The Naked Truth (Thurs. (16), 9:30-10 p.m., NBC)Filmed in Studio City by Brillstein-Grey Communications. Executive producers, Brad Grey, Bernie Brillstein, Maya Forbes, Jay Daniel, John Riggi; co-executive producer, Miriam Trogdon; producers, Nancy Haas, Robert Cohen; supervising producer, Scott Buck; director, Gail Mancuso; writer, Forbes; camera, Jerry Workman; editor, Bill Petty; production designer, Ken Johnson; music, Dan Foliart; casting, Nan Dutton. 30 MIN. Cast: Tea Leoni, George Wendt, Holland Taylor, Jonathan Penner, Mark Roberts, Darryl Sivad, Tim DeKay, Peter Jason, Timothy Elwell. Last year’s ABC disappointment has been retooled, redirected and given a midseason transplant smack in the heart of NBC’s “Must See TV” stronghold on Thursdays at 30, following the multimillion-dollar nothingness of “Seinfeld” and leading into a little show called “ER.” It’s the timeslot that producers would gladly trade their children for.
Does “The Naked Truth” deserve such a spectacular launching pad? Well, yes and no. Certainly more so than the show it’s replacing, “Suddenly Susan,” and more than fellow Thursday inhabitant “The Single Guy.” Any show starring the exquisitely daffy Tea Leoni deserves at least to be seen.
But this comedy, while smart in its character-driven instincts, still has trouble matching the effortless charisma and breezy energy of its star, though the laugh quotient picks up somewhat in next week’s second episode when Tom Arnold pays a visit.
In the new and relatively unimproved “Naked Truth,” Leoni (fresh from a glorious turn in the feature “Flirting With Disaster”) continues to portray Nora Wilde, but she has been transformed from a ditzy tabloid photographer to a ditzy-but-responsible advice columnist because, hey, we wouldn’t want to be politically incorrect, now would we?
In fact, the entire show has been given a spritz of Formula 409 with the addition of George Wendt as the new editor of the rag mag the Comet. He’s Les Polonsky, a reformed meat packer who thrills in saying “Stop the presses!” and have it not mean that someone’s thumb just got caught in the machinery.
In the re-pilot (or second-season premiere, if you prefer), Les sets out to de-sleaze the magazine and aim for (gasp) truth. No more Elvis sightings and pictures of Loni Anderson’s head attached to Marlon Brando’s body on the cover. In the age of “stalkerazzi,” comedy can no longer mine the depths of tabloid journalism for laughs. Call it the Alec Baldwin Rule.
Anyway, the new guy wreaks all sorts of havoc upon arrival, demoting Camilla (Holland Taylor) from editor to reporter, putting office weirdo Dave (Mark Roberts) on the pets-and-babies beat and assigning T.J. (Darryl Sivad) to the fashion editor post.
Most of Maya Forbes’ script is designed to reacquaint us with the characters, who are unmemorable aside from Taylor’s brassy Camilla and, of course, Leoni’s eccentric Nora. Wendt looks like he’s killing time until his next “Cheers” check arrives.
Things improve in the second episode when Arnold guest stars as himself, irate that he and his dog have been photographed without his permission.
“Naked Truth” reveals Leoni as a superstar waiting to happen. Producers Nancy Haas and Robert Cohen appear unsure just how to capitalize on their lead’s considerable talent. As a result, the show remains something less than Leoni’s perfect vehicle.