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City aired from January until June 1990 on CBS.

The Department Of City Services for a moderately large unnamed American City ( even the seal shown in the opening credits only referred to it as " City") was the setting for this comedy. Liz Gianni ( Valerie Harper)was the harried city manager, trying to get as much as possible out of her limited budget and off-the-wall staff. Assistant City Manager Roger Barnett ( Todd Susman), was her right hand man, an unflappable career civil servent who had seen it all. Others were Wanda ( Tyra Farrell), Liz's secretary; Lance( Sam Lloyd), the obsessive and obnoxious head of the records department; Anna-Maria ( Liz Torres), the outspoken, Cuban-born purchasing agent whose revolutionary husband was incarcarated in her homeland; Gloria ( Mary Jo Keenan), the flighty social services coordinator; and Victor ( James Lorinz), the overly enthusiastic acting chief of security. Liz's nemisis was Deputy Mayor Ken Resnick ( Stephen Lee), a pompous manipulative, petty bureaucrat who was not above using his position to try to line his pockets with " gifts" from favored contractors. A widow, Liz, also had to deal with Penny ( LuAnne Ponce), her 19 year old daughter, who had dropped out of college and returned home. Penny wanted to be treated as a " friend" not as a daughter, something Liz found difficult to accept, particularly when it came to Penny's off-beat social relationships.

The series was originally scheduled on Mondays, directly opposite NBC's The Hogan Family, which had started life in 1986 as Valerie, starring none other than Valerie Harper. Coincidentally, the scheduling setup also meant that City co-star LuAnne Ponce was appearing directly opposite her brother Danny Ponce, who played one of the kids on The Hogan Family.

An Article from the LA Times

Harper: Getting the Last Laugh : Television: Actress who was fired from NBC's 'Hogan Family' returns with a comedy called 'City' for CBS--in the same Monday time slot.

It may be a first for prime-time TV: an actress who died in a comedy series on one network will compete with her own ghost when she returns in another comedy on another network in the same Monday night time slot.

This may sound like the plot for some high-concept and awful TV movie, but it's about to happen for real when "City," a new CBS comedy starring Valerie Harper, debuts Jan. 29 at 8:30 p.m.

The new show, in which Harper plays city manager Liz Gianni, will go up against NBC's "The Hogan Family," a family sitcom that was called "Valerie" and starred Harper until she was fired in 1987 in a breach-of-contract dispute over creative control and money issues, which led to a protracted court battle between Harper, the show's producer, Lorimar and NBC. Harper's character in "The Hogan Family" was killed off and Sandy Duncan was brought in to play an aunt who takes over the raising of the three Hogan boys.

The connections don't end there: The actress who plays Liz Gianni's college-age daughter is Luanne Ponce, older sister of Danny Ponce, who portrays Willie Hogan, one of "The Hogan Family" children.

And the man who put Harper's new show in direct competition with Harper's old show is recently appointed CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky--who, like Harper, used to work for NBC. Harper said that Sagansky asked the "City" producers to speed up their production schedule by several weeks to get the show ready to replace the low-rated "Famous Teddy Z," which is going on hiatus until March.

NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff, once Sagansky's boss, is taking the challenge seriously. "I want to win this battle," he said after a news conference in Los Angeles last week.

Although Harper has worked for NBC since the lawsuit--in the 1988 movie "The People Across the Lake"--Tartikoff has needled her publicly. At the same news conference last week, Tartikoff presented a David Letterman-style list of the Top 10 questions asked by the press during his 10 years as programming chief; No. 4 was "How are discussions going with Valerie Harper?"

Harper won her case in September, 1988, proving that she had not quit the show in a fit of temper, as Lorimar had charged, but was wrongfully fired. The jury awarded Harper $1.4 million compensation for lost wages; allotted $220,000 to Harper's husband and former weight-loss trainer, Tony Cacciotti, who had been co-executive producer on "Valerie," and gave them profit participation that could total $15 million.

Her departure also led to the series being renamed, from "Valerie" to "Valerie's Family" to the current "The Hogan Family."

