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'On the Spot' misses mark

March 20, 2003|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Here's an intriguing premise: a half-scripted, half-improvised new sitcom featuring comedy legend Tim Conway. Unfortunately, "On the Spot" also comes off as half-baked, at least in tonight's premiere (9:30, WB).

With its big ensemble cast and a format that swings between "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and a standard situation comedy, the show can be funny at times, but frustrating too. You may find yourself wondering not only what's going on, but also what happened to Conway.

The cast regulars are Lance Barber, Jordan Black, Erinn Carter, Jeff Davis, Michael Hitchcock, Arden Myrin, Mindy Sterling and Lindsey Stoddart, along with Conway, host Chip Esten and band leader Dweezil Zappa. Robert Cohen is the creator and executive producer.

Every episode takes place at the Sun Spot, a quirky Malibu hotel that has seen better days.

In tonight's show, Mr. Henderson (Conway), head of the hotel's corporate owner, sends his mail clerk, Jeff (Davis), to help the manager, Karl (Brian Doyle Murray), get things back on track. When Karl suddenly dies, Jeff takes over and tries to whip the staff into shape, including the ambitious assistant manager, Brenda (Carter), and the weird husband-and-wife lounge act, FiFi (Sterling) and the Professor (Hitchcock).

Audience members also play a key role, offering plot suggestions and sometimes finding themselves on camera as hotel guests and patrons in the lounge.

The format occasionally lets Conway cut loose with inspired shtick, including one bit tonight involving a static phone connection. But more often you may wonder: Whose generic sitcom is it, anyway?

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