- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

LOS ANGELES Michael Richards, a guaranteed belly laugh for almost a decade as wild-haired Kramer on "Seinfeld," returns to television this fall as a bumbling, Inspector Clouseau-style detective.

At least that's the plan. The project has had some trouble getting off the ground.

Mr. Richards now has calmer hair but will never exactly blend in with a crowd. For one thing, he's tall about 6 foot 5. He also has high-octane fashion taste. He loped into an interview in an ivy-green suit, purple and white polka-dot shirt and multicolored striped socks.

The pilot for NBC's "The Michael Richards Show" was scrapped, leading to speculation that the sitcom is doomed. Mr. Richards, however, is confident his show will be on track well before its October debut, and he's eager to convince people that he's not the captain of a sinking ship.

"The first pilot hinged on my character, and we recognized the necessity of pulling together an ensemble of supporting characters," he says. "I have a driving style, so some of the characters will circle around me, but it's going to be an ensemble show."

Too much of a good thing, in other words. Mr. Richards has added William Devane and Tim Meadows to the cast. Mr. Devane will play the owner of the detective agency, and Mr. Meadows, who has quit "Saturday Night Live," will play a fellow detective struggling to overcome a voyeurism fetish.

Mr. Richards counts among his comedic heroes Ernie Kovacs and Peter Sellers, and his new character, L.A. sleuth Vic Nardozza, will reflect those influences.

"Of course he's going to be deeply eccentric," Mr. Richards says with a crooked half-smile. "That's my interest when I'm building characters. He'll do undercover work, so there'll be disguises."

And, of course, there will be physical shtick. Mr. Kramer's door-crashing, barely controlled sliding into Seinfeld's apartment is legendary.

"Most comedy on TV today is talking-head comedy," Mr. Richards says. "I like to do comedy, so there'll be a lot of that."

Gregg Kavet, one of three former "Seinfeld" producers working on Mr. Richards' show, is well aware that the actor will have a hard time shaking his Kramer role.

"It's a tough balancing act," Mr. Kavet says. "Everyone's expecting to see the Kramer character but reluctant to see it again. We'll exploit Michael's strength, which is quirky physical comedy, but Vic will be much more human than Kramer."

Mr. Richards says he never was approached to do a Kramer spinoff when "Seinfeld" ended but would not have done one anyway. He always felt Kramer needed to be in a mix. After "Seinfeld" went off the air, Mr. Richards dropped out for a while.

"I read the classics, traveled, did a little interior decorating," he says. "I really had no incentive to work."

Now that he does, it will be up to Kramer fans to decide if Vic will stick.

Aaron Sorkin, who writes all of the dialogue-heavy scripts for "The West Wing," is notoriously troubled by deadlines, which often leaves the cast wondering what it will be doing in the next day's scenes.

"On Fridays, before we have run-throughs on Mondays, we see him staggering around the set in his pajamas, asking if anybody has any ideas," laughs Brad Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman on the show. "He looks like a plasma donor. But then by Monday, it's all done, and we have this brilliant stuff."

Mr. Whitford would not say who, if anyone, is killed in the cliffhanger assassination attempt on the president. But it has been reported in Variety that Moira Kelly will not return, so maybe that's a clue.

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