Television Turmoil is a look at the worst and weirdest series to make their way onto the small screen.
The main cast of Seinfeld had their own unique talents that, when combined, helped elevate the show beyond standard sitcom fare. Of the quartet, one character came to most embody the show’s ethos: George Costanza. Jason Alexander’s neurotic performance and the character’s antics made him the center of the show’s greatest moments. So, how do you move on from being the public personification of one of the biggest sitcoms of all time? For Alexander, the answer was to try something completely different.
Bob Patterson debuted in October 2001, one year after the massive failure of The Michael Richards Show. Co-created by Alexander, the show followed the titular Bob, “America’s #3 Self-Help Guru,” as he struggled to balance his work and home life. On the work side, Bob has his manager and most trusted advisor, Landau (Robert Klein) as well as dim-witted co-worker Vic (Phil Buckman) and new secretary Claudia (Chandra Wilson). Claudia is wheelchair bound, which seems progressive until you realize that many of the jokes involving her are about her disability or the possibility that she is faking it. At home, Bob has to deal with his ex-wife Janet (Jennifer Aspen), who has come back to live with him after becoming celibate and his teenage son Jeffrey (James Guidice), who has a profound lack of respect.
Compared to Seinfeld’s more laid back nature, Bob Patterson is practically drowning with premise. While on paper, the show’s concept sounds promising. In execution, it is another standard sitcom. Much of the humor in the series relies on a blend of late 90s/early 00s “edginess” and casual sexism. A shocking amount of the show’s stories involve Bob trying to get laid. Which is not the first story idea that comes to mind when you mention “selfish motivational speaker.”
Execution was just one part of the problem. Even while trying to steer away from direct comparisons, the “show about nothing” loomed over Bob Patterson. The show’s focus on a group of unlikable characters feels in a similar comedic lane along with Bob’s more self-absorbed tendencies. “Bathroom Bob,” the last episode to make air, focuses on the very Seinfeldian plot of Bob being annoyed with Landau using the private bathroom in his office. There are plenty of similarities, but were they enough to steer away viewers or was there another factor at play?
Both network executives and viewers might have already been wary of another sitcom starring a Seinfeld alum after Michael Richard’s own attempt crashed and burned the previous year. I’m not suggesting that The Michael Richards Show single-handedly doomed Bob Patterson, but it hurt any chance the program had of finding time to grow. Only 5 episodes made air before Patterson got the axe.
Debuting on October 2nd and last airing on Halloween, Bob Patterson had one month to reverse its fortunes. In later interviews, Alexander expressed frustration with how quickly the show was canned. I can see where he is coming from. As it exists, Bob is not a good show, but the potential to morph into one is there under the surface. Unfortunately, no one would give the program that chance.
Bob Patterson’s swift cancellation further established “The Seinfeld Curse” as a talking point in the entertainment industry. Even without being “cursed” the show was unlikely to attract much positive reception. The verdict was in before it even made air. To his credit, Jason Alexander took the failure in stride. Using the program’s general concept for Donny Clay, a bumbling motivational speaker who he has toured the country as. In Donny, we find a bit of who Bob Patterson could have been if the writers had committed more to the actual motivational speaking part of the premise.
Ultimately, it wasn’t just a single thing that doomed Bob Patterson to being a colossal flop. Viewer apathy, skittish network execs, and a show unable to find its groove right away all added up to a missed opportunity. Maybe Bob was ahead of its time. Certainly not in comedy, but in its premise the program could have found success in the latter half of the decade as a less traditional sitcom. In the end, no amount of potential matters to the show’s legacy. For a “curse” to be established, it needs more than one victim. Bob Patterson had the misfortune of being next in line.
Next Time: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is up to bat with the “real time” sitcom Watching Ellie.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for future shows you want to see covered, leave them in the comments below. For more great content, follow me on Twitter @JesseSwanson