- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Danson gets ‘Help’

After finding a second TV life with CBS’ “Becker” (a six-year run), Ted Danson is returning to sitcom land with ABC ‘s “Help Me Help You.”

Comedy, after all, is familiar turf for the star of NBC’s long-running “Cheers,” and we wouldn’t have it any other way. His easy line readings and graceful presence remain an ideal match for the sitcom format.

Not that “Help Me” is an ideal sitcom. Tonight’s premiere episode (airing at 9:30) could be much funnier, but Mr. Danson holds it together as an old pro should. He plays Dr. Bill Hoffman, a group therapist who could use some counseling himself. He’s still attached to his ex-wife (Jane Kaczmarek of “Malcolm in the Middle” fame) and doesn’t know how to deal with his adult daughter’s love life. He’s much better at directing his patients, a reliably oddball lot with enough neuroses to keep him busy for years.

As Jonathan, Jim Rash makes the tired notion of a homosexual man trying to play it “straight” seem novel, and it’s also good to see the underrated Jere Burns (as Michael) back in action. Mr. Burns was the best thing about the middling “Dear John” series years ago, and in his modest screen time here — as a patient with anger-management problems — he shows flashes of his embittered comic persona.

“Help Me Help You” doesn’t feel like a traditional sitcom. On the plus side, there’s no laugh track, and the series so far doesn’t fall for the rat-a-tat joke tempo that weighs down too many comedies.

Still, the show needs a few more unsolicited laughs before we’re ready to sign up for membership in this group.

Doc the vote

“By the People,” a new PBS documentary, bows in November.

Political junkies who can’t wait to see the film, described as “compelling” by the New York Times, are in luck. The documentary will be screened at 7:30 tonight at the E Street Cinema (555 11th St. NW.)

First-time director Malindi Fickle aims to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on an election. The nonpartisan “People” focuses on the process, not the politics.

The action takes place in Marion County, Indiana (which includes the state capital, Indianapolis) 11 days before the 2004 presidential election as camera crews follow a county clerk and her crew of volunteer poll workers. During that race, estimates put the shortage of poll workers nationwide at 500,000 and the average age of those workers at 72. The film hopes to inspire Americans to alleviate that shortage by volunteering.

Representatives from the District’s election board will attend the screening, registering people to vote and to volunteer as poll workers.

“By the People” will air on WMPT (Channel 22) Nov. 1 at 10 p.m., WHUT (Channel 32) Nov. 5 at 3 and 11 p.m., and Nov. 9 at 9 p.m.

Lawrence seeing Starz

Actor and comedian Martin Lawrence (“Bad Boys,” “Big Momma’s House”) will executive produce “Martin Lawrence’s 1st Amendment Stand-Up,” the first of three original series produced under the Starz Entertainment banner.

The new stand-up comedy series, described by the network as “an uncensored showcase for some of today’s freshest young comedians,” is scheduled to air early next year. Stand-up funnyman Doug Williams will co-produce and host the show, the network said.

Also coming to Starz is “The Bronx Bunny,” an American version of a hit British program. The edgy show stars two foul-mouthed puppets, the title character and his cranky sidekick, Teddy T, a politically incorrect panda. The pair interview celebrity guests in their low-rent television studio. Celebrities on the U.K. version have included Jessica Alba, William Shatner and Hugh Hefner. Already booked for the U.S. version are Howie Mandel, Nick Cannon and Joely Fisher.

The comedy “Head Case, airing early next year, ” rounds out Starz’ new slate of original programming. District-born actress-comedian Alexandra Wentworth (wife of “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos) will play Dr. Elizabeth Goode.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Christian Toto from staff reports.

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