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19 cooks stir 'Tracy's' pot

Tamala Jones, Marc John Jefferies, Tracy Morgan, Bobb'e J. Thompson of "The Tracy Morgan Show"
Tamala Jones, Marc John Jefferies, Tracy Morgan, Bobb'e J. Thompson of "The Tracy Morgan Show"
Paul Drinkwater, NBC

Well, it took me 26 Television Critics Association press tours, but I finally hijacked a press conference. At least for a while. And not intentionally. Really.

This past summer, NBC put the cast and producers of "The Tracy Morgan Show," a midseason sitcom that premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 5, in front of the critics. Well, some of the producers.

"Looking down the credits there's eight executive producers listed, four co-executive producers, five producers, a consulting producer and an associate producer," I said. "If I've done the math right, that's 19.

"Do all these people actually work on the show? And, seriously, do you need 19 producers on a show?"

You would have thought I'd asked for their personal ID and credit card numbers. Executive producer Jim Doherty tried to divert the question to executive producer Lorne Michaels, who could only say, "A lot of the producers were grandfathered in."

Including Michaels, the executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," from whence Morgan came.

It's not that it was such a tough question, and it wasn't meant to be confrontational. It was just that it hadn't occurred to anyone to brief the stars and producers on it before the press conference. And they couldn't think of a good way to spin it, mostly because there isn't one.

Doherty and Tom Werner unsuccessfully tried to make jokes about it. Executive producer David Israel tried to tell us that all 19 producers are "adding a little bit of perspective." And they basically blew the question off.

But the room wasn't finished. A colleague asked Morgan to think of "one or two things that have come from those 19 people." He couldn't.

And Werner, one of the founding partners in the hugely successful sitcom factory Carsey-Werner-Mandebach, was pressed by another colleague to justify why, when critics are constantly told how expensive TV production is, "Tracy Morgan" has 19 producers. "Why should we believe there's really a crisis in television production costs?"

Werner didn't actually answer the question, insisting, "I don't think it matters whether you have one producer or 19 producers."

Apparently not, at least in terms of quality. "The Tracy Morgan Show" is thoroughly mediocre.

The former "SNL" cast member stars as a husband and father of two who runs his own business. He's supposed to be sassy and funny and, above all, "streetwise," but the lines sound very much like sitcom-by-committee.

And it says something about the current state of NBC and the production company that this is being hailed as a "family" comedy. Oh, it's nice to see a nuclear family. Morgan and his TV wife (Tamala Jones) have a strong marriage, and they're doing their best to raise their two sons — 13-year-old Derrick (Marc John Jefferies) and 7-year-old Jimmy (Bobb'e J. Thompson).

But Tuesday's premiere puts the 13-year-old — who looks younger than that — in the position of dealing with a girlfriend and his father in the position of pushing his son to progress faster toward sexual maturity.

It's not a lesson I'd recommend for 13-year-olds. And, apparently, that's not a thought that occurred to any of the 19 producers.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com