon to make that kind of transition. And that ability seems to be both Mr. Ritter's greatest strength and greatest paradox.

''Is 'Hooperman' a stretch for me?'' John Ritter, munching on a sandwich in his production company office at the 20th Century Fox studios, seems slightly surprised by the question. ''Uh, sure. Uh-huh. But basically, I try to look at everything I do as a stretch.''

''Everything'' in Mr. Ritter's case includes an uneven list of television, movie and theater projects. In October, ''Real Men,'' a theatrical feature in which he plays a bumbling insurance agent recruited for a dangerous mission by the C.I.A., opens nationwide. He's done his share of feature films (forgettable ones like ''Americathon,'' almost-forgotten respectable ones like ''They All Laughed'' and ''Hero at Large''); made-for-TV movies (most of them lightweight vehicles, with the exception of last year's highly acclaimed ''Unnatural Causes,'' about the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans), and, in comparative obscurity, live stage performances of O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare.

But, above all, for better or worse, John Ritter is known for portraying Jack Tripper, the lead character of the ABC sitcom ''Three's Company.'' From 1977 to '84, Mr. Ritter mugged, did double-takes and took pratfalls through one of the most controversial programs on television. Controversial not strictly because of its theme - it was a leering sex farce about a young man who feigns homosexuality in order to share an apartment with two attractive women -but because, while critics decried it as everything from an empty-headed waste of air time to a symptom of moral rot in 1970's America, it was one of the most highly rated programs in TV history.

Many observers were confronted, though, by a seeming anomaly: that even in a show they hated, in a role that was essentially trivial, Mr. Ritter was more than convincing. Indeed, he displayed a marked talent for being able to rise above mediocre material.

''As he has consistently demonstrated in the 'Three's Company' series,'' wrote one critic, reviewing a 1980 TV movie starring Mr. Ritter and entitled ''The Comeback Kid,'' ''Mr. Ritter is an extremely engaging and agile actor, capable of deceptively easy reversals in mood and tone. He deserves bigger and better projects.''

In Hollywood, where commercial success tends to outweigh artistic potential, the qualified raves are fewer. '' 'Three's Company' was not a show I particularly liked,'' says the writer/producer Steven Bochco. ''I didn't watch it on a regular basis. But if I was flipping channels past it, I'd stop and watch.'' Mr. Bochco, who created ''Hill Street Blues'' and, with his partner Terry Louise Fisher, produces the NBC drama series ''L.A. Law,'' has contracted to write the first three ''Hoopermans'' with Ms. Fisher. ''Why would I watch it?'' he adds. ''Because I'd get fixated watching John. John is riveting. You have to watch this guy. You pay attention to him.''

The film maker Peter Bogdanovich, who cast Mr. Ritter in ''Nickelodeon'' and ''They All Laughed,'' is more effusive: ''He moves better than anybody I've seen on the screen in years. He has such an extraordinarily disarming naturalness that you almost think he's not working at all. He's the most natural actor I've seen since Jimmy Stewart.''

''Basically,'' says Mr. Ritter, ''what I'm doing is what I want to do. I feel very lucky. And very satisfied. Sometimes, sure, I think: 'Gee, I should be doing the classics or something.'

''But I've done a lot of theater. And I know I can do a lot of different things. Right now, I feel fulfilled, because I can be in on the decision-making process'' -he gestures vaguely toward the phone and desk in his office - ''and make my own creative choices, for better or worse. I've made some wrong choices, but they're mine. And I can dance to my own Walkman.''

In person, the actor is much like many of the personable, self-effacing characters he plays on the screen. It's also clear that he is more comfortable telling a joke than delving into his own motivations.

Yet, there is evidence of conscious effort behind the ''natural actor'' image. Earlier in his career, he studied method acting with Stella Adler and Nina Foch. ''You don't use that stuff for 'Three's Company,' because it's farce - all toptext, no subtext,'' says Mr. Ritter. ''A lot of the time, my acting notes to myself were 'louder and faster.'

''But in 'Letting Go,' a TV movie I did with Sharon Gless, I played a widower who has to come to terms with his wife's death. I had to talk to her grave. I had to say goodbye to her. It was one of the hardest scenes I've ever had to do. And my wife wrote me a note, which the director had asked her to. And I read the note, and I saw the grave, and I put my wife's name on it. And I said goodbye to her.

''One of the things about acting is you can always use your life. You have to recall how you are and how people are and how you relate.

''At my father's funeral, for instance, I cried my heart out. But I remember, especially with my brother, I never laughed so much either. There were moments where it was like explosive laughter. We were on that incredible roller coaster of life.

''And so, an hour after I did that scene in the graveyard, we were kidding around. And so the technique has to fit the project. And every project is different.''

But still a challenge, adds Mr. Ritter, who disagrees with the notion -that a ''move up'' to movie projects is desirable.

''I've been offered a few movies lately,'' he says. ''But I don't want to do a movie just for the sake of saying, 'Oh, boy! There's popcorn involved in this.' I really love the speed of television. And I have a deal to make movies-of-the-week, projects that I really love.''

