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Focus : Stand-Ups Sit Down for Prime Time

September 12, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three years ago, Marilyn Krentz and Caryl Kristensen were Petaluma homemakers and neighbors who shared the same playful views on being wives and mothers in the pressure-cooker '90s. As The Mommies, they quickly became a hot commodity on the stand-up comedy circuit. Now, they're starring in their own NBC sitcom called, oddly enough, "The Mommies."

The incredible sitcom success of such stand-ups as Bill Cosby, Roseanne Arnold, Tim Allen and Jerry Seinfeld has thrown all four networks into a comedy club feeding frenzy, as they try to gobble up the next hot act and transform it into the year's best Nielsen numbers.

While networks tried to entice Generation X viewers last season, this year no generation is left uncourted as the nets cast for the next "Roseanne" or "Home Improvement." And since Cosby, Roseanne and Tim Allen scored big ratings points playing parents, it's no accident that six of the new fall sitcoms with stand-ups turn those laugh-getters into wacky parental units.

"We actually performed in Montreal last year in the comedy festival," Kristensen recalls. "Within a week, we had an offer from every network. We felt like Amy Fisher there for a while."

For the record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 26, 1993 Home Edition TV Times Page 7 Television Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
In the TV Times fall preview edition Sept. 12, "The Mommies" co-star Marilyn Kentz's name was misspelled.

The Mommies went with NBC. Others ended up on CBS, ABC or Fox. All with visions of renewal and eventual syndication dancing in their harried heads. Below, some of what's in store:

'DADDY DEAREST"

Sundays at 9:30 p.m. Fox.

Already premiered.

The Stand-ups: Mr. Warmth Don Rickles and Mr. Neurotic Richard Lewis. Lewis also is co-executive producer.

The Setup: Lewis plays a psychologist and divorced father of a young son (Jeffrey Bomberger) whose life is turned upside-down when his father (Rickles), a retired used-car salesman, moves in with him and his son.

The Skinny: "Fox wanted them together," says co-executive producer Jane Milmore, adding it was Fox's idea to have Rickles and Lewis play father and son.

"We figured that Richard deals a lot with the psyche in his act," explains co-executive producer Billy Van Zandt. "We thought it'd be best to set him where the psyche takes place. And with Don, simply by making them father and son, you have a confrontational atmosphere based on their personalities."

Milmore and Van Zandt gave Lewis a son in order to show Rickles' softer side. "We don't want him bombastic all the time," Van Zandt says.

"THE SECOND HALF"

Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. NBC.

Already premiered.

The Stand-up: John Mendoza.

The Setup: Mendoza plays a divorced sportswriter with two daughters. Mendoza also co-created the series with co-executive producers Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick. In real life, Mendoza is divorced with a 17-year-old daughter. The series, Mendoza says, reflects his own life. "The girls will pretty much play my daughters. I'll play the same schmuck I've been pretty much the last 17 years with my daughter."

The Skinny: "(NBC) came to me," Mendoza says. "I was working at the Improv out here. The next thing I knew we were doing a deal together. I am still playing the character I play doing stand-up, only now I have to move a little bit more to my left."

"I think the successful stand-ups who become sitcom stars are the ones who stick close to the character and personae they've been portraying through the stand-up career," says Rudnick. "We wanted to do the same thing with John. He's divorced, he has a kid. He's into sports, so we made him a sportswriter. We're finding he's the kind of character, if you set up a lot of things going around him, he just reacts to it."

Mendoza hired all the creative staff. "I started all of this by myself," Mendoza says. "Within five minutes, I sold the show. (NBC) told me to go out and find some writers. They said, 'You need to go out and get a production company.' That was Castle Rock. We shot a pilot. I'm very lucky. It's a dream come true from every perspective."

Stand-ups in Sitcomland: "A lot of it is formula," Mendoza says. "The networks have found something that's working. The formula works because we have been out there producing our own shows for 10, 15 years. I know who John Mendoza is. All I have to do is put him in the right situation."

"THEA"

Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ABC.

Premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. then moves to its regular time slot on Sept. 22.

The Stand-up: Thea Vidale.

The Setup: Thea Turrell's a widowed mother with four children who works in a Houston supermarket. To raise extra money, she runs a one-chair beauty salon on her porch.

Thea Vidale, a former waitress, also has four children. Certain aspects of the series, she says, are based on her life. "I certainly do have four children," she says. "I've insight into what it is about. A lot of it is the way I am as a human being."

The Skinny: "I've been doing stand-up for nine years," Vidale says. "I worked very hard to get here. I met (executive producers) Andrew Susskind and Bernie Kukoff. They got to know me."

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