Paul Haggis, co-executive producer of Harper's new series with Cacciotti, calls the competition with the old show "terrific." Haggis said that he first met Harper while the court case was in process.

"To be frank, I didn't know what to expect," he said. "So we met in a restaurant, and I sat down with her and the first thing I said was, 'I've heard some awful things about you.' And she laughed, and we started talking. . . . This is going to sound like we're staging this, but she's the easiest actress I've ever worked with."

Haggis said he also finds it easy to work with Cacciotti. Lorimar, which added Cacciotti to the "Valerie" staff as an executive producer with its original executive producers, Bob Boyett and Tom Miller, later charged that Cacciotti was unqualified and that Harper had demanded an unreasonable salary and level of creative input for him.

"Tony leaves me completely alone to work on the script," Haggis said. "We get together for casting and production. He's running the production end of things."

The first series idea that Haggis, Harper and Cacciotti came up with for CBS was called "Desperate Women," about several generations of women in an Italian family in Brooklyn.

CBS rejected it: "It was a very eccentric little script," Haggis said.

They then developed "City," featuring Harper as a widow juggling life with a daughter recently returned home after dropping out of college and the bizarre goings-on within the city manager's office. Originally conceived as an hour drama blending tough issues with some comedy, like "L.A. Law" or "Hill Street Blues," the team later adapted the idea to the sitcom format.

"Frankly, I didn't much like her old series; I told her that when I met her," Haggis said. "I really think she belongs heading an ensemble cast."

The series also stars Todd Sussman, Tyra Ferrell, Sam Lloyd, Liz Torres, Mary Jo Keenan, James Lorinz and Stephen Lee as Harper's co-workers.

Harper's attorney, Barry Langberg, said that her court case had had "a significant effect" on deal-making in Hollywood.

"A large number of attorneys and business managers since that case, and some studio executives too, say people in the industry now are much more conscious of having a definitive written agreement, so problems don't arise in the future," he said.

That's certainly true for her, he said. This time around, the roles of all parties are better defined by Harper's contract, including Harper's right to "creative contribution" to the show.

"We have a real complete contract that was signed by all parties," Langberg said. "I know that Tony (Cacciotti) has been very active in putting this show together, the show was itself created by Tony and Paul Haggis and Valerie. Valerie has been part of this from the beginning."

Harper, a former star on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and her own spinoff, "Rhoda," called her problems with Lorimar "the exception rather than the rule" in her work in the entertainment industry, and said the new contract was tight enough that "there would be no problems. The contract stuff--it's in one ear and out the other for me," she continued. "But this time, it wasn't a 'we'll settle it later' handshake deal like the other one was. . . . I just said: 'We can't do it later.' "

"I have really completed it for myself, inside," Harper said of her bitter legal battle with Lorimar. "I really don't feel angry or vindictive or anything toward the people I was involved with at that time. Listen, people make mistakes, people do things--and you go onward. You put it behind you. There's no money in bitterness. There's no credential in it, no payoff. You just make yourself sick, I think."

Harper said she would never use the title "Valerie" for a show for herself again. "I wouldn't want to--no, I'm proud of that show," she said. "I was on 32 episodes. They (Lorimar) say 31, because they erased me (from the last one). But I have the tape!"

An Article from The Chicago Tribune

A Less-whiny Valerie
Harper Trades Sisterhood For Motherhood
January 29, 1990|By Rick Kogan, TV/radio critic .

The appeal of Valerie Harper has always escaped me. She was always too shrill, too desperate, too pliant, too apt to whine and whine and whine.

She is less of all these things in her new CBS series ``City,`` and, as a result, this is a show immediately more appealing and potentially more amusing than ``Rhoda`` and ``Valerie/Valerie`s Family/The Hogan Family,`` Harper`s previous network sitcoms.