It's a position, the actor says, that he does not take for granted. Born in 1948, he is the son of the late cowboy singer Tex Ritter. Raised in southern California, he majored in theater at the University of Southern California over the objections of his father. ''He wanted me to get a real job,'' says Mr. Ritter. ''A major piece of unfinished business in my life is that I borrowed $250 from him back then to pay my rent, and I never got to pay him back.''

After college, Mr. Ritter appeared in summer-stock productions of ''Desire Under the Elms'' and ''The Glass Menagerie.'' He also did ''The Tempest'' and ''As You Like It'' in local Los Angeles productions. In a typical West Coast career progression, he was shortly in demand for guest roles on television shows like ''Medical Center,'' ''Starsky and Hutch,'' ''Phyllis'' and ''Rhoda.'' In 1975, Mr. Ritter made two half-hour pilots. One, a fairly sophisticated sitcom for Grant Tinker at MTM, had him playing a young lawyer. Despite three separate filmed attempts, the show - called ''Bachelor at Law'' - didn't sell.

''Three's Company'' did. Indeed, it was a major reason for ABC's ratings dominance during the late 1970's and is still going strong in syndication. By most accounts, it has made Mr. Ritter a wealthy man; by his own admission, he is financially secure for life.

Mr. Ritter won an Emmy in 1984 for his role in the show. That year he formed Adam Productions to produce TV movies and his next weekly show.

Shortly after, his company signed a deal with 20th Century Fox Television. Over a period of three and a half years, the studio put several projects into development that were ultimately rejected by either the network or Mr. Ritter. Most, if not all of them were conventional sitcoms filmed in front of live audiences.

''In April 1986,'' says Mr. Bochco, who also has an office on the Fox lot, ''Peter Grad, the head of development then, asked me to take over and rewrite a project for John that someone else had started. For a number of reasons, I wasn't interested.

''But Peter asked me: 'If you were creating a series for John, what would you do?' I said: 'If I were creating a series for John Ritter . . . .' The strange thing was, as I was saying this, I had no idea what was going to come out of my face. I said: 'I'd make him a cop in San Francisco.' And as I said it, I knew it was absolutely right, and I saw basically how to do it. It made absolute sense: because the police world is a physical world, and John is an incredibly gifted physical actor. It's a world that has a tremendous amount of humor. It's also a world that has sudden, complex drama in it - and John has to be able to do that, because he's not a kid anymore.''

Subsequently, after meeting with Mr. Ritter, Mr. Bochco and Ms. Fisher agreed to get ''Hooperman'' started before returning full time to ''L.A. Law.'' After that, an as-yet-unnamed production team will take over.

''What I really want to do,'' says Mr. Ritter, ''is fulfill the ideas in Steven's script. The humor is rooted in my character. Before shooting started, I went up to talk to these cops in San Francisco. And they were very formal guys. 'Well, Mr. Ritter,' they said. But I asked hundreds of questions. After about the first hour, they were telling me horror stories - but they were telling me funny stories, too. What it was, in order to survive, in order to deal with what they have to deal with, they have to plug into humor. It's just a different kind of humor.

''When I got the part in 'Real Men,' '' he continues, ''a career dream was coming true for me. The dream was to work with Lucille Ball and have her like me. I was on 'Life With Lucy' last year. She gave me all sorts of specific, brilliant advice. We roared with laughter together. To have her say, 'I want you on the show every week'!

''Well, that night, the taping night, I got home to find a message on my phone machine from my agent. It was 12:15 A.M. 'You know that script you read? ''Real Men''? Tomorrow morning, three scenes, auditioning with Jim Belushi.'

''I had to get up at 6 in the morning and memorize three scenes,'' Mr. Ritter adds. ''I had to leave Lucy and all that ecstasy behind and go down there with my little hat in my hand. What's wrong with working in television - at the top?'' Genre Genesis

Already, there's a buzzword. In TV programming circles, ''Hooperman'' is known as a ''dramedy.'' That slightly queasy new noun describes an ambitious mixture -homogenization might be a better word - of comedy and drama in a half-hour format.

''I personally resist putting a label on it,'' says Steven Bochco (in photo). ''We just wanted to fool around with the format, mess up some people's expectations.''

''I find so much television predictable,'' says Terry Louise Fisher, a former practicing attorney who is Mr. Bochco's writing partner on the series. ''So predictable that when you turn it on and you see the first scene, you know what's going to happen at the wrap-up. This show keeps yin-yanging back and forth. What we do is pull back on the rug a bit so that the viewer says, 'Gee, I don't know what this show is.' ''

According to Mr. Bochco and Ms. Fisher, the mixture of comedy and drama will vary in each episode of ''Hooperman.'' In any event, they add, the comedy will depend less on jokes than on ''comedic situations.'' Which may prove fortunate. ''Before 'Hooperman,' I'd written one half-hour script,'' says Mr. Bochco. ''Writing that one convinced me for sure that I didn't know how to write straight comedy.'' Says Ms. Fisher: ''I couldn't write a joke to save my soul.''

A Review from The Christian Science Monitor

Hooperman' police drama plays John Ritter as its main card

By Alan Bunce September 21, 1987

Hooperman ABC, Wednesday, 9-9:30 p.m. Premiere of new comedy-drama starring John Ritter. The best thing about this effective show, of course, is John Ritter, whose brilliant comic skills are used here in a role that is only partly comic.

