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Dad Says writer gets second shot at TV success

By Michael Storey

This article was published March 27, 2014 at 3:15 a.m.


Jack Dunlevy (Christopher Meloni, right) has some manly advice for his son, Frankie (Connor Buckley), on the new Fox sitcom Surviving Jack. The series debuts at 8:30 p.m. today.

Maybe this time Justin Halpern has it right.

Halpern wrote The New York Times best-seller Sh * t My Dad Says in 2010 that was (unfortunately) turned into the CBS sitcom $#*! My Dad Says that same year.

The comedy was certainly the low point of William Shatner’s long career. That includes being Ranger Bob on The Canadian Howdy Doody Show, and the 14 episodes of ABC’s Barbary Coast.

Granted, T.J. Hooker was pretty bad, too, but at least we got to lust over Heather Locklear in that one. It was her finest work.

$#*! My Dad Says lasted 18 universally panned episodes before CBS yanked it off the schedule. Inexplicably, it went out averaging 10.6 million viewers. Those are decent numbers, but sometimes good taste wins out.

Halpen didn’t slink off and sulk in the corner. He got right back on the writing horse and churned out another best-seller, I Suck at Girls, a semi-autobiographical offering about growing up and dating in the 1990s under the tutelage of his curmudgeonly father.

Halpern then teamed up with his old comedy writing partner Patrick Schumacker and adapted the book into a ’90s coming-of-age sitcom titled Surviving Jack. I’m not certain how much of this one is autobiographical, but there’s more chemistry in the cast and the characters are eminently more likable.

Surviving Jack debuts at 8:30 p.m. today on Fox and stars Christopher Meloni as Jack Dunlevy, the dad to survive.

Jack, an oncologist, is a brusque, no-nonsense, ex-military guy who becomes a stay at-home dad when his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris, My Boys), begins law school.

Jack’s parenting skills are all but nonexistent, and it’s an especially critical time for his kids.

Jack’s teenage son, Frankie (Connor Buckley, Deception), is just starting his freshman year in high school (that’s ninth grade for us old-schoolers). As with many boys his age, Frankie is quick-witted, self-deprecating, and although good looking, he lacks confidence.

All Frankie wants to do is blend in. But over the summer, he grew 10 inches, threw a no-hitter against a rival baseball team and came to the attention of cute girls.

Girls? Yikes. Frankie has no game. He’s clueless. Enter Jack.

No matter how sticky Frankie’s life gets, Jack is there to pick up the pieces and shepherd his son to manhood - frequently in the most embarrassing way possible. Jack may be unfiltered, but his heart’s in the right place.

Frankie isn’t Jack’s only challenge. Also on hand is Rachel (Claudia Lee, Hart of Dixie), Jack’s beautiful, smart 17-year-old daughter. Previously, Rachel had been the model teen, but now that her mom’s out of the house, Rachel is pushing boundaries and Jack’s buttons.

No sitcom like this would be complete without some sidekicks. Frankie has two best buds - George (Kevin Hernandez, The Sitter), an upbeat if overly confident Mexican-American, and Mikey (newcomer Tyler Foden), a tough kid from a broken home.

Hilarity ensues.

Fans best know the 52-year-old Meloni from his dramas. He was on HBO’s Oz from 1998 to 2003, and had a long-running (1999-2011) role as NYPD Detective Elliot Stabler on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Few recall that Meloni broke into showbiz on sitcoms, including 1st & Ten (HBO), The Fanelli Boys (NBC), Dinosaurs (ABC), The Boys (CBS) and Misery Loves Company (Fox).

Surviving Jack gives the veteran actor a chance to revisit his comedic roots. He seems perfect for the role.

Be advised, given the subject matter, Surviving Jack contains bawdy moments and is not for the small fry. It’s rated TV-14 for adult dialogue and language.

Give the series a try and see if you don’t agree that, this time out, Halpern has got the formula right.

Cable slacking. Here’s evidence of the changing TV landscape. Bloomberg reports that, according to research firm SNL Kagan, Americans who pay for TV through cable, satellite or fiber services fell by 251,000 in 2013 - the first full-year decline in TV customers.

There are still about 100 million subscribers who get their TV the traditional way, but the decline is credited to the increase in online-streaming services from companies such as Netflix and Amazon.

Bloomberg says, “Though satellite and telecommunications providers continued to gain users, they didn’t add enough to make up for the losses of cable companies.”

SNL Kagan reports that cable lost almost 2 million subscribers last year, while satellite services added 170,000 customers and phone company offerings using fiber optics (such as AT&T U-verse) netted 1.6 million.

Discuss among yourselves. The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Weekend, Pages 32 on 03/27/2014

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