After striking out in his first post-"Seinfeld" series, Jason Alexander is taking another swing in a CBS sitcom, "Listen Up."
It is inspired by the real-life family adventures of sportswriter and broadcaster Tony Kornheiser. Of course, Alexander has some sports experience as George Costanza, who worked for the New York Yankees. Now, he stars as Tony Klineman, an irreverent columnist and sports talk host with two children who don't find him quite as amusing as his audience.
The pilot of "Listen Up," which will air Mondays this fall, also is less than amusing to many of the nation's television critics. But I didn't think it deserved a Bronx cheer and especially liked the moment when Klineman does a song-and-dance number on his TV show within the show that deals with his intense dislike for his daughter's favorite sport, soccer.
By episode's end, Klineman's daughter learns that her father loves her so much that he'll do cartwheels to watch her play. Sure, it's a traditional sitcom moment, but at least it may feel like an honest one to anyone who watches his or her child play a sport.
The show also stars Malcolm-Jamal Warner ("The Cosby Show"), who plays Klineman's on-air TV show partner.
"When I tell people I'm doing this show with Jason Alexander, they envision us together and they just start laughing," said Warner.
There's another reason I enjoyed the show more than the critics who were trying to decide where it ranks in the voting for the season's worst new show. I can relate to Kornheiser, whose style columns inspired the show.
I've always loved the ESPN show he does with his Washington Post pal, Michael Wilbon, "Pardon the Interruption." I enjoyed his syndicated radio show, which was carried by WGR-AM. And I am a longtime fan of his writing. If memory serves me, he wrote one of my favorite columns of all time, one in which he named scores of celebrities and asked if they were dead or alive.
It turns out we have several things in common. This became apparent when Kornheiser, who was appearing via satellite, was asked why he's passionate about sports.
"It started as a kid," he said. "My dad worked in New York City and we lived on Long Island. He brought home the Daily News and the New York Post every night. I learned how to read by looking at sports stories. I learned how to do math by figuring out earned run averages and batting averages."
He was pretty much talking about my childhood, right down to the batting averages. (Figuring out earned run averages is another matter.) Alexander, it turns out, also was surrounded by sports as a child but no longer follows them.
"I grew up in a big sports family because my uncle used to direct the (New York) Knicks and Rangers games and I used to be at all of those games all the time," said Alexander. "And I just kind of burned out young."
Alexander's uncle, the director, Jack Simon, is the father of Buffalo broadcasting personality Howard Simon. Howard Simon has mentioned that a few times over the years.
"Jack Simon and my mom are brother and sister, and Howard's my first cousin," said Alexander after his press session. "Two of (Jack's) kids stayed right with sports. Literally, I feel like I burned out on it and then (there was) my interest in the theater. I got geeky about that instead of geeky about sports."
Not that there is anything wrong with that. After all, he became one of the all-time great sitcom characters on "Seinfeld."
Since that series ended, Alexander has had to deal with the TV sitcom equivalent of the Boston Red Sox's Curse of the Bambino. The so-called "Seinfeld" curse, which has led to series flops by himself, Michael Richards (Kramer) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine).
"Never heard it," cracked Alexander. "I think the only potential truth to the 'Seinfeld' curse is that 'Seinfeld' was a phenomenon. I don't know how you create a phenomenon. But I think there's a (critical) expectation, and this may be unfair, that whatever we do has the same intensity to it to become a phenomenon. And I don't know how any of us could possibly live up to that. I think what happened with that TV show is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
His new series has something in common with his last sitcom flop, ABC's "Bob Patterson." Like Patterson, Klineman isn't a lovable or even a likable character.
"That's the same thing they said about Costanza," said Alexander with a laugh. "If I start shying away from guys who are not on the surface likable, I'll never play another guy on television again. I seem to have an affinity for taking guys, who are on the surface seem a little abrasive or crude or unlikable, and finding a bit of humanity in them. And I think Tony has more of it than anybody I've played so far on TV before. You're right, that could have been absolutely a factor in the past."
And it could be one again. Still, I'll be rooting for "Listen Up." But if it doesn't work, it might not be too long before Alexander's sitcom career makes one of Kornheiser's dead or alive columns.