Ritter plays a plainclothes San Francisco detective. It may be still another police drama, but there's a difference. Ritter also finds himself the hassled landlord of a run-down apartment building, a predicament promising all kinds of comedy setups for ensuing episodes.

That he's a harassed type is spelled out from the top of the show, as he's seen forcing himself out of bed and through a bizarre morning ritual to prepare for his day. But now, at the station, Ritter must frantically try to hire a superintendent by phone in the midst of desperate police business like hostage calls. And along with the building, he inherits a pesky dog that messes on the floor of the police captain's office - triggering her shrill ire.

Later on, the dog is part of a ludicrously fascinating twist in a burglary-murder case Ritter becomes involved in. It's not particularly credible, but it does permit the show to play its main card - Ritter's winning touch in scenes both serious and silly. Dramatic moments actually heighten Ritter's comic impact at times, making him more real as a character and therefore giving his comic readings more effect

At one tense point in this premiere episode, Ritter climbs out onto a building ledge to rescue a potential suicide. On the way he takes a quick look down, then utters an ``Oh, boy!'' that gets a laugh while it underscores the inherent danger.

Curiously, Ritter's style in sad moments are like the flip side of his comedy. He's very touching as he stands in his old-lady friend's apartment looking at her photo after she's been murdered - even though his technique reminds you of the way he reads comedy lines. He has some absurd moments on the witness stand that are pointed, funny, and, for a second or two, piercingly true - something rare indeed in a prime-time series.

It's all a little hoked up, especially the police station scenes, which tend to roll out an array of typical characters by the numbers. The show's topical opportunism involves one running gag about an alluring female officer trying to ``convert'' a gay male - trivializing an anguished subject. But most of the dialogue is catchy and reveals very savvy talent at work. And meanwhile, of course, it never hurts a show to offer delightful views of San Francisco every time the camera follows a character out-of-doors.

A Review from The New York Times

TV REVIEWS; On ABC, 'Hooperman'

Published: September 23, 1987

''Hooperman'' is described by ABC as ''an unusual blend of ensemble comedy and drama.'' The show has been deftly tailored to the talents of John Ritter, who can slide from a joke to tears with uncommon grace and finesse. Playing Hooperman, a plainclothes detective in San Francisco, Mr. Ritter gets to talk a young man out of suicide and, after the brutal murder of his beloved landlady, inherits his run-down apartment building along with a nastily snapping little dog named Bijoux. The actor manages to make all of this not only believable but also charming and even moving.

The show has been created by Steven Bochco (''Hill Street Blues'') and Terry Louise Fisher (''Cagney and Lacey''), the team behind ''L.A. Law.'' They have also written the first few episodes. But there is a hitch. They are only establishing the basic situation and characters. After that, they will serve as ''executive consultants.'' That leaves a large question mark looming over the future of ''Hooperman.'' Mr. Bochco and Ms. Fisher have talents that will not be easy to duplicate.

Tonight's premiere, produced and directed by Gregory Hoblit, also closely associated with ''L.A. Law,'' is a model of cramming tons of information and character development into a mere 22 minutes. Simply consider the opening moments. The camera pans around the room of a sleeping Hooperman. We see a bicycle, a basketball hoop, a saxophone. An alarm clock begin to buzz and flash. A robotlike Hooperman begins exercising. Ignoring a sink full of dirty dishes, he makes instant iced coffee with water directly from the tap. In the middle of a shampoo, the shower stops working. Hooperman rinses off the soap with water from his toilet tank. He is ready for work, and in a couple of minutes we have an ingeniously detailed idea of the sort of fellow he is. He and Mr. Ritter certainly bear watching this season.

A Review from The Orlando Sentinel

'Hooperman' Shows Ritter's Versatility
September 23, 1987|By Greg Dawson of the Sentinel Staff

Hooperman gives John Ritter the chance to show that he's the most versatile star on television today, capable of breaking your heart and breaking you up in the same half hour.

This sitcom, in which Ritter plays a cop who is also landlord of his own apartment building, allows Ritter to range from the slapstick of Three's Company to the pathos of his dramatic roles in TV movies such as Unnatural Causes. He's a joy to watch.

Ritter's Harry Hooperman is boyishly charming, frenetic and usually late. His boss at the station house is played by Barbara Bosson (Fay Furillo from Hill Street Blues). But Ritter's real co-star may be the obnoxious mutt his landlady leaves him, along with the building, in her will.

Hooperman was created by L.A. Law producers Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher. It's a new-age ''dramedy'' like The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, with no laugh track but plenty of laughs.

Hooperman premieres tonight at 9 on WFTV-Channel 9.

Dawson's Rating: *****

An Article from The New York Times

TV VIEW; Two New Sitcoms Forgo Musty Formulas
Published: October 25, 1987

THINK OF JAMES STEWART AND W. C. Fields. That's one way of approaching the hour between 9 and 10 on Wednesday evenings on ABC, the hour that stars the enormously likable John Ritter as ''Hooperman'' and then switches to Dabney Coleman doing the misanthropic title character in ''The 'Slap' Maxwell Story.'' It adds up to, far and away, the best 60 minutes of the new season. The shows are innovative, outrageous and very funny, without benefit of laugh tracks. And taken together they constitute a package that could very well let Brandon Stoddard keep his job as ABC's head of programming beyond the current season. Here is Mr. Stoddard at his most impressive, attracting gifted performers, writers and producers, taking chances and running with the talent instead of musty formulas.

