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Sinbad sailing back to TV

The actor-comedian will star in a reality show, as cable TV executives again reach into the pool of familiar personalities for new series.

March 30, 2011|By T.L. Stanley, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Actor-comedian Sinbad is photographed in his Chatsworth home, where most of his new reality show, "Sinbad, It's Just Family," is being filmed.
Actor-comedian Sinbad is photographed in his Chatsworth home, where most… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

Sinbad's not dead, he's on WE TV.

The actor-comedian, famously bumped off not once but twice via Internet hoax a few years ago, is looking for resurrection of a different kind these days. Almost 17 years after his comedy series "The Sinbad Show" went off the air, he's hoping to juice his career by starring in a reality show, "Sinbad It's Just Family," on the female-targeted WE cable channel that will focus on his newly reunited family.

Sinbad (born David Adkins) shuns the term "comeback," even though he recently poked fun at his absence from the spotlight with a Comedy Central special dubbed "Where U Been?"

"A comeback implies that you were gone," said Sinbad, who points out that he's consistently worked the stand-up circuit since the 1980s. "A lot of stars from the past didn't go away — maybe Hollywood went away — and they're still just as gifted."

Sinbad may be talking about himself or any number of stars of yesterday who are reemerging as hot personalities, like "American Idol's" loopy fan-favorite judge Steven Tyler and "Dancing With the Stars" alum/"Raising Hope" scene stealer Cloris Leachman.

Cable TV executives, who rely on inexpensive reality formats and like to have recognizable, easy-to-promote faces to feature in them, are reaching once again into the pool of stars from the '80s and '90s for several new upcoming series. In addition to "Sinbad It's Just Family," WE also will launch "Braxton Family Values," starring Grammy-winning R&B singer Toni Braxton, her mom and four sisters. Both premiere April 12. Style Network plans a series this summer around identical twins Tia and Tamera Mowry, who starred in the '90s hit sitcom "Sister, Sister."

And perhaps the most renowned of the bunch, former sitcom queen and controversial comedian Roseanne Barr, will star later this year in a Lifetime show about her current passion: running a 40-acre macadamia nut and livestock farm in Hawaii.

Nancy Dubuc, Lifetime Networks' president and general manager, admits there's a proliferation of so-called celebreality on cable and finds much of it "a little one-note," but believes Barr's 16-episode show will be different. "She's not a B-list celebrity trying to make a comeback — she's someone who's shaped the pop cultural landscape," Dubuc said. "

But will people tune in to see her again? Shari Anne Brill, media analyst, said dredging up boldface names from the past isn't necessarily a recipe for success.

"I think we've moved on," she said. "With so many choices, what's unique and special about these stars and why would anyone choose them over a real housewife?"

Though some such shows have become phenomena — "The Osbournes" put shock rocker Ozzy Osbourne back on the map and made his family members household names — some have failed outright (David Hasselhoff's "The Hasselhoffs") and others had short or unremarkable runs (MC Hammer's "Hammertime," "Kirstie Alley's Big Life" and "The Salt-N-Pepa Show").

Reality shows built around former TV, music or movie stars are the modern-day equivalent of celebrities appearing on "The Hollywood Squares" in the '70s, said Leo Braudy, USC professor of mass media and pop culture. "It's the next level down in your career," he said.

There's so much the public already knows about celebrities, courtesy of Us Weekly, TMZ and other nonstop media coverage, Braudy wonders if there's any stone left unturned. And unless there's "some promise of outrageousness," he said, it can be tough to draw an audience.

It's just that sensationalistic precedent that WE TV is hoping to avoid. The network, which, like Lifetime, is in rebranding mode, is aiming for kinder, gentler unscripted fare, said John Miller, WE's senior vice president, original productions and development.

"We're offering some escapism tinged with comedy," he said. "No table flipping."

That's not to say WE is afraid of drama, with Braxton's adulterous dad and her bankruptcies playing a part in "Braxton Family Values." But in general, the network would lean more toward "one loathsome person in a cast instead of six," Miller said.

Case in point: What will unfold during the six-episode "Sinbad It's Just Family," according to executive producer Leslie Greif, will be more akin to "a family sitcom in 'The Cosby Show' vein" than train-wreck TV. It won't ignore family tussles, readjustment pains or Sinbad's past IRS woes.

"But it all comes through Sinbad's perspective, which is glib and insightful and pointed," said Greif, who's also executive producer of the long-running "Gene Simmons Family Jewels." "He has this laser-speed wit, and he's just so likable. People will want to root for him."

Sinbad, who starred in "Cosby Show" sitcom spinoff "A Different World" and films like "Jingle All the Way" and "Houseguest," said it was important for him to not create a show where he's "good buzzard bait," like the characters on "Celebrity Rehab." That may mean fewer video clips that go viral, à la the skankiest "Jersey Shore" happenings, but that suits him fine.

"The show's not designed to have people throwing down on each other all the time, so that's not what will bring in an audience," he said. "Maybe it'll be nostalgia? I don't know. I just want to make people laugh. And if the show's good, I hope it'll find an audience looking for something that's not negative and depressing."

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