Szysznyk aired from August 1977 until January 1978 on CBS.
Nick Szysznyk ( Ned Beatty)was a retired Marine, used to the discipline and order of military life, who had taken on a new job as playground supervisor at the Northeast Community Center in a poor neighborhood in Washington D.C. Coping with the bureaucracy in the city government that funded the center, his coworkers and the street kids who used the center, all proved challenging to him-and to them as well.
The half-hour sitcom also featured Olivia Cole as Ms. Harrison, the district supervisor; Leonard Barr as Leonard Kriegler, the custodian; Susan Lanier as Sandi Chandler, the nursery school instructor; Thomas Carter as Ray Gunn; Scott Colomby as Tony; Barry Miller as Fortwengler; and Jarrod Johnson as Ralph.
Highly successful in its initial run against repeat programming during the summer, Szysznyk returned in December 1977 against stronger competition and lasted only two months.
An Article from the New York Times
TV: Szysznyk Runs A Community Center
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR DEC. 28, 1977
In assorted interviews, everyone connected with the series “Szysznyk” indignantly insists that the basic plots sprang whole and virginal from the heads of the “creators.” But a minute's sampling of the new CBS situation comedy, which can normally be seen Wednesdays at 8:3G. P.M. —tonight “Conversation with President Carter’ will be on instead—clearly fixes the format in the currently popular blue‐collar mold somewhere between “Chico and the Man” and “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
The formula: Take one man in a position of some authority, and surround him with supposedly adorable cutup types, preferably teen‐agers. In this instance, Nick Szysznyk is a former marine sergeant supervising a community center in Washington. He copes with a tough woman boss, a grumpy building custodian, and various complaining old folks, but. his primary charges are three young guys: wisecracking Fortwengler, preening Tony LaPlaca and black and jiving Ray Gun. The neat ethnic‐racial mix is supplemented with the much younger and sassy‐innocent Ralph, who also happens to be black.
The premise is that, after years of Eolation in the Marines, Szysznyk is not prepared for the new permissiveness of modern living. The show's theme song, another one of those exercises in tortured lyrics, wonders “Where was I when everything got crazy/I guess I was around but my mind was somewhere else.” Dumped into this impossible situation, Szysznyk's only recourse at moments of in. tense frustration is to do a slow burn, followed by a siege of incomprehensible bellowing left over from his Marine days.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the plot comes in at about 1½, which is about the norm for most situation‐comedies of this sort. The rest depends on character development, or rather the shameless exploitation of stereotypes. If you can come up with a Fonzie or a Barberino, you are very likely to have a hit on the magnitude of “Happy Days” or “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
The candidates for teenybopper stardom on “Szyszhyk” are still in the uncertain stage. Scott Colomby's Tony is still self‐conscious about having to display some hairless chest underneath his carefully unbuttoned shirt. Barry Miller's Fortwengler seems nearly contemptuous of everything, including the show. And Thomas Carter's Ray Gun gives the understandable impression of his living a bit embarrassing.
But with such notable exceptions as “All in the Family” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the world of situation comedy is a world of serviceable potboilers. Anyone looking for sustained intelligence and quality is doomed to disappointment. In this context, “Szysznyk” is no worse than many of its competitors, perhaps a bit better than some.
For one thing, the title role is performed by Ned Beatty, a character actor who has been turning out consistently good work for years. Playing everything from gnarled villains to almost neurotically gentle souls, he works deftly within an impressively broad range. Even his Szysznyk is fleshed out with clever details. Dressed in loud Hawaiian‐print shirts and Hush Puppies, Mr. Beatty walks a sensitive line between being sympathetic and being ludicrous.
Leonard Barr as the grouchy old custodian is a steal from the character of Fish. who started in “Barney Miner,” but he has his own amusing touches. At an encounter session last week, as role‐reversal got underway, he asked lasciviously. “Is this the part where•we swap clothes?” And Szysznyk's boss, Olivia Cole, is forced to do an extraordinary amount of snarling, but the mere conception of having a woman in charge is still encouraging in sit‐corn land.
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