Before becoming programming chief early in 1986, Mr. Stoddard was in charge of ABC's movies and mini-series, compiling an outstanding record that included ''Roots,'' ''The Winds of War'' and ''Something About Amelia,'' not to mention theatrical-release films such as ''The Flamingo Kid,'' ''Silkwood'' and ''Prizzi's Honor.'' The Yale-educated Connecticut Yankee had carefully cultivated a reputation for quality. But the last year has not been kind. The muddled mini-series ''Amerika'' was a monumental flop. And, as head of all programming, Mr. Stoddard has been saddled with the daunting task of getting ABC out of the ratings cellar. So far, he has been unsuccessful, and he has staked a good portion of his strategy this season on the expensive music-variety series ''Dolly,'' broadcast on Sundays. The fate of this Dolly Parton showcase is still uncertain, in terms of both ratings and overall quality. But there is no mistaking the caliber of ''Hooperman'' and ''The 'Slap' Maxwell Story.'' Mr. Stoddard is already on remarkably solid ground with these new entries. The ratings, though not spectacular, have been reasonably solid, and ABC says there is ''no question'' that both shows will be given at least a full season.

Created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, ''Hooperman'' is about Harry Hooperman, a San Francisco police detective who has just inherited an old apartment building and a small, snappish dog named Bijoux. At the office, Harry's colleagues include a female captain, a gay cop and his female partner, who is always trying to seduce him - all of which leaves the traditional tough-guy police officer longing for the days when ''cops used to be cops - no dogs, . . . no wimps, no women.'' At home, Harry copes with Bijoux, who is sometimes subject to embarrassing stomach problems, and an assortment of tenants, ranging from his new and attractive superintendant, who wants to be a serious writer, and a flamboyant homosexual, the only black tenant in the building, who keeps complaining about the absence of such building essentials as a wine cellar and makeup lights in the powder room.

The scripts keep squeezing an incredible -occasionally impossible - amount of incident and character development into each episode. Harry is rushed from saving would-be suicides to capturing rapists to trapping drug dealers (''Do you take plastic?'' he asks one connection cheerfully). In his quieter moments, he holds his captain's hand, assuring her that all is not lost simply because her 45-year-old husband ran off with a 22-year-old woman. And there are romantic interludes in Harry's own life, although his efforts to seduce the superintendant-writer have been foiled so far. ''I don't get it,'' says Harry., ''This is a flashback to high school.'' He usually winds up alone with Bijoux. One show faded out with Harry singing ''I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face'' to the skeptical pooch.

The anchor in all this, the poised center, is Mr. Ritter. He doesn't look, and certainly doesn't sound, like James Stewart, but he has the kind of charming and unflappable presence that any connoisseur of Stewart films will recognize immediately. Mr. Ritter is the kind of actor who can whip up convincing portrayals, comic or dramatic, while leaving the impression that he is being utterly himself. He can maneuver hairpin emotional curves with ease. He can be boyish and silly, or grown-up and authoritative. ''Hooperman'' can take off in any direction while Mr. Ritter holds the entire enterprise together with the kind of old-fashioned confidence that these days seems limited to vintage movies.

Which brings me to the subject of W. C. Fields and the curious fact that, up until now, television has shied away from comic misanthropes in the distinctive Fields mold. Wanting to please and to avoid upsetting as many people as possible, prime time usually can't resist turning its few curmudgeons into sweet old softies. George Jefferson is a angel under the interminable ranting. Even Archie Bunker becomes the ''lovable bigot.'' The fascinating thing about Fields, of course, is that there is a decided element of seriousness to his nastiness.

Now along comes Dabney Coleman with a similar approach to characters who are not your average Chamber of Commerce types. In the series ''Buffalo Bill,'' currently a cult favorite on cable TV, he plays a TV newscaster who turns sliminess into an art form. And in ''The 'Slap' Maxwell Story,'' despite efforts to softenthe character, he is offering what must be the ultimate in egomaniacal sportswriters.

Proceeding on the premise that ''I can back up everything I write, half the time,'' the somewhat seedy Slap wears a battered fedora and ridiculous ties while refusing to admit that the times are changing. Having recently turned 50, he still rhapsodizes about Ted Williams and the columns that Red Smith and Jimmy Cannon used to write. He refuses to admit that women's liberation exists, even as a topic for casual conversation. He left his wife 15 years ago but still returns to nag her (''Are you putting on a little weight or what?'' he asks with offhanded malice). He lives in a dumpy motel-apartment, shouting out the window at some neighbor: ''You're lucky you have a wheelchair and a ramp. I have to walk up those stairs.'' A little Japanese girl, asked to guess his age, says 106. ''Go back to Korea,'' snaps Slap.

Created by Jay Tarses and developed by Bob Brush, Slap has an irresistibly mean streak, even while a straight face gets him through the most humiliating situations. Each episode begins with Slap confronting his detractors. Having interviewed a nun and her champion basketball team, Slap makes some ridiculous charge about using steroids, finally shouting as he leaves, ''I'll tell you one thing, Sister, you're not going to be able to hide behind that mustache forever.'' Or, punched in the face by a poker partner, he whines, ''Why didn't you tell me about your wife's hysterectomy before I told the joke.''

