Lights, Camera, Action News

Kelsey Grammer. Patricia Heaton.

Two actors on two of the biggest sitcoms from the last ten years. Push them together and you could have a clash of temperaments. Or the expert sparks that come from a perfect pairing of disparate personalities.

FOX's new comedy series, Action News, fortunately has the latter effect, pairing the erudite Grammer with the down-to-earth Heaton as two local newscasters with some unresolved history who are forced, once again, to work together delivering some, er, gripping local stories.

I had the opportunity to attend the audience run-through on Action News' pilot yesterday on the FOX lot (though the fate of said pilot is a foregone conclusion, as the comedy has already been ordered to series for the fall) and am happy to report that the series has more than met my expectations, based on the phenomenal script by series creators Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me) and Christopher Lloyd (Frasier) and the always witty direction by legendary comedy director James Burrows.

Grammer is magnetic as fallen anchorman Chuck Tatham, in the role of a womanizing blowhole light years away from Frasier Crane. He's egotistical in an entirely different sort of way, a preening alpha male who doesn't quite realize that, in returning to the Buffalo news station where he got his start, he's admitted that he's a has-been. Heaton plays his co-anchor Kelly, who had grown used to having the spotlight since Chuck left for greener pastures. It was awfully cold there in his shadow, after all.

When Chuck returns to Buffalo after a widely disseminated on-air meltdown (involving unleashing a torrential storm of obscenities onto a moronic weatherwoman, which pops up on YouTube), the two are forced to work together again, but naturally the past has an uncanny way of catching up to everyone.

Rounding out the stellar cast is Battlestar Galactica's Paul Campbell (yes, that Paul Campbell, also of Nobody's Watching) as in-way-over-his-head news director Nate, Ty Burrell (Friends with Money) as long-suffering reporter Roger (passed over once again for the anchor slot), the incandescent Fred Willard (take your pick of any Christopher Guest film) as sports anchor Marsh McGinley, Aimee Garcia (George Lopez) as sultry Latina weather anchor Montana Stevens, and Laura Marano (The Sarah Silverman Program) as Kelly's daughter Gracie.

Workplace comedies may be a dime a dozen this pilot season, but Action News definitely stands out from the pack, presenting a smartly funny comedy with some emotional heft. Grammer and Heaton are perfectly balanced as a leading pair, with the right amount of chemistry and hostility (along with some battle scars) to make their relationship believable.

Action News doesn't shy away from its prickly personalities; instead it takes those flaws and makes them strangely endearing, whether it might be Chuck's refusal to learn anyone's name, Nate's near-panic, Roger's tendency to drop things (in an ongoing gag, his klutziness is blamed on frostbite from reporting outside one too many courthouses in the winter), or Montana's theory that she can't feel safe in the workplace unless the alpha male is trying to sleep with her.

Home might be the one place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in, but Action News wisely asks its audience what the price that homecoming might have. Fortunately, the answer to that question is a hysterical and entertaining comedy that I already plan to add to my TiVo Season Pass.

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.