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Listen Up

Whatever modicum of good will "Listen Up" engenders in the course of a half-hour dissipates near the end, when star Jason Alexander inexplicably bursts into a musical number. With that, the show labels itself another vanity piece. Although the show should do a reasonably good job sustaining its lead-in, that owes more to inertia than material that demands to be seen.

Whatever modicum of good will “Listen Up” engenders in the course of a mostly undistinguished half-hour dissipates near the end, when star Jason Alexander — best known for “Seinfeld,” but also an accomplished song-and-dance man — inexplicably bursts into a musical number. With that, the show labels itself another vanity piece, a bit better than Alexander’s last at-bat for ABC, “Bob Patterson,” but still a swing and a miss. Although the show should do a reasonably good job sustaining its lead-in, that owes more to inertia than material that demands to be seen, much less heard.

Using Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser as its inspiration, the series teams Alexander with “Cosby” kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner as the opinionated hosts of a sports talk program — as if the yammering idiots on Kornheiser’s “Pardon the Interruption” and ESPN companion “Around the Horn” begged for company.

Like most such sitcoms, however, the job is just half the life of Tony Kleinman (Alexander), who begins writing a general column for the lifestyle section and, in no time flat, alienates his 14-year-old daughter Megan (Daniella Monet) by embarrassing her in print.

In the pox-on-both-their-houses department, Tony is an obvious dunce for being so clueless as to his daughter’s feelings, but the kid — while outwardly adorable — proves such a whiny brat it’s hard not to hope he writes another column, if only to roll it up and smack her with it. Clearly, this newfangled parenting approach isn’t yielding dividends, because the level of father-daughter discourse is all sniping, no talk.

The addition of Wendy Makkena (a role recast after last spring) helps bring a little zest to the domestic side, and Warner exhibits decent chemistry with Alexander as his squabbling co-host. Still, there are few laughs, with the one modestly funny visual moment coming when Tony — banned from attending his daughter’s soccer game — tries to hide behind a rock and ends up looking like a pervert.

There are doubtless additional lessons here about second-banana syndrome pertaining to the “Seinfeld” co-stars. In Alexander’s case, he’s a bigger-than-TV comedic presence, much like Nathan Lane, whom he followed onstage in “The Producers.” Neither is easily contained by the sitcom format. And while “Seinfeld” provided Alexander an ideal role, its unique tone can’t easily be replicated, as Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus can attest.

Thematically, “Listen Up” seems perfectly suited to its timeslot, a family comedy about a sports journalist nestled next to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Yet the halo from the established show just exposes how meek a prospect this rookie is.

CBS has fared surprisingly well even with mundane comedies in the first hour of its Monday lineup, but the stakes have been raised with “Raymond” preparing to sign off. In that context, it’s hard to fathom “Listen Up” helping CBS fill the void left by one of TV’s top-rated sitcoms.

Listen Up

CBS, Mon. Sept. 20, 8:30 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in L.A. by Regency Television in association with CBS Prods. Executive producers, Jeff Martin, Lindy DeKoven; co-executive producers, David Litt, Daphne Pollon; producers, Jason Alexander, Suzy Greenberg; co-producer, Linda Figueiredo; director, Andy Ackerman; writer, Martin;
  • Crew: camera, Nick McLean; editor, Darryl Bates; music, Brian Kirk; production designer, John Shaffner; casting, Leslie Litt. 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Tony Kleinman - Jason Alexander Bernie Widmar - Malcolm-Jamal Warner Dana Kleinman - Wendy Makkena Megan Kleinman - Daniella Monet Mickey Kleinman - Will Rothbaar