Juggling a shaky affair with a woman half his age, who can clearly see through his deadpan routines, and an even shakier job with an exasperated boss who at one point realizes that ''I'm going to have to kill you, aren't I?,'' Slap wriggles through life being downright snide or hostile whenever possible. It is all a matter of survival in a world that basically is unfriendly. ''We can't all lead the idyllic Reader's Digest life,'' he says. ''Some of us get a little tired of giggling.'' As an antidote to the surfeit of giggling on the ordinary run of TV sitcoms, ''The 'Slap' Maxwell Story'' and Mr. Coleman are downright refreshing. Now it's a matter of not caving in and of keeping Slap as irrepressibly sour as he is.

ABC research has discovered that both ''Hooperman'' and ''Slap'' have ''great male appeal.'' Apparently, that's good. ABC's Mr. Stoddard has reason to feel considerably better about his television schedule these days.

An Article From Time Magazine

Not Playing It for Laughs
Monday, Nov. 09, 1987


An elderly landlady is brutally murdered in her San Francisco apartment by an intruder. A man who may have been drunk at the wheel is killed when his truck swerves off the road and tumbles over a bridge. One character dies of AIDS, another is disabled by Alzheimer's disease, and a family watches in horror as their house goes up in flames. Typical scenes from a trouble-filled TV fall? Yes, but there is something different about this litany of prime-time woes. These are the comedies, folks.

Sitcoms are trying to make you cry until you laugh this season. A new term has even been coined to describe the hybrid form: dramedies. Three new series -- ABC's Hooperman and The "Slap" Maxwell Story and CBS's Frank's Place -- are ostensibly comedies, but they go for few jokes and have no laughter on the sound track. As for the more traditional sitcoms, they are tackling such heavy subjects as AIDS (Designing Women), Alzheimer's disease (The Golden Girls) and teenage drunk driving (this week's segment of Valerie's Family). On a recent episode of Kate & Allie, a middle-class mother of two (Jane Curtin) got a taste of what it is like to be homeless when she found herself stranded in Upper Manhattan without any money. The segment closed with a gallery of stark black-and-white shots of real homeless people. The producers wanted to add a public service announcement giving viewers a toll-free number to call for information about the homeless, but CBS executives drew the line at using such a documentary device. (Some local stations ran one, however.)

Mixing laughter and tears in one package, of course, is hardly a revolutionary idea. Hollywood movies have been doing it for decades, from Charlie Chaplin through Terms of Endearment. Some of TV's classic family shows, such as Father Knows Best, were as much earnest morality plays as laugh-out-loud comedies, and groundbreaking sitcoms like All in the Family and M*A*S*H demonstrated more than a decade ago that TV comedy is not incompatible with social commentary. Still, genre labels seem especially askew these days. Bruce Willis won this year's Emmy Award for lead actor in a drama series for Moonlighting, a show patterned after Hollywood's breezy romantic comedies of the 1930s. Michael J. Fox was named best actor in a comedy for Family Ties, whose most celebrated segment last season featured Fox's character in a spiritual crisis over the death of a friend.

Why has TV comedy become so glum loving? Part of it can be attributed to the medium's cyclical swings. When the provocative Norman Lear comedies of the early '70s went out of fashion, sitcoms retreated to escapist fluff; now realism and relevance are coming back into vogue. The networks, moreover, are fond of high-profile, easily promotable episodes that can draw attention to a series. ("Next week on I Love Valerie: a crack dealer moves into the neighborhood.") Equally important, many writers and producers, tired of feeding the sitcom gag machine, are looking for ways to stretch the old formulas. Says Hugh Wilson, creator of Frank's Place: "If you play Big Band all the time, every so often you want to improvise."

Unfortunately, the improvising can often sound tinny and unconvincing. In a September episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia (Estelle Getty) met an old gent on a park bench, then discovered that her new friend had Alzheimer's disease. Never mind that the series has stooped to making jokes about Sophia's own near senility; this case of Alzheimer's was so mild that the viewer hardly noticed it before the fellow was whisked offscreen.

Similarly, Kate & Allie's encounter with homelessness took on a difficult issue only by defanging it. After accidentally leaving her purse in a cab, Allie is faced with a six-mile walk back to her Greenwich Village home. Not easy on the feet, to be sure, but hardly a life crisis for a healthy Manhattanite on a nice fall day. Yet within minutes Allie is mournfully ogling the food in restaurant windows, panhandling for subway fare and discovering, at the end of her Odyssean trek, that she is "rich . . . compared to some of the people I saw out there today."

The new laughless comedies deliver their mixed messages more deftly, if not always more successfully. Hooperman, starring John Ritter as a San Francisco cop, is essentially a Hill Street Blues combination of crime-show action, broad comedy and "sensitive" character drama, slickly done but a bit overripe for its half-hour length. The Slap Maxwell Story, with Dabney Coleman as an oafish sportswriter, opts for a looser structure and more melancholy tone. Slap is a blustering loser who is constantly getting socked in the face, pushed around by his boss and dumped on by women; when his estranged son shows up for a visit, the reluctant dad has to poll co-workers for possible topics of conversation. Not exactly a fun guy.

