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Family 'Practice'

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "Out of Practice" is a sitcom about five members of a family, but it's hardly the traditional family sitcom.

The new show, which premieres Monday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2, is sort of more like "Friends" . . . only the five main characters don't get along as well as the "Friends" did.

Ben (Christopher Gorham), despite being the youngest members of the Barnes family, is the most grounded. Although the fact that he's a therapist, not an M.D., gives him a bit of an inferiority complex.

His mother, Lydia (Stockard Channing), is a hugely successful surgeon whose career rocketed past her husband, Stewart (Henry Winkler) — which may help explain why they recently went through a not-so-amicable divorce. Brother Oliver (Ty Burrell) is a successful, self-absorbed plastic surgeon. Sister Regina (Paula Marshall) is a neurotic lesbian who's an ER doctor.

Sparks fly when they get together — sparks reminiscent of the family dynamics on "Frasier," which isn't surprising because this show comes to us from that show's producers/writers. And, in the premiere, they throw into the mix Ben's wife suddenly leaving him and the discovery that Stewart is dating his receptionist.

"One of the things that we were interested in exploring with the show is the way that a family splinters apart but somehow stays together," said executive producer Joe Keenan.

Certainly not by sitting around in their living room.

"Basically, I think this show is about five adults living in New York — all intelligent, all very talented, et cetera and (screwed) up," Channing said.

"They're all single. . . . They all kind of grew up together and they're very different," Gorham said. "And they are neurotic in their own ways, and they're very dysfunctional."

In other words, the comedy groundwork is laid.

The "Out of Practice" pilot is good — not great, but good. The cast is excellent. (Although Winkler, on a couple of occasions, seems to think he's still on "Happy Days" — his overacting can be a distraction.)

And the writing is, well, "Frasier"-like — smart, biting and, yes, sometimes loud.

But pretty funny. And loaded with potential.

THERE'S SOME IRONY in the fact that Marshall is playing a lesbian — her first big break on TV came on an episode of "Seinfeld" in which she mistakenly believed Jerry and George were gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

"I felt really lucky that that was one of my first auditions, and I got a guest spot on 'Seinfeld.' And it was a great experience," Marshall said.

As for her new role, "Well, I still haven't told my mother I'm playing gay," Marshall said. "She's not going to be happy about it, because she's old and she doesn't understand. I didn't even think about it."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com