Richter's Scale

Andy Richter deserves to control the universe, if only Fox would let him

Still, Richter and Victor Fresco, the series' creator, will not whine about their show being treated by Fox like a blind, deaf and woefully ugly foster child with a gimpy left leg and a right arm 10 inches shorter than the left. They have every right to be upset with how Fox is using Andy Richter, one of the few shows that merit your even owning a TV set now that Curb Your Enthusiasm has ended its season, to fill space and kill time, but won't. They have every right to complain that their series, which debuted March 20 to respectable ratings and garnered Fresco an Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series Emmy nomination, has been given short shrift compared with such new shows as Fastlane (so dumb retarded people find it retarded) and John Doe(as in, beat John Doe), but won't. Not when prodded, poked or goaded.

"The odd thing about my business is it has a huge failure rate," Fresco says. "Those of us who make a fairly good living have a lot of failures. Very few of us have created Friends, and even those who do have more failures than successes. You hope for the best, but you always want to protect yourself, and it's not a bad thing to launch when no one else is launching. But that's not why we're launching now. It wasn't up to me. I often think of TV as a family instead of a monolith, and the process isn't nearly as organized as people think."

"In a sense, we're a success," Richter adds. "Just having a network read your script is a success, in the grand scheme of things. And, in the grand scheme of things, in terms of, like, the law of averages, I'm a gazillionaire! We're, like, the luckiest people. We're doing fantastic, because we've been on network television for going on two seasons. You know, there are people who would kill for that. I have to be careful, and the people that I work with, we have to be careful to not fall into that thing of, 'Well, yeah, but still, we still are struggling...' It's like, 'No, goddamn it! We're America's sweethearts!'"

Fact is, there's someone high up at the network who really doesn't care much for Andy Richter Controls the Universe. Someone who doesn't have faith in it, someone who believes it too freaky for prime time. "A powerful person," Richter explains, never mentioning who. But there are enough people lower on the food chain who want to keep it around, though for how long depends on whether it catches on when it reappears at precisely the time most people start switching off their TVs to sit around the fireplace and stare at the Christmas tree with tummies full of spiked egg nog. The show will get a decent enough lead-in--it's the last piece of the Sunday-night-yuks puzzle that includes Futurama, King of the Hill, The Simpsonsand Malcolm in the Middle--but it's a sign of very conditional love. For two weeks, it will be forced to contend with The Sopranos; then, the holidays. And the network will also have to stretch out 13 episodes--10 new ones, three left over from last season--till May, since it's debuting earlier than expected.

"It is conditional love, but it's still love," Richter says, coming close to complaining but veering off the road just before a head-on collision. "We're still there. The thing is, I have faith in this thing, but I also know that anything can happen...I have the feeling of, like, if they don't do everything possible to make this show a success, it's their loss. They are making a horrible mistake. If they had canceled this show, they would've been making a horrible mistake, 'cause I have every intention of this show being a success, a real success."

Then again, if Andy Richter really did control the television universe, there would be a network that ran only Mexican soap operas and infomercials featuring men wearing hilarious sweaters. There would be an all-Simpsonsnetwork, an all-Strangers with Candychannel, an Upright Citizens Brigade station. But they would never last, because there aren't enough stoners and malcontents and wiseasses to support such television. Most people watch TV to see Jim Belushi and John Ritter, to love Raymond and hang out with their Friends. Those of us who crave something a bit more nutritious and delicious in our diets will have to look a little harder, because TV ain't for us. It's for people who don't want goat cheese on their Big Macs, just special sauce.

"People with elevated tastes are always going to feel, when they walk into the diner in middle America, like the whole place is staring at them, thinking they're some kind of Commie fag," Richter says. "Most people walk into diners in America and say, 'I'll have three eggs, a piece of ham and some hash browns,' and they don't think about it, you know. There are a lot more McDonald's than there are..."

Commie fags?

"Yeah," Richter deadpans. "Commie fag restaurants."

And that's really all we're looking for, isn't it?

"Yes! Some Commie fag soup."

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