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George & Leo

Two comedy styles should --- and may --- meld when Bob Newhart's hesitant Martha's Vineyard bookseller and Judd Hirsch's tough Jewish Vegas bagman-magician meet head on as their offspring ready to marry. Both masters of the sly comic twist, the two pros need sturdier fare than what the opener hands them.

George Stoody’s (Newhart) son Ted (Jason Bateman) and Leo’s (Hirsch) pregnant daughter Casey (Bess Meyer) are marrying in Ted’s eatery across the way. Vegas bagman Leo, who abandoned his daughter and his wife 20 years ago, shows up for the wedding — broke. Not only that: An armed hood (Jason Beghe) is after him. Seriously.

Not knowing about his bride’s loathing for her father, Ted had invited Leo to the big event. Leo, showing up at George’s store, buys a wedding gift with a rubber check. First test of Newhart and Hirsch comedy styles is satisfactory, if mild, but subsequent segs—- particularly when George lets it slip there’s an empty bedroom over his bookshop.

When Casey first spots her dad, she turns thumbs down, but it’s sitcom time, so that’s not much of a hurdle. Throughout the pilot, the dialogue’s at times funny, at other times so-so. Segs are often amusing or touching — director James Burrows cunningly prods the sitcom to life — as George and Leo get to know each other, as when hesitant George, referring to Leo, coughs up the words “carnival people”; or when Leo corrects George’s pronunciation of “schmuck.”

As in both the enormously successful “Taxi” and in the various high-class Bob Newhart incarnations, secondary characters enormously mattered; same should be kept in mind here.

Ted and Casey share a warming moment when she notes what will happen to them when the baby comes, but so far they’re just an engaging couple who better get married toute de suite. Meyer’s a charmer in her role, and Bateman does a terrific work as the bridegroom.

Darryl Theirse is around for a second as Ambrose, George’s assistant, while Jason Beghe’s mob’s assassin is a standout.

Program’s future rests in the hands of master pros Newhart, Hirsch and Burrows. And they need ammunition to garner guffaws or even gentle smiles (there’s an intimidating laugh track that has to be trashed). It’s to be hoped that amusingly conceived second bananas are on the schedule; if not, the war’s over.

George & Leo

CBS, MON. SEPT. 15, 9:30 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed at Paramount Studios by Staley/Long Prods. and Paramount Pictures. Exec producers-creators-writers, Dan Staley, Rob Long; co-exec producer, Tom Anderson; director, James Burrows.
  • Crew: Camera, Ken Lamkin; editor, Peter Chakos; production designer, Dahl Delu; sound, Michael Ballin; music, Christophe Beck; casting, Susan Vash, Emily Des Hotel. 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Cast: Bob Newhart, Judd Hirsch, Jason Bateman, Bess Meyer, Darryl Theirse, Jason Beghe.
  • Music By: