'Linc's' aims to show a black rainbow TV: With his new Showtime sitcom, actor-producer Tim Reid wants to explore a broad spectrum of adult issues with an African-American perspective, and with humor.

Radio and Television

July 15, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

PASADENA, Calif. -- One of the great things about Tim Reid as a producer is that he believes television programs should have a social mission -- and the bigger the better. His new series, "Linc's," debuting Aug. 1 on Showtime, is no exception.

"Personally, my goal for this show is to explode the myth that black folks are monolithic," he said during a press conference here this week.

"That we are all one thing -- we're all liberal Democrats, we all do this, we all do that. We're either in Princeton or prison; there's no in between.

"I want to show that there's a wonderful rainbow of thought, people, lifestyles, occupations. Of, course, I also want to entertain."

The pilot episode, directed by Emmy award winner Debbie Allen, shows promise that the series could pull off that tricky combination of amusement and social relevance.

"Linc's," which is set in a Washington bar and grill and is described by Showtime President Jerry Offsay as "an ensemble series that explores adult issues from an African-American pespective," has been called a "black 'Cheers.' " But it might better be described as a " 'Frank's Place' north."

Reid produced and starred in "Frank's Place," a quality sitcom set in a Creole restaurant in New Orleans. The series, one of the few to feature black, middle-class and professional characters, lasted only one year on CBS in 1987 and '88.

Couldn't find the show

The ratings were poor, and CBS said the audience wasn't interested in "Frank's Place" when it canceled the series.

Reid and many of the critics -- this one included -- blamed the ratings on the fact that CBS moved the show around several times during its short run, making it hard for viewers to find the series.

Reid doesn't star in "Linc's" as he did in "Frank's Place." He has only a small recurring role as a priest in a cast that features Pam Grier ("Jackie Brown"), Steven Williams ("The X-Files"), Georg Stanford Brown ("Tyson"), Tisha Campbell ("Martin") and his wife, Daphne Maxwell-Reid ("Fresh Prince"). But, as creator and executive producer, Reid's stamp is everywhere.

Furthermore, according to Reid, the lead character -- Russell A. "Linc" Lincoln (Williams), a staunchly conservative Republican -- is his voice in the show.

"All show runners [producers] have to have a voice in the show, and I chose Linc," Reid said.

"We chose the black, Republican conservative because I have found in my life of 50 or so years that black people are probably the most conservative people that I have ever met. And what I wanted to do is make sure that the Republican point of view, without taking sides, is given a true airing," Reid said.

Reid has a partner in "Linc's," co-creator and executive producer Susan Fales-Hill, who produced "A Different World" for NBC in the 1980s.

"We want to be very clear," she said, "that we're not representing the sort of Ward Connerly brand of black Republicanism. It's much more old-fashioned. Frankly, it goes back to blacks supporting Lincoln. It's common sense, I'm-for-America, I'm-for-pulling-my- self-up-by-my-own-bootstraps brand of black Republicanism. So, we're not representing the Johnny-come-latelies."

Another great thing about Reid is that he is neither afraid of speaking his mind nor of being misunderstood.

When asked why the show is set in Washington, he said, "Well, you know, after being kicked out of network television, I moved back to Virginia and literally bought the farm."

A prime setting

The reference is to a farm he and his wife bought in Petersburg. They have now added soundstages and are producing "Linc's" at their New Millennium Studio.

"But, you know, when you get cabin fever in the country, you go to someplace to get some art. And we would go to Washington. And, after spending some time there, I just really came to like Washington as a setting -- as I did New Orleans," Reid continued.

"I think America's getting fed up with New York/L.A. for shows, and I wanted to find another texture. And Washington is a texture that has not been terribly overused.

"I mean, we see shows that have all the monuments, but to actually get into the city, the essence of the city, people have just avoided it. And I don't know if it's because 68 percent of the

population is black and they call it 'Chocolate City' or what. But nobody gets into the heart of the city, and I really wanted to talk about what's going on there."

Showtime has ordered 13 episodes for this season and promised not to move the series around the schedule a la "Frank's Place." If "Linc's" can find an audience, it could become one of the more important television series of the decade in terms of varied and enlightened ethnic images.

Such images are not going to come from the broadcast networks, where buffoonery is still the norm for black characters. They are going to come from premium cable channels like Showtime and HBO, which have led the way in recent years with films like "The Tuskegee Airmen."

Showtime's president says his network is committed to "Linc's," based on the demographics of premium cable.

"Showtime is more fertile ground in that our percentage of African-American viewers is more than double the nationwide percentage (of other non-premium channels and broadcast networks). So, you have a better chance with a show like this of making it work on Showtime than you may have anyplace else. But we think this show is going to work for everybody," Offsay said.

"This series is a little too edgy for network. It was not created for network. It's too political. It was created for what's happening now in cable," Reid said.

"A few years ago, I realized that if 'Frank's Place' had been on Showtime, it would have probably stayed on for about five years instead of being canceled," Reid said. "So I decided to create a show that would work for Showtime."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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