- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Enduring ‘Jim’

Jim Belushi sounds like a stranger in a strange land when describing the staying power of ABC’s “According to Jim,” now in its third season.

“I’ve never gone this long on anything I’ve done, even a couple of marriages,” Mr. Belushi jokes.

The actor-comedian says the show could be in it for the long haul. He says ABC researchers told him “Jim’s” ratings are comparable to the first three years of CBS stalwart “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

That’s sour news for some critics who use “Jim’s” edgeless humor as a punching bag.

He shrugs off the brickbats.

“I believe the only place the critics make a difference is in the theater,” Mr. Belushi says. That may explain why critical darling “Arrested Development” over on Fox clings to life — while, notes Mr. Belushi, his show will return next season.

Though “Jim” is a small threat to crack TV’s top 20 shows, viewers are responding to its thematic simplicity. At a time when Fox and HBO are reinventing the sitcom, “Jim’s” tried-and-true format endures. Jim, the bumbling father figure, blusters through life in his own earnest way while his wife, Cheryl (Courtney Thorne-Smith), chuckles supportively at his misadventures.

Tonight, guest star Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”) returns as Jim’s sister, Roxanne, and she’s pregnant with what could be Andy’s (Larry Joe Campbell) baby.

“According to Jim” airs Tuesday nights at 9.

The show may seem like a cookie-cutter sitcom, but Mr. Belushi insists the formula has its merits.

“I do know we have certain rules on our show,” he says. “You’ll never see me apologize for my behavior. You’ll never see Cheryl shaming me or making me feel wrong for who I am, and you’ll never see me do it to her.”

Mr. Belushi, whose career has touched all the bases — “Saturday Night Live,” movies and even music with the occasional Blues Brothers gig and his own Sacred Hearts band — says his wife originally forecast that “According to Jim” would be the perfect match for him.

“My wife read the script and looked at me. She said, ‘This is the one,’” he recalls.

Mr. Belushi didn’t need much convincing.

“The way I read things, … I’m an actor; I can act it,” he says.

That may explain some of the lesser projects Mr. Belushi has attached himself to over the years, including the overreaching “K-9” franchise and “Joe Somebody.”

Sitcom fame has turned Mr. Belushi’s familiar face into one any TV viewer will recognize.

“My brother John once told me, ‘They pay you so much money in TV so you can build a fortress around you. The recognition factor is so extreme,’” he says.

Fortunately for him, fans greet him like any other family member.

“You remind me of my husband,” they tell him, which could be either sweet or damning — depending on how dutiful the husband in question may be.

Balseros’ on cable

“Balseros,” the Oscar-nominated documentary depicting Cubans caught between their homeland and the United States, debuts tonight at 6 on Cinemax.

The project, directed by Carlos Bosch and Jose Maria Domenech, takes us back to 1994, when Fidel Castro’s communist government sanctioned the temporary opening of his nation’s coastal borders. Nearly 50,000 Cubans fled from Havana with their sights on Miami and the freedoms that might await them.

Some castaways, or balseros, died during the flight. Others were delayed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and left adrift by the Clinton administration’s decision to withdraw political asylum, a move designed to discourage more refugee flights.

Rodney gets respect

Fox is giving comic Rodney Dangerfield the one thing more important to him than laughter: a bit of overdue respect.

The network has secured the rights to the comedian’s upcoming HarperCollins autobiography, “It’s Not Easy Being Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs,” Associated Press reports.

“I’m excited that Fox is making a movie on my life story, but I hope they do it soon. I’m 82 years old,” Mr. Dangerfield said in a statement. “At my age, I’m looking for a one-night sit.

“I’m thrilled about finishing my first book. Now I’m going to read another one,” the comic said.

The TV movie will be produced by David Permut of Permut Presentations, the producer responsible for the feature films “Double Take,” “Face/Off,” “Dragnet,” “Blind Date” and “The Marrying Man.” He will co-executive-produce the movie along with Mr. Dangerfield.

The Dangerfield autobiography will be released by HarperCollins in May.

David Madden, executive vice president of movies and miniseries for Fox Television Studios, told AP that Mr. Dangerfield has come up with a compelling book.

“It’s clear that Dangerfield’s ‘no respect’ catchphrase is more than just a glib line,” Mr. Madden said. “Rodney struggled through a lot of menial jobs and a tortured personal life. It wasn’t until he was 40 that he found his path.”

The comic actor, whose real name is Jacob Cohen, had his biggest movie hits with 1986’s “Back to School” and 1980’s “Caddyshack.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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