Gregory Hines' seven-year itch to get on network television is finally over.
After several varieties of Hines' shows failed even to produce a pilot, the 51-year-old performer will star in one of the fall's most promising series, "The Gregory Hines Show."
At an entertaining interview session here, Hines didn't tap-dance around any question. Not even the puffball question thrown up about the unfortunate placement of his CBS series at 9 p.m. Fridays.
When one critic dryly observed that Hines' show is following a series about an alien nanny, " 'Meege,' for God's sake," Hines was just as deadpan in his reply.
"You mean the show is called 'Meego, for God's Sake,' " Hines cracked, before saying that he was happy about the scheduling.
After struggling to get this far, the veteran Broadway and film actor isn't about to quibble about a time slot.
"I'm very happy to be on CBS at 9 p.m. Friday. 'Welcome Home,' " said Hines, repeating the CBS slogan. "I figure I'm going to stay there for about seven years and then I'm going to say, 'I feel I've said everything I want to say.' And then they'll give me more money and I'll stay on for another couple of years."
In his new show, Hines plays Ben Stevenson, a single father living with his 12-year-old son, Matty. The show has a sophisticated feeling to it, and some some critics feel that makes it incompatible with the teen schedule on CBS that includes "Family Matters" and "Step by Step" (ABC transplants) as well as "Meego."
Clearly, "Hines" would be a sure hit if it aired on Monday, CBS' successful comedy night. But it has too much going for it to be ignored.
No. 1 is Hines, a charming man who looks as if he has been acting as long as he has been dancing. He's that
smooth in the role.
Though he never watched "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," Hines acknowledged that he was told his show has similarities to that show, also about a single father.
Hines likes the idea of playing a warm father who can learn a few lessons from his teen-age son, played by Brandon Hammond (young Michael Jordan in "Space Jam").
"My father was and always has been my hero and the greatest role model a kid or man can have," said Hines, who once danced with his father, Maurice Sr., and his brother, Maurice, in an act called "Hines, Hines and Dad."
"I have a son, and so I have a lot of experience in that," he added.
However, he admits that his father wasn't a fuzzy parent.
"I grew up in the 1950s and we lived in a very tough time for African-Americans. I had friends whose fathers would openly say, 'Just bite your tongue, don't cause any problems.' And my father was not like that. Even in the toughest time, racially, if someone disrespected his family, they were in trouble.
"To see that imbued me with the feeling I could do and say anything and I could speak up," Hines said. "It was the greatest gift that my father has given me and still gives to me."
And what kind of lessons did son Gregory give his father?
"My father was a very hot-tempered guy," Hines said. "He was one of the ballplayers who was scouted when they were looking to break the (baseball) color line. They scouted a lot of people -- they didn't just go straight to Jackie Robinson. And my father likes to say, 'It's a good thing they didn't pick me, because the black man would just now be getting a second chance.' So I feel like I've been able to be a calming influence on my daddy."
Hines said his dad used a baseball metaphor to explain racism and what life is like for an African-American.
"He said: 'You know how sometimes when batters get up to the plate and they get two strikes on them and they choke up the bat a little bit so they have a bit more bat control? Unfortunately, in our world, when we get in the door, we have two strikes and we have to choke up just a little bit and be ready to make real contact.' "
Hines' TV father, James, is loosely based on his father and is played by veteran actor Bill Cobb.
Hines promises the show will always be in good taste. He said he enjoyed shows that featured male bonding between father and son and added that he realizes that African-Americans need strong role models on TV.
His career has been remarkable. He won a 1992 Tony Award for "Jelly's Last Jam," three other Tony nominations and an Emmy for his 1989 PBS special, "Gregory Hines: Tap Dance in America." His numerous film credits include "The Cotton Club" and "White Nights."
Asked for his career highlight, Hines picked working with Sammy Davis Jr. in the movie "Tap."
"It was like a dream come true," he said. "I had idolized him since I was 10. Our paths had crossed a number of times. And he was always very generous and very kind.
"Sammy Davis would put his arm around me and he would say: 'You are really talented. Show me a step.' He would give me a compliment and I would be set for a whole year."
Amazingly, "Tap" wasn't even listed in Hines' biography provided by CBS. Forget the time slot. That's something for Hines to really shout about.