There's no substitute for experience, or so the saying goes. When it comes to comedy experience, the cast and crew of the new Fox sitcom Back to You have it in spades.
In fact if you were to take all of the sitcoms they've worked on, you'd have a list of just about every hit — and some of the flops — of the last three decades.
Director Jim Burrows started on The Mary Tyler Moore show in 1974. Then he worked on Newhart, Laverne & Shirley, Taxi and Will & Grace.
Between them, writers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd (the latter of whom is not to be confused with the Back to the Future actor of the same name) boast credits including Golden Girls and Just Shoot Me — along with such lesser lights as Down Home and, er, Stacked.
"I'd like to forget that [last] one right now," jokes Levitan.
And Back to You star Kelsey Grammer? His 20 years of sitcom experience can be summed up in a single name: Frasier Crane.
For a show with so much institutional wisdom about what makes a sitcom tick, Back To You has a pretty standard storyline. Grammer plays TV news anchor Chuck Darling, who screws up big-time at his network job and has to go back to his old local station. He has a little trouble adjusting to the downscaling: On his first day, he asks the young-looking news director to park his car.
Back To You isn't the first sitcom to make its "sit" a local news station. Levitan, the show's co-creator, says it's fertile ground for comedy.
"You have people that think they're giant stars in little towns," he says, enumerating the possible sources of laughs. "You got a ticking clock, which is great for comedy — everything's happening, we're working towards a show, and we got to get it on the air. You got egos bumping up against each other, and that's all funny."
But the "sit" is irrelevant to Burrows, the show's director. He thinks the writing, pacing and the characters are a lot more important. Burrows points out that some of the best sitcoms have had very simple concepts.
"Six people sitting around a coffee shop," Burrows says, meaning Friends. "A garage in New York City, with a bunch of cab drivers (Taxi). A bar in Boston (Cheers). Wow. The execution of the sit is more important than the sit."
Burrows and Grammer have 20 years of experience working together, and it's almost as if they communicate in code, Levitan and Lloyd say. For one Back to You moment, the creative team wanted a particular kind of comic reaction from Grammer, but no one knew quite how to ask for it — no one except Burrows.
"He goes, 'Kels, gimme a No. 42 on that,'" Lloyd recalls — and Grammer knew exactly what to do.
"He went, 'I got you; I'll give you the Chagrin No. 17," Lloyd says. "And they did the scene one minute later, and he made a hilarious face, and it was exactly what we wanted."