Dabney Coleman, playing a toned-down version of the curmudgeonly character familiar from series including ahead-of-its-time “Buffalo Bill” and “‘Slap’ Maxwell Story,” gets strong placement in NBC’s post-“Seinfeld” slot.
Coleman plays Jack Buckner, acerbic columnist (for nearly 30 years) for N.Y.-based newsweekly Your Times. In the pilot, his daughter, Meg (Cynthia Gibb) , is appointed publisher of Your Times, charged with recasting the stodgy magazine for the ’90s.
Back home, there’s Jack’s other daughter, Caroline (Ashley Gardner), married to Big Kenny (Robert Pierce), and 23-year-old layabout son Dylan (John Ales), as well as Jack’s long-suffering but loving wife, Delia (Concetta Tomei).
Big conflict of pilot finds music critic Jonathan Gold (Todd Susman) clearly not the man for the job anymore. But he’s “like an uncle” to Meg and is Jack’s best friend.
In real life, a publisher would be having lunch with advertisers and negotiating with the printers, but the producers of “Madman” portray Meg as an editor, forced to do something about Gold.
She hires a new music critic (boo!), but moves Gold over to technology editor (hooray!) shortly after he’s bragged about his new computer (though, in truth, anybody who’s impressed by a 230 MB hard drive is hardly on the cutting edge of computer technology).
While it has its moments, even veteran comedy director James Burrows can’t save pilot from attempt to force so much exposition into 22 minutes.
Most amusing aspect in retrospect is that several changes were made between the pilot and second episode. The Buckners’ daughter and son-in-law have been demoted to recurring status, and Gold and Meg’s boyfriend (Vince Grant) were written out; ironically, by eliminating Gold, the producers demonstrated an unemotional power that Meg was unable to exhibit.
Second episode, which introduces two new characters in the newsroom (Craig Bierko as investigative reporter B.J. Cooper, hunk who tends to laugh at his own jokes; and Amy Aquino as wacky but good-hearted Sasha Danziger), is much more amusing.