JOHN HAS LAST LAUGH ON CRITICS WHO AXED HIS SHOW
The Express, p. 29
Monday, 15 April 2002

John Cleese is refusing to go into a Basil Fawlty-type rage after his first American TV sit-com was panned by critics and dropped after just two episodes.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Express, Cambridge educated Cleese has answered his critics and revealed that the show will now be broadcast in the US in the summer.

Cleese insists he is not angry about the panning, just sorry for others in the show, which was oddly titled Wednesday 9.30. The new show features Cleese as Red, an Australian TV mogul, and is a satire on US television networks and their ratingsobsessed executives.

"It was rather rich in irony that a show about the insanity and panic of network executives got ditched by panicking network executives, " 62-year-old Cleese said from his home in Santa Barbara, California, where he lives with his American psychotherapist third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger.

"Contrary to what many people seem to think, I was not angry about it. I was disappointed for the several extremely talented youngsters in the show. I took the part myself because it was probably the best character which has been written for me in the past 10 years.

"But I've just now been told that the whole series will be broadcast by ABC during the summer, so it appears not to have been dropped altogether." Cleese said that the show, written by Peter Tolan, was not initially given enough time to develop, but concedes there were some problems with it.

"It is a terrible title and it was also scheduled to go out opposite The West Wing, which is the kiss of death. But the show develops and it is genuinely very funny, " he said.

The former Monty Python stalwart, with his trademark Ministry of Silly Walks, believes that television in Britain and America has become too obsessed with ratings and is too youth-orientated. "The new show has more appeal to older viewers and advertisers are not interested in them because older viewers are less susceptible to their adverts. This means that fewer programmes for older people are made, " he said.

"I have spent several years asking, both here and in Britain, why is everyone making youth TV when older people make up so much of the population? Why aren't we entertaining them?"

Cleese, who will star in the next James Bond film and as Nearly Headless Nick in the next Harry Potter fantasy, said that the climate in the television industry has changed so much that many classic shows of the past would be stifled at birth if they were to be broadcast now.

"I have had a couple of quite negative reviews of Fawlty Towers, which makes one wonder, " he said. "And I certainly don't think you could get Monty Python off the ground in this climate.

"It's crazy because if you trace the most successful shows - say Cheers, in America - they weren't initially successful." Cheers "was championed by an executive, Brandon Tartikoff, who kept it on air, and it became the most successful US show ever". Some believe Cleese, who starred in the 1979 movie classic Life Of Brian with Graham Chapman, is a victim of his own success and not able to live up to his older masterpieces.

His work with actress Liz Hurley on the flagship BBC documentary The Human Face was attacked as laboured and unfunny and his last major film, the comedy Fierce Creatures, was a flop.

Cleese admitted he may never live up to Fawlty Towers, once voted the greatest television programme ever, but said he is reconciled to that.

"It's rather like the return of Absolutely Fabulous, " he said. "I'm very curious about what people thought about that because it's very difficult to go back to such a wonderful creation. That's why I never came back to Fawlty Towers.

"Connie (Booth, his former wife) and I thought it was fantastic that we had got those six hours out of Basil, and, yes, it was very good.

But once you have set the bar so high it's impossible to top it.

"It was pretty much perfection as far as I am concerned - although I watch it and can see a few things which aren't right.

"But once you have done something like that you may have to reconcile yourself that it will never get any better."

The 6ft 5in tall comedian said that he will probably work in Britain again and that he has a new film project in development.

"If anyone says I have abandoned Britain I would stress that The Human Face was nearly a year's work and I am still recovering from the financial implications of working for the BBC for 10 months, " he said.

"American comedy is stronger at the moment, I feel. It is rather cyclical. Ten years ago the Brits were ahead but with Frasier, Seinfeld, Third Rock From The Sun and Sex In The City, the Americans are ahead of us. It will all change round again soon, I expect."