For a man who's launching a new TV sitcom, Gary David Goldberg doesn't sound overly confident that "Battery Park" is going to work, given its format.
The show, which premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5, is set in a New York police precinct presided over by a basically unlikeable female captain (Elizabeth Perkins) who leads a disparate group of detectives.(The cast includes Justin Louis, Jacqueline Obradors, Frank Grillo, Bokeem Woodbine, Jay Paulson and Robert Mailhouse.)
And, quite frankly, it's just about the most unpleasant half hour as NBC has cooked up in quite some time. It's not just that it's not funny -- which it's not -- but Perkins' character in particular and the show in general are just plain unpleasant.
"I think it's going to be very interesting to try to get laughs in a way that we want them to be," Goldberg said in a recent interview with TV critics. "Because I think it's real easy to get laughs. That's actually the easiest part of the job."
No disrespect intended to the man behind such great TV shows as "Family Ties," "Brooklyn Bridge" and "Spin City," but if it's so darned easy, how did you manage to fail so badly with "Battery Park?" It's just plain bad.
Like when Capt. Dunleavy (Perkins) enters the precinct and has to fight her way through a group of prostitutes. "What's with all the hookers?" she asks.
"My guess is we made a large bust or it's Sgt. Murphy's birthday," replies Det. Hardin (Justin Louis).
Goldberg expressed admiration for "Barney Miller," but "Battery" is no "Barney." It isn't easy to make police work funny, as this new show clearly demonstrates.
"The hardest part of the job is to get laughs that more or less could only occur on your stage with your people, and laughs that are what we call laughs of recognition -- where an audience recognizes a little bit of themselves or behavior of their family members or people that they've met," Goldberg said. "And I think that's the challenge, but that's really what makes it interesting for me. Because I'm not sure it can be done, easily or at all."
If the first couple of episodes are any indication, it can't be done. At least not by Goldberg and Chris Henchy, the show's co-creator and supervising producer.
It's hard to imagine, but "Battery Park" makes "Stark Raving Mad" look good in comparison.
Television has never succeeded particularly well in building comedies around unlikable characters. (Remember "Buffalo Bill"?) And building this one around Perkins' character -- a tactless, ruthless, overbearing woman who, in the pilot episode, is concerned only with her own future -- seems like a mistake of epic proportions.
"I just thought this would be a woman that we haven't seen, and that was appealing to me," Goldberg said. "I my mind, it's a beautiful Louie DePalma."
(A worthy goal, but then Louie was a supporting character on "Taxi," not the lead.)
"It's just somebody without that connecting mechanism between what she thinks and what she says," Goldberg said. "And she has a comic blindness in that her need is all that's available to her. I just thought it would be kind of an interesting character if we could pull that off."
It might have been interesting if they had pulled it off. But would it have been funny?
Chances are, no.
And a comedy that isn't funny isn't worth wasting a half hour of your life on.