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Payne aired from March until April 1999 on CBS.
No subtlety here, Royal Payne ( yes that was his name, and he sure was, played by John Larroquette) was the sarcastic innkeeper who owned and ran Whispering Pines , a small hotel somewhere on the California coast. Royal was abusive to his staff and struggled to keep from verbally alienating his guests. Connie ( JoBeth Williams), his gossipy wife of nineteen years, tried to soften his rough edges but had minimal success. The hotel's small staff consisted of Breeze ( Julie Benz), the naive young chambermaid whom Royal belittled behind her back as the only virgin to step foot in Whispering Pines in years, and Mo ( Rick Batalla), the aging bellboy who spoke broken English. Flo and Ethel ( Ellen Albertini Dow, Dona Hardy) were two elderly residents of the hotel who were taking marijuana for "medicinal " purposes. Royal was incredibly cheap ; when he replaced the phone system, rather than buying a new one, he purchased one secondhand from the county mental institution.
This was a network's second attempt to adapt John Cleese's classic 1975 British sitcom farce Fawlty Towers for American audiences. The first never acknowledged as a Fawlty Towers adaptation , was ABC's 1983's short-lived Amanda's , starring Bea Arthur.
A Review from Variety
(Sitcom -- CBS; Mon. March 15, 9:30 p.m.)
By RAY RICHMOND
Filmed in Los Angeles by Big Phone Prods. and Port Street Films in association with Studios USA TV. Executive producers, Judd Pillot, John Peaslee, John Larroquette, Jerry Leider, Richard Reisberg; co-executive producer, Joseph Staretski; producer, Tim Steele; director, Dorothy Lyman; writer, Gail Parent; based on the series "Fawlty Towers" by John Cleese and Connie Booth.
Royal Payne - John Larroquette
Connie Payne - JoBeth Williams
Breeze - Julie Benz
Mo - Rick Batalla
Mrs. Aubrey - Gretchen German
Fish Guy - Raymond Ma
Man - Simon Harvey
Guest - Jill Walter
Do you hear that grumbling sound? Don't worry. It's merely the self-appointed comedy protectionists (read: snobs) who are fully outraged that anyone would dare attempt to Americanize a British TV classic like "Fawlty Towers." But unremitting is just the kind of gall that co-creators and exec producers Judd Pillot and John Peaslee have, and let it be known that the guys look to have crafted themselves a boisterous, broad little comedy that stands on its own pretty nicely. Indeed, few midseason sitcoms that have premiered in recent years arrived feeling as divertingly dopey as does "Payne."
That proves to be the case in Monday's premiere seg of the agreeably over-the-top farce that features the unlikely coupling of John Larroquette and "Poltergeist's" JoBeth Williams as the husband and wife proprietors of the wiggy Whispering Pines coastal inn. They have been married 19 years. She's Connie Payne. He's Royal (gulp) Payne. Their relationship is centered exclusively around the wisecrack, because, c'mon, this is TV.
Royal (to Connie, flirtatiously): "Where's the luckiest woman in the world?"
Connie (confidently): "Under Denzel Washington."
It's this kind of crackling dialogue that spasms throughout Gail Parent's brassy opening teleplay, blending sharp one-liners with the kind of ear-blasting volume that Pillot and Peaslee mandate in order to grab the audience's attention early and prevent the dreaded three-episodes-and-out cancellation syndrome.
If "Payne" carries an agenda, it is simply to be warped. It accomplishes that in the premiere with a story centering on a lapel pin that was once given as a gift by FBI chieftain J. Edgar Hoover. The pin rolls through various slippery palms for reasons too obscure to detail. And the only real plot development is utilized to showcase the supporting cast of misfits, which includes Royal's hotel nemesis Breeze (Julie Benz) and a hapless East Indian bellhop named Mo (Rick Batalla). Helmer Dorothy Lyman proves adept at keeping all of her actors relentlessly loud and proud.
But make no mistake, "Payne" would by itself prove hopelessly pained if not for the flippant, sparring interplay between Larroquette and Williams, who enjoy a surprisingly tasty chemistry.
Larroquette -- who has won enough Emmys to turn his mantelpiece into a seismic hazard -- has been one of TV's comedy treasures ever since his "Night Court" days. No one in TV is better with a punchline or an exasperated look, and he has plenty of room to roam as the angst-ridden, amoral Royal.
Williams, known for her dramatic work, more than holds her own against Larroquette wisecrack for wisecrack. Their timing and intelligence help make "Payne" more than just another Brit-inspired ripoff. Subsequent episodes screened from a review tape slide somewhat in quality and level of laughs, but not enough to dampen the enthusiasm for a sitcom that so enthusiastically embraces its own sense of stupidity and refuses to let go.
As for "Fawlty Towers," let this much be said: It, too, was set in a hotel. Any real comparisons to "Payne" end more or less right there. And that's probably just as well. Tech credits are fine.