There has always been something markedly asexual about Harper`s characters. Rhoda was born as the frumpy single friend on ``The Mary Tyler Moore Show.`` Even when, as a slimmed-down ``Rhoda,`` she got married to Joe Gerard (David Groh), the show`s producers soon saw the folly of their matchmaking and got rid of Joe after two seasons.

Perhaps Harper is the quintessential television single, more comfortable in the role of little sister (to Mary Tyler Moore) or big sister (to Julie Kavner, her ``Rhoda`` sister, Brenda).

In ``City,`` she makes the move from sisterhood to motherhood. Lu Anne Ponce is her 19-year-old college-dropout daughter, and the premiere episode begins with Harper trying to persuade Ponce that their cohabitation can succeed if the daughter will ``Think of me as your roommate. I`ll be your girlfriend. Here, drink this. Juice is good for you.``

At her office, where she works as city manager of a mid-sized American burg, Harper is provided with an extended family, a familiar gang that comprises a meal from the sitcom writer`s menu.

- Todd Sussman as Harper`s Gruff-but-Lovable assistant.

- Tyra Ferrell as the Tough-but-Funny secretary.

- Stephen Lee as the Corrupt-but-Buffoonish deputy mayor

- Sam Lloyd as the Officious-but-Nerdy head of records.

- Liz Torres as the Wisecracking-but-Efficient purchasing agent.

- Mary Jo Keenan as the Ditzy-but-Cute social services director.

- James Lorinz as the Dopey-but-Cute security cop.

She`s a tough and take-charge boss. Faced with an off-key stream of people intruding to sing their applications for ``the city song contest,`` she orders Lorinz to ``shoot anybody singing in the building.``

This den-mother role may inhibit the kvetching that has characterized her past TV lives. That would be welcome, for the most consistently interesting thing about Harper`s characters have been their sharp tongues.

It remains to be seen whether this field will prove nurturing for such a creation. For that to happen, the writers will have to dig further into the morass of civil tribulations than they have in the first espisode: coffins from a bulldozed cemetery are littering lawns.

In an interesting twist, CBS has decided to pit ``City`` head-to-head against NBC`s ``Hogan Family,`` the show from which Harper departed in a contract spat, leaving her TV family in the care of Sandy Dennis. The network is obviously betting that is will be a ``City`` that works.


A new CBS comedy series. Created by Paul Haggis; executive producers Haggis and Tony Cacciotti; directed by Howard Storm and written by Haggis. With Valerie Harper, Lu Anne Ponce, Todd Sussman, Tyra Ferrell, Stephen Lee, Sam Lloyd, Liz Torres, Mary Jo Keenan and James Lorinz. Airing 7:30 p.m. Monday on WBBM-Ch. 2.

A Review from The New York Times

Urban Incivility: Laughing With Valerie Harper

Published: February 12, 1990

Urban crises. Political corruption. Bureacratic incompetence. The homeless. What do you do when everything begins to seem utterly hopeless? Put them all into a sitcom, that's what. Or at least that's what CBS has done in ''City,'' a series that offers a laugh every 15 seconds about the horrors of ungracious living in contemporary America. The new show, created by Paul Haggis, a producer and writer who has won two Emmy Awards for ''Thirtysomething,'' can be seen at 8:30 P.M. on Mondays.

Valerie Harper stars as Liz Gianni, a manager of a Department of City Service at City Hall (precise location unspecified). Ms. Harper is returning in grand shape to the kind of breezily kooky character she parlayed into fame on ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show'' and its ''Rhoda'' spinoff. Most recently she starred in ''Valerie,'' and her involuntary departure brought a suit against NBC that was settled out of court, reportedly to the considerable financial benefit of the actress. ''Valerie'' became ''The Hogan Family'' and now runs directly opposite ''City.'' Television is a wondrous business.

