Is Whoopi Goldberg the Archie Bunker of 2003?
Ask the actress, and she says that is what she’ll be when her new self-titled comedy bows this fall on NBC — at least in a reverse sort of way. For the first time on network television since 9/11, the laffer plans to bring levity to issues such as terrorism and the particular problems facing persons of Middle Eastern descent visiting or living in the U.S.
“We are going to tackle as many things as we can,” Goldberg said Friday as the Television Critics Assn. press tour wrapped up in L.A. “People may not like it, but they will talk about it, kind of like ‘Archie Bunker 2003.’ ”
“Whoopi,” which will air Tuesdays at 8 p.m., stars Goldberg as a small hotel owner in Gotham. Show is exec produced by Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and NBC Studios.
Her character, ex-diva Mavis Rae, smokes, drinks and makes her strong opinions about everything known to her Arab handyman, Nasim, played by Omid Djalili. Mavis also takes in her stiff lawyer brother Courtney, played by Wren T. Brown. The fourth cast member is Elizabeth Regen, who plays Rita, Courtney’s white girlfriend. Rita appears more black than white in dress and speaking style.
It is Djalili’s character that makes many of the jokes about terrorism and being from the Middle East. Djalili used some of the same humor on the TCA crowd when poking fun at President Bush’s trouble with some phrases and words.
“President Bush said it was not a war against Islam or the country of Islamia,” Djalili said.
Goldberg said NBC has been entirely supportive. In turn, the Peacock said advertisers didn’t flinch at buying time on the laffer.
“There isn’t anything we don’t feel we could do,” Goldberg said. NBC “knew who I was when they hired me. Carsey-Werner also knew who I was. No one has put any limitations on me.”
Larry Wilmore, one of the show’s exec producers, said “All in the Family” bowed during a very tumultuous time in America’s history, the late 1960s, and directly tackled the sensitive and tough issues of the hour, just as “Whoopi” will do.
Show already has come under fire from anti-smoking groups who are upset that Goldberg’s character smokes. (Goldberg seemed to respond to the controversy by smoking onstage at TCA.)
Another new NBC show earning attention for content is “Coupling,” the sitcom based on the British comedy of the same name. The sex romp, focused on six young adults, airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.
British “Coupling” exec producer Beryl Vertue, who is working closely with NBC on the American version, said Friday at TCA that she doesn’t mind if a line or two is changed between the British and American scripts. If anything, Vertue said she is quite happy with NBC’s determination not to deviate too much from the British version.
NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker said last week that a line in the first episode, “One swallow does not a summer make,” will be removed.
“I would be irritated if it was really watered down hugely just for the sake of it, as though America was walking around and couldn’t watch television because they’re all at church or something,” Vertue said. “But no, I’m not offended by that.”
There has been plenty of speculation that NBC has tapped “Coupling” the heir apparent to “Friends,” which is about to begin its final season. Because of its racier storyline, though, “Coupling” could never have an 8 p.m. timeslot.
“We could welcome the opportunity to be anything like ‘Friends.’ ” Obviously, the success of that show would be an amazing opportunity for us to pursue,” said “Coupling” exec producer Ben Silverman. “But we want to be a different show, and we think we are a different show.”