An Article from The New York Times
TELEVISION/ RADIO; He's Rude, He Lies, He's A Lot Like Basil Fawlty
By CHARLES STRUM
Published: March 7, 1999
JOHN LARROQUETTE has found a fresh host body for his patented brand of blowhard. In the 1980's, Mr. Larroquette won four Emmys for his portrayal of the pompous, philandering assistant prosecutor Dan Fielding in ''Night Court.'' This time, in the new CBS sitcom ''Payne,'' he is an innkeeper in northern California who views his wife, his employees and his guests as impediments to his ultimate goal.
''To be the ultimate guest,'' Mr. Larroquette explained.
But that is not to be. Why should Mr. Larroquette's character, Royal Payne, be any more comfortable than the demanding lodgers he is forced to tolerate, the wife he sometimes fears and the staff that either outsmarts him or inadvertently provokes his anger?
Mr. Larroquette, whose most recent run was as the sensitive St. Louis bus station manager of ''The John Larroquette Show'' on NBC, has transformed himself into a fashion plate with silk pocket square and wavy silver hair whose false sincerity helps to keep his middle-age rage in check. That and his ability to lie.
Royal will lie to cover up almost anything: from health-code infractions to the sudden death of his chef to the origin of the diamond lapel pin he gives his wife, Constance (JoBeth Williams), a gift that proves almost as much a surprise to Royal as it does to her.
The pin, it turns out, belongs to a guest, who explains that her grandfather received it as a gift from J. Edgar Hoover. Returning it, rather than appropriating it, would seem to be the better course. But Royal is desperate to find a gift.
''It is more convenient for him to continue to lie,'' Mr. Larroquette said pleasantly at a midtown Manhattan hotel last week during a promotional tour for the new show, which evolved directly from ''Fawlty Towers,'' the BBC series starring John Cleese.
The first two episodes will be broadcast next Monday at 9:30 and on March 17 at 8:30 P.M. The season's seven remaining episodes will settle into their regular time slot on Wednesday, March 24 at 8 P.M., just before ''The Nanny.''
''It's funny, but when we started 'Night Court' someone asked me to describe Dan Fielding,'' Mr. Larroquette recalled. ''I told him he was a cross between Barney Fife and Basil Fawlty. So this character has been in my head for 16 years.''
Where Mr. Cleese's Basil was manic in the extreme -- the epitome of British aplomb one moment, the epitome of vicious British put-down the next -- Mr. Larroquette's Royal is unctuous, libidinous and hapless in a somewhat more relaxed West Coast way.
Nevertheless, he and his co-executive producers, John Peaslee and Judd Pillot, are conscious of the inevitable comparison with the British version, which was an icon of British television and a popular rerun on public broadcasting stations in the United States.
''I can't be afraid of it,'' Mr. Larroquette said. ''I don't have the time. I can't possibly imitate them. I've taken the template, but I inhabit a wholly different part of the world.''
''Fawlty Towers,'' he pointed out, was originally only six episodes of about 35 minutes each, without commercial interruption. The Cleese model was more like French farce, and it was exhausting. But the clamor to extend the show was so great that Mr. Cleese made six more, then stopped, having run out of steam. ''Payne'' is a standard American half-hour: about 21 minutes plus commercials.
''It would be overwhelming on a weekly basis to see that kind of maniacal freneticism in every episode over a whole season,'' Mr. Larroquette said. ''We can't be doing full-out farce every week. What we have to do is explore the family stuff'' -- meaning the Paynes' marriage and their relationship to the staff -- ''to keep the audience interested.'' For now, besides the Paynes, the regular cast consists of a virginal blond chambermaid called Breeze (Julie Benz) and a bellhop of uncertain nationality named Mo (Rick Batalla). ''Fawlty Towers'' aficionados will recognize parallels to Polly, the desk clerk, and Manuel, the jittery bellhop from Barcelona.
Over the years, British series adapted for American audiences have had mixed success. ''Sanford and Son,'' ''All in the Family'' and ''Three's Company'' were among the long-running favorites. More recently, though, the transplanted crime series ''Cracker'' failed to survive, as did the sophomoric high jinks of ''Men Behaving Badly.''
''Fawlty Towers'' was reincarnated twice before on American television, the producers said, but met with failure. The first series, ''Amanda's,'' with Bea Arthur, went down after a few months in 1983. ''Snavely Manor'' with Harvey Korman never got beyond the pilot.
''It was a time when the networks were less willing to take a chance,'' Mr. Pillot said. ''They pulled way back. After every line, Harvey would say, 'Just kidding.' It didn't work.''
''Payne,'' he said, was intended to be a ''darker, edgier'' show.
''John Cleese as Basil Fawlty was clownish, manic, flailing,'' Mr. Pillot said. ''John Larroquette as Royal Payne is more tortured, more annoyed, more put upon. He's more 90's in a way. More demons.''
''Part of the challenge of this creatively is taking a classic, bowing to it and giving it the honor it deserves, but then going our own way.''
But perhaps with one more nod to Basil Fawlty.