Of all the new shows, Frank's Place seems to be walking most confidently the delicate line between comedy and drama. Set in a bustling New Orleans restaurant, the series at the outset looked like a routine ensemble sitcom in the Cheers mode, but it has grown increasingly audacious and appealing. In one episode, the family of a man killed at the wheel of his truck threatens to sue the restaurant for serving him too many drinks; a white lawyer travels into the black ghetto to discover that the victim actually committed suicide. In another show, Frank (Tim Reid) is courted by a high-class black men's club, which practices its own form of race discrimination. Prospective members are traditionally given a "paper bag" test: only those with skin lighter than the bag are asked to join. The messages are soft-pedaled, however, in favor of funky atmosphere, fragments of offhand humor and characters refreshingly free of sitcom shtick. No big laughs, but not Big Band either.

An Article From TV Guide ( Dec. 12-19, 1987 Ed.)

He Hopes Jack Tripper Has Fallen by the Wayside

John Ritter, now in Hooperman, wants to make viewers forget his Three's Company repertoire of pratfalls and funny faces

By Michael Leahy

A sweltering summer day in Los Angeles . The television set is playing much too loudly in an office at Twentieth Century Fox, but no one wants to get up to lower it. John Ritter, mechanically eating a lunch of fruit salad, gorges himself on the spectacle of Lt. Col. Oliver North testifying before the Congresional committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal, " North looks so..." Ritter struggles for the right word. Then , in the midst of an impassioned speech, the young colonel's voice cracks, like that of a 15 year-old in the midst of a hormonal cataclysm. Ritter grins, seems captivated by the sight of a graying 42 year-old man, with a wife, dog, four kids and a house in the suburbs, exuding the wide-eyed ferver of a teen-age ideologue. Must be liberating to see the world with such certainty.

Ritter himself has questions much of the time these days, though maybe, at 39, these are just the normal queries and occasional worries of an enormously successful guy who has busted his hump to prove himself, worries about the perception of some critics and studio executives that he may be no more than a Jack Tripper, no more than a modern-day version of the vaudeville comic who had mastered the pratfalls and funny faces. " Let's face it: there are people out there who think I'm a little to big for Mr. Camera," he will say, mugging even then for a reporter, so conditioned is he to playing slapstick."...Like I'm always playing scenes much to big for the camera...Like all I can do is fall or drool. You wonder what you need to do to prove yourself?"

Questions. On television the questioning of Oliver North breaks for a recess. Ritter, waving a plastic fork with a watermelon chunk on its end, sighs with disappointment; it had been an entertaining show. He turns and asks a visitor, " Have you seen a tape of Hooperman yet?" ABC's Hooperman, the new action-comedy series in which he is starring, is about a plainclothes cop in San Franciso, something " different...and funny." Ritter says hopefully, following the commercial success of the form in feature films starring Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal and Mel Gibson, Hooperman is television 's ambitious if less violent entry into the action-comedy field. It was created by Terry Louise Fisher and Steven Bochco , the Wunderkind whose Hill Street Blues had a cast so large that no actor could ever become more important than the series. " Steven liked it that way , because if an actor ever got nasty, he could lose him," says Barbara Bosson, Bochco's wife, a Hill Street cast member and Ritter's new co-star in Hooperman. " But Hooperman is the John Ritter Show. It's designed around John's talents."

A year ago, when a friend told Bochco of an ill-fated pilot that Ritter and others had yet to get off the ground, the producer excitedly jumped to his feet. " I'll tell you what I'd do if I were making John Ritter a series," he said. " I'd make him a San Francisco cop for starters ." Within 15 minutes, like the gifted student challenged to solve a mental teaser, he had constructed the bones of a character and storyline for his friend. Just for the hell of it. Game over. Bochco forgot about John Ritter. Weeks later, he found himself on the same flight to Hawaii as Ritter and his wife of 10 years, actress Nancy Morgan, who had their three children in tow. " Hows your sitcom idea coming?" Bochco asked.

Ritter shrugged: ' Not good."

" Well I'm going to find you on this beach," said Bochco. " I've got an idea i'd like to talk to you about."

Within days they had agreed on the particulars of Hooperman. They seemed, at first glance, an odd pairing: the inventive , idiosyncratic producer acclaimed by iconoclasts and critics appreciative of little on the tube and the baby-faced actor who had never quite transcended the public's notion that he was not much more than a stock performer of his medium, another likable, daffy guy with a nice smile and a decent sense of comedic timing.The perception angers Ritter, who has done a series of television movies in recent years in order to display his dramatic talents, playing a man trying to cope with the death of his young wife in one film and a dying Vietnam vet in another. " I guess it's life, but it makes you a little frustrated when you do all this work that people who review the films think is real good, and all some people continue to see you as is Jack Tripper," he says.

" What else could be more important than that film about the vets? It changed me."

In 1985, when he agreed to star in NBC's "Unnatural Causes," Ritter freely admitted that he knew little about the experiences of Vietnam vets. The film's producers told him that he would be portraying a vet dying of cancer, who had been part of a platoon exposed to Agent Orange. Hearing the phrase Agent Orange for the first time, Ritter had thought that it might be the code name of an intelligence agent.

