In this short-lived sitcom, popular TV chef Emeril Lagasse portrayed a fictional version of himself. Following a critically-panned pilot in which time was equally split between Emeril's home and work life, the scene shifted almost exclusively to his set and office, where he was surrounded by an eccentric staff. Producer Cassandra was a loud- mouthed, twice-divorced mother of one; Melva was a sassy black stage manager who instilled fear in all of her coworkers; food stylist B.D. was a naive, recently-divorced simpleton; Jerry was Emeril's sleazy manager/best friend; Trish was a condescending network executive; and Nurse Smearball was the network's humorless nurse. Infrequently seen were Emeril's wife, Nora, as well as his two sons and daughter (all portrayed by actors). Plots were what you'd expect from a workplace sitcom set on a TV show: backstage squabbles, office parties, spinning negative press into positive, wrangling celebrity guest stars, etc. As sort of a lame tie-in, after each episode viewers could go to NBC's website and get the recipe for a dish which was seen on the show that week.
The show was slated to debut on September 18, 2001, but continuous news coverage of the 9-11 attacks delayed the start of the entire TV season... quickly leading to jokes that terrorists were trying to save us from enduring shows like "Emeril." Because fear and confusion was so thick in the air, TV viewers found solace in established series like "Friends" and every new show that season tanked (though oddities like "The Tick" and "Greg the Bunny" went on to develop cult followings on DVD). Soon afterward, Emeril's popularity waned and this sitcom was blamed. Thing is, that's not really fair - without reinvention stars tend to fizzle and this show was really no worse than any other sitcom on the air at the time (it was certainly better than that era's crap like "What About Joan?," the aptly-named "Cursed" and the inexplicably long-running "According to Jim").
There were times (particularly in the unaired pilot) when he seemed uncomfortable wrapping his mouth around the scripted sitcom dialogue, but for the most part Emeril was charismatic and seemed right at home in front of the cameras. Lisa Ann Walter (Cass) and Sherri Shepard (Melva) had terrific chemistry; Robert Urich (Jerry) was a seasoned pro who seemed to relish playing his slimy character (his final series role); and Tricia O'Kelley (Trish) basically played a variation of the same character she'd go on to portray for several years in "The New Adventures of Old Christine." The writing was not up to par with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's earlier "Designing Women," but frankly that show got off to an almost-equally wobbly start, and this time Thomason pawned off writing duties for most episodes to her staff of writers. Yes, there were a lot of lame jokes (like any sitcom), but there were also some funny zingers too. Unfortunately, with abysmal ratings, NBC abruptly halted production after 10 episodes (3 shy of their 13 episode commitment) and only 7 of them aired.
While it was far from the greatest sitcom ever produced, it was equally far from the worst -- though it frequently shows up on worst lists. Had circumstances been different, "Emeril" might have grown into a long-running hit rather than the notorious bomb that it's reputed to be today.
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