LOS ANGELES — Chris Rock is best known as an ever-grinning, over-the-top jokester, but his new TV show, "Everybody Hates Chris," is hardly an exercise in sarcasm or satire.
"The show is loosely based on my life," Rock said of the UPN program that partially reflects his years growing up in Brooklyn, New York. "I was bused to school. I went to a mostly white school, and I was the only black boy in my grade for like six years, which is very traumatizing. I also happened to be one of the smallest kids in the school too, so I really got beat up. No one liked me. You know, there were no girls, and I was never invited to a party. It was rough."
Rock won't be showing his mug onscreen, since the show is focused on life in junior high, but he's involved in virtually every other aspect: as creator, producer and narrator. Newcomer Tyler James William stars as the young main character modeled after Rock, while "Martin" alum Tichina Arnold and former pro-football player Terry Crews play his parents.
Despite his fame, the comedian says he had a hard time getting the show on the air, as some network execs dismissed outright the idea of a Chris Rock show, well, without Chris Rock.
"We got turned down at a few places. Someone actually picked ['Method & Red'] over us," he recalled, laughing. "I could pitch 'Friends' tomorrow, but if I'm not in it, it's not gonna get on."
Instead Rock has Crews, whom he worked with on "The Longest Yard," and Arnold, who says her childhood was similar to Rock's. "I was a latchkey kid, so I had to come home and take care of my sisters until my mom got home from work," Arnold said. "I have a lot of stuff to relate to in the show. When I open up the script and get into costume and look at myself in the mirror, I'm like, 'Oh my God, I look like my mother!' "
Crews notes that while the show takes a lighthearted look at some serious issues, expect a hard dose of reality.
"One thing about the show is that we don't insult your intelligence," he said. "Tichina and I are the most hardcore parents in TV history. We're not playing. So get ready, sit your kids in front of the show, and they'll be disciplined via TV, and it's all from the mind of Chris."
"Everybody Hates Chris" debuts September 22.