Weekend Flop Viewing: THE ASSOCIATES

This show ran on ABC in the 1979-80 season. It was created by the same team that did Taxi: James L. Brooks and his gang had been hired away from MTM by Paramount, which gave them immense freedom and large budgets (by sitcom standards). Taxi won four straight Emmy awards for best comedy and was a hit, at least at first; this show didn’t even last a full season.

The concept was, simply, a white-collar version of Taxi: it’s about a law-school grad, played by the young and then-unknown Martin Short, who goes to work at a big law firm on Wall Street. Taxi was about people who had to come to terms with the fact that they weren’t going to get the lives they dreamed of, and The Associates had the same theme, in an upscale way: it’s about an idealistic young professional who has to adjust to working for The Man. (One episode had Short working for a network and watching as they censor all the funny stuff out of a sitcom episode; the episode was actually more depressing than funny.) The cast was good, not as good as Taxi — the cast just didn’t seem to have the same kind of chemistry — but it had Short, Alley Mills (The Wonder Years), Joe Regalbuto (Murphy Brown) and, for sex appeal, model Shelley Smith. The best-known actor in the cast was the veteran Wilfred Hyde-White as the dotty senior partner; he was almost the Latka Gravas of the show, giving out with long, rambling monologues that suggested he either hadn’t rehearsed or wanted us to think he hadn’t rehearsed. Earl Pomerantz wrote several other episodes, and the lion’s share of the 13-episode run was written by the great David Lloyd. But while the show had a cult following, and was certainly a quality product, it was hard to sustain much interest in these people; Taxi had that Honeymooners vibe of rooting for the underdog losers, but who can root for the employees of an evil law firm?

This episode is the pilot, whose writing was nominated for an Emmy. It was written by Michael Leeson, one of the Brooks team’s favourite writers on Taxi. The theme song was written by Albert Brooks (yes, that Albert Brooks) and sung by B.B. King.

Act One:

Act Two:

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