Faced with a pilot and several episodes that were generating nuclear-disaster-type buzz, DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg and CBS' Les Moonves recruited "Murphy Brown" creator Diane English to rebuild "Ink" from the bottom up, and gave her all of eight weeks to do it. On the line were the reputations of Ted Danson, the Emmy-winning star of the long-running "Cheers," and his Oscar-winning wife, Mary Steenburgen; several million dollars already spent on developing a sitcom for them; and CBS' hopes for a primetime home run.

Faced with a pilot and several episodes that were generating nuclear-disaster-type buzz, DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and CBS’ Les Moonves recruited “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English to rebuild “Ink” from the bottom up, and gave her all of eight weeks to do it. On the line were the reputations of Ted Danson, the Emmy-winning star of the long-running “Cheers,” and his Oscar-winning wife, Mary Steenburgen; several million dollars already spent on developing a sitcom for them; and CBS’ hopes for a primetime home run.

Filmed in Los Angeles by Shukovsky English Entertainment in association with Dream Works. Executive producers, Diane English, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen; co-executive producer, Stephen Nathan; supervising producer, Jack Burditt; consulting producers, Marc Flanagan, Shannon Gaughan; executive consultant, Keith Addis; creative consultant, Jeffrey Klarik; consultant, director, Thomas Schlamme; producers, John Amodeo, Bruce Chevillat; written by English; director of photography, Jim Roberson; art director, Debe Halc; costumes, Bill Hargate; associate producer, Steve Putnam; CBS didn’t get a very good sitcom out of that pressure cooker, but it did get a home run. “Ink” has a long way to go in working out a style and gaining some consistency of tone. Moreover, its setting, the New York Sun, bears about as much resemblance to an actual city newspaper as “Murphy Brown’s” “F.Y.I” bears to a real TV newsmagazine. But people will no more tune into “Ink” for a journalism seminar than they do “Murphy Brown” for a glimpse behind the camera at “60 Minutes.” They tune in for the stars, and the stars of “Ink” — individually and in tandem — deliver. They’re great fun to spend 23 minutes with.

Danson plays Mike Logan, the Sun’s star metro columnist. His face appears on the sides of buses; people give him the thumbs up in the street; vendors have breakfast waiting to press into his hands as he flies by on the way to work. Mike owns the city. The mayor’s furious about this morning’s column? Too bad. The borough of Queens is suing? Tra-la.

What really wrecks the day is the appearance of Kate Montgomery (Steenburgen) , Mike’s globe-trotting journalist ex-wife, who is globe-trotting no more. She’s the Sun’s new managing editor, hence Mike’s boss, having arrived with their teenage daughter, Abby (Alana Austin), in tow.

The Sun fields an exceptionally high-spirited, nice, how shall I say, chipper staff, in quarters so unnaturally clean that it’s impossible to imagine anyone coming into contact with the substance that gives the show its name. The cast of characters is, at this point, painfully predictable: a neurotic (read: Jewish) financial reporter (Saul Rubinek), a police reporter (Ernie Trainor) who’s squeamish about blood stains, a gung-ho editorial assistant (Donna French). And, of course, a run-down, long-in-the-tooth society columnist (Christine Ebersole) given to pronouncements along the lines of, “I’ve got a hangover that would take down Kitty Dukakis.”

Not all of “Ink” is that tasteless, but a lot of it is that stupid. Much is made of Mike’s horror over Abby’s confession that she’s a Republican. The “Metro-bomber” calls Kate, only to be met with a harangue about the trials of finding an apartment in the city and quitting smoking. You get the picture.

And yet Danson and Steenburgen are delightful. He is the master of preening self-love, and she, even outfitted in hideous clothes, appears completely at ease before the camera. This clearly owes something to the presence of veteran sitcom director Thomas Schlamme at the helm; for all their ragged plot edges, the scenes flow effortlessly.

By the end of the first episode, the only thing established worth keeping is that Mike and Kate face a real challenge working together, and that it will be amusing to watch them figure out how.

Everything else is up for grabs.

Ink

Production

CBS, MON. OCT. 21, 8:30 P.M.

Crew

Editor, Janet Ashikaga; sound mixer, Russ Gary; composer, W.G. Snuffy Walden; casting, Susan Bluestein. 30 MIN.

With

Cast: Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Alana Austin, Jenica Bergere, Christine Ebersole, Charlie Robinson, Saul Rubinek, Philip Bruns, James Distafano, Bill Macy, Kathryn Morris, Judy Prescott, John Del Regno, Troy Winbush.
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