On the heels of his breakout role in “Pretty in Pink,” Jon Cryer landed his first sitcom — the inside-showbiz CBS comedy “The Famous Teddy Z” that co-starred Alex Rocco.
Rocco, who died Saturday at the age of 79, cited “Teddy Z” as the “most fun” he ever had in his long career, according to Rocco’s family. Rocco played stressed-out talent agent Al Floss, who clashed with the agency’s mailroom wunderkind Teddy Zakalokis, played by Cryer.
“Teddy Z” only lasted one season in 1989-90 — its final five episodes never saw the light of day until Comedy Central ran the entire series in 1993. But Rocco earned an Emmy for his performance, and made a lifelong friend of Cryer.
On Sunday, Cryer remembered his co-star as “an actor possessed of enormous gifts” with a big heart and infectious spirit.
“I had seen a report of his passing on social media and spent the whole morning hoping it was some kind of mistake,” Cryer said. “If there was ever someone in your life you referred to as ‘just a teddy bear,’ Alex Rocco had them beat tenfold. A deeply good-hearted guy, hilarious to be around and an actor possessed of enormous gifts, Alex Rocco will be terribly missed. Anyone who’s ever had him in their lives in any respect will know what I’m talking about.”
“Teddy Z” was ahead of its time as a comedy in the vein of “Entourage” or “Episodes” that skewered showbiz with plenty of inside jokes per episode.
Cryer’s character of Teddy Zakalokis was a recently discharged Army vet who winds up working in the mailroom at Unlimited Talent Agency (the show aired a few years before there was a real-life UTA talent agency in Hollywood) in order to avoid the pressure to join his family’s bakery business. Zakalokis stands in contrast to the career-climbing college grads in the mailroom, which in a roundabout way helps him become a hot-shot agent when his attitude impresses a Marlon Brando-esque mega star.
“Teddy Z” was created by “WKRP in Cincinnati’s Hugh Wilson. Variety’s review raised the question of whether “its reliance on inside showbiz gags will be nixed in the sticks.” The review praised the uniformly strong cast and described Rocco’s character as “a walking heart attack of an agent.”
Cryer’s then-manager Martin Tudor milked the attention that the series generated in the industry by running a full-page ad in Variety. It featured a picture of Cryer in character under the headline “Now You Can Meet Hollywood’s Hottest New Agent Without Lunching at the Palm.”
“Teddy Z” started its rocky run on CBS in the Monday 9:30 p.m. time slot, the same berth where Cryer would enjoy considerably more ratings success nearly 15 years later with the debut of “Two and a Half Men.”