The Gregory Hines Show

What would seem at first blush to be a truly wretched idea --- sticking Gregory Hines, master tap dancer and Broadway star, in a family sitcom --- looks instead to be a stroke of modest genius based on the pilot of his namesake series. Brimming with quirky characters, snappy repartee and mounds of heart, Hines' series has all the earmarks of a gleaming diamond in the Friday night rough. Hines, now 51 but looking 10 years younger, stars as Ben Stevenson, a book publisher widowed 18 months before. His wife's death left him alone to raise their 12-year-old son, Matty (Brandon Hammond of "Space Jam" and "Waiting to Exhale"), and now he's just beginning to muster some nerve about re-entering the (gasp) dating scene.

Ben stumbles through the opener with anything but a tap dancer’s nimble feet, meeting a couple of Ms. Wrongs (one married, one nuts) while watching his son get his first whiff of amorous female attention. Surrounding the two males are a pushy brother (Wendell Pierce), a loveably doddering dad (Bill Cobbs) and some offbeat (read: zany) co-workers (Mark Tymchyshyn, Robin Riker and Judith Shelton).

Those work associates are notable in a couple of respects. For one, they intermingle hilariously, particularly the hyperkinetic Alex (Tymchyshyn) and his caustic ex-wife, Nicole (Riker). The brassy secretary, Angela (Shelton), also fires off some nifty zingers.

But what further distinguishes these officemates is the color of their skin: they’re white, in an otherwise “black” sitcom, a nod to color-blindness rare in primetime and worthy of praise primarily because the show is utterly devoid of racial and cultural stereotypes.

Opening script, penned by executive producers Michael Katlin and Nat Bernstein, fairly bursts with witty, character-driven dialogue and allows Hines’ untapped comic side to emerge almost effortlessly. His strength is in playing the straight man, and director Andrew Weyman lets it flow naturally.

While “The Gregory Hines Show” plays off of the fall season’s most overdone new gambit — single dad traversing a world full of land mines called women and children — Hines is such a genuine, adorable presence that audiences can’t help but feel drawn to him. And his relationship with screen son Hammond is sweet enough to promote hypoglycemia.

Whether Hines’ show has sufficient strength to compete effectively with ABC’s Friday comedy lineup (Monday showing is only for the pilot) is difficult to predict. But clearly, with its aged but popular ABC castoffs (“Family Matters,” “Step by Step”), CBS finally has reason for some optimism with its own version of T.G.I.F. (Thank Gregory It’s Friday).

Tech credits are all terrif. Show enters its regular 9 p.m. Friday timeslot on Sept. 19.

The Gregory Hines Show

CBS, Mon. SEPT. 15, 8:30 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Katlin and Bernstein Productions, Darric Productions and CBS Productions in association with Columbia TriStar TV. Executive producers, Mitchel Katlin, Nat Bernstein, Fran Saperstein; co-executive producers, Sy Dukane, Denise Moss, Elaine Ronson; producer, Patricia Fass Palmer; co-producer, Bob Delegall; associate producer, Barbara Brace; writers, Katlin, Bernstein; director, Andrew D. Weyman.
  • Crew: Camera, Donald A. Morgan; production designer, Scott Heineman; editor, Jay Scherberth; sound, Christopher Banniger; music, Rick Cutler; casting, Robert Ulrich, Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer. 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Cast: Gregory Hines, Wendell Pierce, Robin Riker, Brandon Hammond, Mark Tymchyshyn, Judith Shelton, Bill Cobbs, Angelique Parry. Guests: Penny Johnson, Wayne Pere, Dee Freeman.