" The producers asked me to get in touch with John and tell him what it was like over there," recalls Roger Steffens, a veteran and " Unnatural Causes" technical adviser. " I wasn't terribly optimistic about the whole thing because this was a guy who, to me, did slapstick. He came and didn't leave for nine or ten hours. He had hundreds of questions.

" God, if ever guys got the shaft, it was ( the vets)," says Ritter. " Agent Orange was like a big metaphor for me: you can't get away from this war just because it's over. I just kept looking at Roger's artifacts over and over...You got to understand; I had been very insulated early in my life."

All he had wanted in his early years was attention. He grew up in Hollywood, the son of actress Dorothy Fay and country singing star Tex Ritter. " I spent a lot of time alone doing impersonations when I was young, " he remembers. " I guess I wanted to be excepted, be popular. I got elected student body president my senior year. I really didn't know much of what was going on out there. It was right before the Sergeant Pepper era. There was another world out there."

He next attended the University of Southern California, a bastion of tradition and conservatism, of sorority girls who had marriage on their mind and boys who wore their hair short and shirts tailored. " My brother went to school at Berkely, and I'd take a bus up there sometimes to see him," he remembers. " No sooner would I be stepping off the bus into the Berkely streets, than I'd hear some guy talking about how he'd gotten his head split open at the People's Park or arrested in some demonstration. It was a different planet from USC. I mean, I'd get back to USC at the end of the weekend and these fraternity brothers of mine would be discussing what sorority they should be getting together with on T.G.I.F. day."

" I was the oddball there. They'd be votes on whether to accept or reject new fraternity members. Some of them dinged this Japanese guy, blackballed him, for no better reason than that he didn't have blond hair and blue eyes. There was real prejudice. So, after that, I dinged everybody with blond hair and blue eyes. Sometimes, I get these letters from them, asking for contributions, that start with, ' Dear Brother Ritter...' I wrote them back once and said, ' You must have me confused with Beau Bridges or somebody.' Something even then told me that there was a path that led somewhere different."

His own path finally took him last July 4 to a stage in the Washington, D.C. area, where, with Jon Voight, among others, he co-hosted a televised " Welcome Home" celebration and concert for Vietnam veterans. Roger Steffens accompanied him. " It was quite extraordinary," says Steffens. " John was just going around, helping it to run smoothly. He's so good-humored and easy-natured that I think people fail to see his intensity sometimes. But he couldn't be more involved for people than he is, helping with cerebral palsy and other charities."

Ritter shrugs, receiving these bouquets. He has no interest in being lionized, uneasy enough with his own celebrity, such as it is. Once, a man followed him on a New York street screaming, " Jack Tripper." Riter asked the fan how he had recognized him. " I know how you walk," the fan said . A woman who tapped him on the back in a store said she had identified him by his hands. The mania of the medium, the boxes in which its performers live, disturbs him

Today, the school politician and class clown once so hungry for attention only wants to be invisible. His wife will be going to a party that weekend. He won't, preferring to stay home with his young daughter and two sons. " Sometimes the celebrity thing is hard for a child," he says. " I want to give my kids as much time as possible and my wife already gave up her acting career for a while to take care of them. I want to be there. It was hard for me when I was little. I'd be with my dad and there'd be all these country fans who wanted his autograph and I'd say, real impatiently, ' Let's go, Dad.' I think I was a little jealous of all those people. Many years later, Dad came to see me do a play with Jean Stapleton. I was like a little kid again. After the play, at dinner, some drunken woman came over to our table looking for an autograph. I guess he thought I was being snippy because he said, ' You should work on your modesty, John. That woman is a little down on her luck, a little blue. You should think about these things.'

" My dad helped everyone he could . He died in Nashville while bailing out some musician in jail who hadn't made an alimony payment. He always acted just like himself around people. Me, I'm whoever it seems right to be in a given moment. I can be John Ritter, serious actor, or I can do my kind of country, laid-back routine for some big truck drivers."

He does an exaggerated imitation of himself talking to a group of Southern, maybe Texas truckers, bringing a twang into his voice, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets, chewing on an imaginary chaw. He is a born mimic, and his visitors cannot stop laughing. " That's me," he says, not entirely happy, the imitation over. " Me trying to fit in. My father would never do that."

"There are moments when he's almost like a chameleon," says his wife, " When he is adapting and changing to make other people comfortable. There are other moments when he doesn't think anybody can support him and he withdraws completely. That's when I'm very valuable to him.

" He has a real vision of how he wants to live life. And he never feels like he's living up to that. He's always hard on himself. Sometimes he fantasizes and throws a little my way, like I'm being hard on him, but mostly he's just hard on himself. He cares so much about his close friendships, the ones that he's had long before his successes. That's real to him. He's always sending little notes, making calls. He cares so much about feelings, so handling the whole celebrity thing is hard for him, you know?"

But the celebrity himself seems to be coping better these days. " This guy came up to us at dinner in Toronto with a shopping bag of autograph books and gave John a sloppy kiss on the cheek," recalls Roger Steffens. " John delt with it."

