Imagine a world without George Carlin. Or, more precisely, a world without George Carlin as a celebrated stand-up comedian.
That's how Mr. Carlin sees the premise for his first TV sitcom, "The George Carlin Show," which debuts tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. on WBFF (Channel 45).
"People talk about alternate lives, about how your life would have turned out if you lived it differently," Mr. Carlin, 56, told reporters at a press conference. "This is what I might've been if I hadn't ever left my neighborhood, if I had never gone on stage."
Mr. Carlin stars as George O'Grady, an acerbic New York cab driver who spends most of his time railing against the foibles of contemporary society and hanging out with friends in his working-class neighborhood. The series was created by Sam Simon, who co-created "The Simpsons" and has written for "Taxi," "Cheers," "It's Garry Shandling's Show" and "The Tracey Ullman Show."
Though Mr. Carlin has been exposing life's absurdities and hypocrisies for more than 30 years, and has had a series of successful cable specials on HBO, he admits he has always been reticent to bring his act to network television.
"I always resisted doing TV sitcoms, because I always thought, 'Who wants to do that commercial stuff?' I'm an iconoclast, I'm an outsider," he said. "And I had a lot of stuff I still wanted to do in stand-up.
"But I've always had this acting bug as well," he continued, "and I enjoyed doing these small roles in movies like 'The Prince of Tides,' 'Outrageous Fortune' and 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.' But I wanted to move on to roles where I was second- or third-billed, and the studios didn't agree, so that acting bug went somewhat unfulfilled.
"My question about TV was, can you keep the creative level up, can the writing be consistent and can you keep the show funny -- that was something I was afraid to investigate," Mr. Carlin said. "Fox changed that. I saw how we could do this without being typically sitcom-y. I decided I owed it to myself to take a risk to try to do something authentic and funny, to go for the home run and create something that could last a long time."
Creator and executive producer Mr. Simon says Mr. Carlin and Fox are a perfect fit.
"George represents what Fox wants to be," Mr. Simon said. "He's a renegade. . . . Our goal was to deliver his attitude, his comedy, his observations and his anger, to take George's character and put it in situations where we build stories around him."
Which is just fine with Mr. Carlin, who says he's enjoying the camaraderie that comes with TV production as opposed to the isolation of a touring comic.
"A comic on stage is all alone. I've always been a bit of an outsider, I've always been on the outside looking in. . . . I felt a need to belong to a part of something that is bigger than just me," said Mr. Carlin, who is executive producer of the show.
Mr. Carlin noted that one thing has changed since his notorious '70s routine about the seven words you cannot say on TV -- one of those words is now acceptable on TV, if not in a family newspaper.
"You can say, '[expletive]-off' but not '[expletive]-on' -- it's the preposition that makes the difference," Mr. Carlin joked. "I'm glad we can talk about more things on TV than we used to, that the content has expanded. That's good for writers and for audiences."