''If our show is successful,'' Mr. Larroquette said, ''we've set up a situation that will be ideal. In the town there is a rival hotel called the Sand Dune, which is the 'perfect' hotel. And if we get established, I want John Cleese to come and be the owner of the Sand Dune. And be'' -- here Mr. Larroquette draws out his words very slowly -- ''the nicest man in the world.''
A Review from The New York Times
TELEVISION REVIEW; Whispering Pines Whispers Of Its Origins
By CARYN JAMES
Published: March 15, 1999
It says everything about John Laroquette's new sitcom that he plays a cranky innkeeper whose last name is Payne and whose first name is, no kidding, Royal. Outside the hotel is a sign that reads: ''Whispering Pines -- a Payne Inn,'' and though that line virtually dares critics to trash the show with more bad puns, why descend to its level? It's enough to say that this remake of John Cleese's hilarious, farcical ''Fawlty Towers'' has been given a hackneyed Hollywood treatment.
''Whispering Pines'' might as well have been called ''Cliche Central.'' Playing Royal's flamboyant yet common-sensical wife, Connie, JoBeth Williams is given orange-red hair and costumes that are heavy on leopard prints.
In tonight's premiere we discover that Royal is cheap. Having forgotten their anniversary, he gives Connie a diamond brooch that turned up in the lost and found, only to have the pin's owner return in search of it. There is an average of one laugh in each episode; tonight's comes after the pin is accidentally tossed into a pot in the kitchen. Royal swoops through the dining room, hovering over his guests and surreptitiously searching for the brooch on their full dinner plates.
Mr. Laroquette shows some flair in that scene, but usually he's reduced to delivering hideous lines, describing Connie as ''an emotional kidney stone.'' When the show lands in its regular time slot with a new episode on Wednesday, Connie and Royal flirt with other people, though in the end the Paynes realize they are made for each other. Viewers may think these dull-witted characters simply deserve each other.
With his ability to make craven characters likable, Mr. Laroquette certainly deserves better material. With the exception of his stunning guest turn as a genial sociopathic killer on ''The Practice'' last year, he has built a career on being better than his shows, including ''Night Court'' and ''The John Laroquette Show.''
The major difference between ''Payne'' and ''Fawlty Towers,'' of course, is Mr. Cleese, whose Basil Fawlty was a sly combination of physical comedy and bone-dry wit. Basil's crankiness was window dressing, while Royal's is the very premise of the show. It doesn't take a comparison with ''Fawlty Towers'' to make ''Payne'' look bad, though; the new show does that all on its own.
CBS, tonight at 9:30, Wednesday at 8:30
(Channel 2 in New York)
John Peaslee, Judd Pillot, John Larroquette, Jerry Leider, Richard Reisberg, executive producers; Joseph Staretski, co-executive producer; Tim Steele, producer; based on the series ''Fawlty Towers'' by John Cleese and Connie Booth; Jonathan Larroquette, Scott Van Zen and Chris Wagner, music. A production of Big Phone Productions and Port Street Films, in association with Studios USA Television.
WITH: John Larroquette (Royal Payne), JoBeth Williams (Connie Payne), Julie Benz (Breeze), Rick Batalla (Mo), Gretchen German (Mrs. Aubrey), Simon Harvey (Man), Jill Walter (Young Woman), and Raymond Ma (Fish Guy).
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Mar. 29, 1999 By JOEL STEIN Article
John Larroquette's character is named Royal Payne. He works at a hotel that is called "A Payne Inn." You need no more information to form an opinion about this show.
A remake of John Cleese's classic '70s British sitcom, Fawlty Towers, Payne (Wednesday, 8 p.m. E.T., CBS) stars Larroquette as a cranky, stingy hotelier undermined by his dominating wife (JoBeth Williams) and his own incompetence. If Payne serves any purpose at all, it's to show what a genius Cleese is. In the wrong hands the characters are badly drawn cartoons, the jokes offensive stereotypes and the plots a bad cross of the Keystone Kops and Three's Company. Sure, Fawlty Towers was also based on silly misunderstandings and coincidences, but it carefully built toward a manic, slapstick conclusion. In the original show you felt bad about laughing at the mistreated bellboy's broken English; now you just feel bad.
In the past Larroquette has excelled at showing the depth of irredeemable characters, but here he plays a one-dimensional villain, and he lacks the comedic skill to pull it off. Though to be fair, Charlie Chaplin couldn't pull off these jokes. Larroquette's last show at least aimed for smarter laughs--and got script suggestions faxed in from Thomas Pynchon. It's unlikely he will make any for Payne. If he does, he'd better submit them within the next few weeks.
--By Joel Stein
To watch clips of Payne go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=payne+john+larroquette
For more on Payne go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payne_(TV_series)
For an interview with the creators of Payne go to https://web.archive.org/web/20040219173033/http://www.btinternet.com/~c.tomlinson/ftgss2.htm
To watch a CBS Promo go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6YqZaOzP7w
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Keywords: Payne: JoBeth Williams John Larroquette