" I've remembered what my father told me," Ritter says. " I want to always be considerate of people's feelings. But sometimes I just need to pull back. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with it. How much space do you need, how much time? I think I'm a little thin-skinned now. It's like the first glow of notoriety was real nice, and then I got burned and blistered by it. I snapped at this movie executive the other night who came up to me and started doing a loud bit. I said, ' Lower your voice.' I don't need all of that now. Everybody has to figure these things out, I guess. Especially here. What do they want? How am I going to handle all this?"

Questions. A week passes. Oliver North comes and goes. The testimony of an admiral John Poindexter, fills Ritter's mornings now. " I wonder if there'd be all this Olliemania if the young colonel looked like Poindexter?" he asks. Ritter pauses and grins, sees the irony in what he is saying here. " It's not like actors aren't all a part of it, is it?" he asks self-deprecatingly, flicking at his bangs, mugging for his visitor. " Remember, you got that straight from Jack Tripper..."

He chuckles. That name again. It is all but his Id. Will he ever get out from under Jack Tripper? he asks aloud. His co-star Barbara Bosson admits casually that, though her children enjoyed Three's Company, " It was not my kind of show." At the "Welcome Home "concert , singer David Crosby told Ritter how he didn't find the show particularly funny. " But I'm very impressed with what you've done for the veterans," Crosby added, pleasing Ritter. However, what Jon Voight said meant more. " My daughter watches Three's Company reruns all the time and she really laughs," Voight told him. " It's a good piece of work. You ought to be proud."

Ritter is proud, if not content, on the brink of 40. " I have a long ways to go," he says. " Maybe, very soon, people will stop seeing me as too big for Mr. Camera. Did I ask you if you had seen Hooperman yet? What did you think? Really, did it seem at all different. Actors in mid-life are seldom as certain as colonels.

An Article from People Magazine

Maybe John Ritter Is Bitter About His Canine Co-Star, but Hooperman Won't Be Dropping Britches

People Staff
December 14, 1987 12:00 PM

Like most actors, John Ritter knows there’s a downside to working with children or animals: They steal every scene. Now it appears there’s another canine thief in Hollywood—”a small, yapping, obnoxious dog,” says producer Greg Hoblit, “a wired-up pain in the ass.” That’s the kind of pooch Hoblit says he wanted for the pilot of ABC’s new, critically praised detective drama-dy Hooperman. And that’s the kind that Britches, a 32-month-old Jack Russell terrier bitch, turned out to be. In fact, when Britches first met Ritter, says Hoblit, “She did wonderfully, taking a bite out of John’s fingers.” Adds Cindy James, the terrier’s owner: “Not many small dogs can attack with conviction. I taught her like a Doberman.”

More like an ambitious starlet. As Bijoux, Detective Hooperman’s male mutt, Britches is not only stealing scenes but trotting off with the show. Sniffing out a drug stash, putting the paw on a killer and—a prime-time first for a dog—suffering flatulence, Britches has inspired more yapping among audiences than anyone else on the show.

Ritter, long the star of Three’s Company, has apparently decided that two’s a crowd. At a recent press conference he made a couple of cracks about Britches. “I hate that dog,” Ritter said. When someone suggested the dog would be a star, Ritter added, “Next year the show will probably be called Hooperdog.” Now he refuses to comment at all on Britches.

Owner James pooh-poohs the bad-mouthing. Yes, she admits that Britches is independent and stubborn—as befits an ingenue who has appeared in a movie, Harry and the Hendersons, and made a Kibbles ‘n’ Bits commercial with James’s other actor dog, Sebastian. Yet James insists Britches and Ritter basically get along. “Their scenes wouldn’t work if John didn’t like her,” says James. “A dog picks up on your real feelings.” Nevertheless Britches isn’t exactly wagging her tail over Hooperman. When the show airs each Wednesday night, the dog can be found in her San Fernando Valley home, chowing down her usual snacks of chopped hot dogs or liver and garlic (maybe it’s her breath that caused the stink with Ritter). Then she goes over to the TV and dozes off. “Only the sound of her own barking on the show will get her attention,” says Marilyn Corcoran, who gives her commands on the Hooperman set. “She’ll glance up, then look away and go back to sleep.”

An Article from The New York Times

ABC Revives 'Hooperman' for Summer

Published: June 4, 1989

ABC has announced that ''Hooperman,'' a weekly series that starred John Ritter as a police detective in San Francisco, will return to the network's prime-time schedule for the summer, beginning on June 14. The half-hour show will be broadcast on Wednesdays at 9 P.M. The network will present five new episodes of the series, which is produced by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, as well as repeats. ABC dropped ''Hooperman'' in March and did not renew it for the fall.

''Coach,'' the program now shown in the Wednesday-night time period, will move to Tuesdays at 9:30 P.M. ''Have Faith,'' which is in the Tuesday time period, will move to Sundays at 8 P.M.

To read some more articles about Hooperman go to and and and and and and and and

To watch some clips from Hooperman go to

For a Page dedicated to Hooperman go to

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For a Website dedicated to John Ritter go to

For some Hooperman-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to
Date: Tue January 17, 2006 � Filesize: 16.4kb � Dimensions: 358 x 442 �
Keywords: Hooperman: John Ritter (Links Updated 7/18/18)


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