Liz operates on two levels. She's the single, fretting, overprotective mother of 19-year-old Penny (LuAnne Ponce, sister of Danny Ponce, one of the teen-agers - would you believe it? - on ''The Hogan Family''). The frantic mother-daughter motif runs through all episodes. Then Liz is the harried office manager, overseeing a racial-ethnic menagerie that would do any demographer proud. Ken Resnick (Stephen Lee) is the totally powerless, monumentally rotten boss. Roger Barnett (Todd Susman) is the assistant city manager who spends most of his time betting on sports and trying to sell a worn-out racehorse he owns. Anna-Maria Batista (Liz Torres) is the tough Cuban purchasing agent who pronounce ''yep'' as ''jep.''

Wanda Jenkins (Tyra Ferrell) is the black secretary who prays that her 10-year-old son won't grow up to be a low-paid classical musician like his father (''Who the hell cares about Yo-Yo Ma?'' she says. ''The man was named after a Wham-O toy''). Thrown in for extra wisecracking spice are Sam Lloyd as a creepy statistician, Mary Jo Keenan as Gloria, a rich and glamorous fluff head (think Corky in Murphy Brown), James Lorinz as a dimwitted security guard, and Rodney Ueno as the aggressive Asian mail clerk. Only the Azerbaijanis, it seems, have been overlooked.

The first episode announced that this series would be about urban America's unsung heroes, the bureaucrats: ''They may not be much, but they are all that stand between us and the politicians.'' In no time at all, Liz was telling the security guard, only half jokingly, to shoot several singers who had invaded the office with ideas for a new city theme song. ''They won't issue me a gun,'' pouted the guard, which became a running joke, except it didn't seem terribly funny in the real context of recent shootings of teen-agers by New York City police officers. That's the trouble with outrageous topical humor. It sours easily.

The character of Ken the boss, though played hilariously by Mr. Lee, is especially troublesome. When not being riduculously dishonest or obnoxiously biased (''All right, Pancho,'' he tells a distraught Hispanic janitor, ''go find a hat and dance around it''), Ken verges on being downright cruel. He appears to have overdosed on the more controversial performances of the comic Andrew Dice Clay. In tonight's third episode, which revolves around the death from freezing of a homeless man, Ken admits he has a problem. (The sardonic Roger asks, ''Not the nose-hair thing again?'') Ken would like to improve his image. Liz suggests opening the doors of City Hall to the homeless. ''Great,'' sneers Ken. ''Then I'll be loved by bums.'' He then proceeds to tell how he took away his mother's walker because she told too much to a pollster. ''Let her crawl around for a while,'' Ken says. ''She won't be so talkative.''

''City'' doesn't play favorites with its offensiveness. At one point, terribly WASP-y Gloria receives a family-tree chart indicating that her great-grandmother Muffy was Jewish. This prompts Gloria to begin greeting one and all with ''Shalom!'' and to start buying deli food. Asked why she bothered buying day-old bagels that were on sale, Gloria rolled her eyes to heaven patiently and simply murmured ''Goyim!'' Needless to say, by episode's end, Gloria learned that the chart company made a mistake and promptly returned to eating pound cake.

Perhaps with superstructures and infrastructures seemingly disintegrating before our eyes these days, the television equivalent of a minstrel show is one way of coping with unsettling realities. In this sense, ''City'' copes aggressively. Yuk, yuk, Mr. Bones.

Harried Mother, Harried Manager

CITY, produced by Paul Haggis-A. V. Productions in association with CBS Entertainment Productions and M.T.M. Enterprises; Mr. Haggis and Tony Cacciotti, executive producers. On CBS, at 8:30 P.M. on Mondays.

Liz Gianni ... Valerie Harper
Roger Barnett ... Todd Susman
Penny Gianni ... LuAnne Ponce
Wanda Jenkins ... Tyra Ferrell
Ken Resnick ... Stephen Lee
Lance Armstrong ... Sam Lloyd
Anna-Maria Batista ... Liz Torres
Gloria Elgis ... Mary Jo Keenan
Victor Sloboda ... James Lorinz

For more on City go to

To go to Valerie Harper's Official Site go to

To watch the opening credits go to
Date: Sun April 1, 2007 � Filesize: 49.9kb, 87.5kbDimensions: 789 x 992 �
Keywords: The Cast of City (Link Updated 7/24/18)


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