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Over the Top

Over the Top is an ABC network sitcom, starring Tim Curry & Annie Potts and was created by Michael Katlin & Nat Bernstein.

The show first premiered on October 21, 1997, debuting opposite the World Series. Due to low ratings and issues behind the scenes, the show was cancelled on November 4, 1997 after three episodes aired (even though 12 episodes of the series was produced).

Plot

After being fired from the soap opera "Days to Remember", down on his luck, eccentric, self-centered actor Simon Ferguson (Tim Curry) moves into Manhattan's Metropolitan Hotel, which is run by ex-wife Hadley Martin (Annie Potts), whom he was married to 20 years prior (for twelve days).

Despite her initial exasperation with her ex, Hadley again succumbs to the "Ferguson charm", as do all of those around her. Simon reluctantly plays role model to Hadley's children from a different marriage: precocious 7-in-a-half-year-old Daniel (Luke Tarsitano) and angst-ridden teen Gwen (Marla Sokoloff).

The hotel's psychotic Greek chef, Yorgo Galfanikos (Steve Carell), also looks up to Simon, having been a fan of his soap opera and films.

Also seen on the show were Rose (Liz Torres), the hotel's assistant manager, Robert McSwain (John O'Hurley), the hotel's main investor, Tommy Sutton (Devin Neil Oatway), a popular jock Gwen fawns over, and Jesse (Danny Strong), a geek who is smitten with Gwen.

The episodes mostly centered around Simon's outlandish shenanigans and attempts to break back into show business.

Cast

  • Tim Curry as Simon Ferguson
  • Annie Potts as Hadley Martin
  • Steve Carell as Yorgo Galfanikos
  • Luke Tarsitano as Daniel Martin
  • Marla Sokoloff as Gwen Martin
  • Liz Torres as Rose
  • John O'Hurley as Robert McSwain

Production

The show was pitched in early 1996 to ABC president Ted Harbert and although it would not be ready to hit the air for the 1996-1997 season, it remained in development.

Tim Curry was aboard and wanted the relationship between the two leads to be loosely based on his relationship with friend and next door neighbor Annie Potts, to whom he said, "I wish you could do this with me!"

Potts was starring in the TV spin-off of the popular film "Dangerous Minds" at the time, so it did not seem as though a reunion was imminent (the two had previously co-starred together as husband and wife in the film Pass the Ammo).

Three days before they were ready to shoot the pilot for Over the Top, Dangerous Minds was canceled, and although Potts was heartbroken over the cancellation of that series, she jumped at the chance to work with Curry again.

The premise of the pilot was that Curry's character, actor Simon Ferguson was fired from his soap opera, so he visited the quaint bed and breakfast in Upstate New York owned by his ex-wife, Kate (Potts), whom he was once married to for six months. Although flabbergasted with Simon, Kate ultimately decided to let her ex stay on as a new addition to the staff.

The cast was rounded out by Luke Tarsitano and Natanya Ross as Kate's children from a subsequent marriage, Debra Jo Rupp as the maid and a then-unknown actor named Steve Carell as manic chef Yorgo.

By the time the pilot for "Over the Top" was filmed, ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert had been replaced by Jamie Tarses (whom executive producer Robert Morton was dating).

Rumors began to swirl that the series was only picked up as a result of their romance and it did not help matters that the press was only shown snippets of the pilot episode. In the months between the time the series was picked up and its scheduled premiere, Morton and Tarses' relationship ended.

The show was originally slated to debut on September 23, 1997 the show's premiere was delayed until October 21, 1997 (opposite the World Series) so it could be retooled. Natanya Ross & Debra Jo Rupp were replaced by Marla Sokoloff & Liz Torres and John O'Hurley's character was written into the show. Kate was renamed Hadley and her character became more sympathetic toward Simon.

The setting was changed to New York City and the pilot was reshot (as the episode "I'm Bonnie, I'm Clyde").

The reason given for the retooling was because in NYC there would be more opportunities "for comedic interaction with city characters", but the press began to speculate that the changes were again a result of the failed Tarses/Morton romance. Morton sidestepped this question by claiming, "We needed to give Tim a bigger playing field" and that the cast "was not as comfortable with each other as we wanted".

Meanwhile, ABC claimed that they did not want their 8:00 p.m. lead-in show "Soul Man" to face off against what was expected to be a high-rated season premiere of Mad About You, so they rearranged the schedule.

In a public statement released by Tarses, he said:

"By shifting Soul Man's time slot for the first few weeks of the season, we're giving this pivotal series the luxury to recapture its audience without intense premiere competition."

Despite that, the show's stars remained optimistic.

Timy Curry went on a promotional tour, appearing on talk shows such as "The View", "Vibe", "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" and "Arthel & Fred" even though interviewers seemed to focus less on the show and more on "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Meanwhile, Annie Potts also did some interviews, barely acknowledging the behind the scenes issues and claiming that the show should speak for itself.

"Over the Top" received minuscule network promotion (generally only small blurbs tacked onto the ends of commercials for "Soul Man") and aired for three weeks with dismal ratings before being canceled (in some markets the final November 4th episode was bumped off the schedule unannounced for election coverage and some TV Guide listings were a little slow to catch up, citing the unaired episodes "Who's Afraid of Simon Ferguson?" and "The Review" in the weeks following the show's cancellation).

Production on the series instantly halted two episodes shy of the standard 13-episode order for a new series and almost immediately following the show's cancellation, executive producers Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein cried foul, blaming the Morton/Tarses breakup for the demise of the show.

Reception

"Over the Top" was almost universally critically panned.

Matt Roush wrote in his USA Today review that Curry "gives it his maul" and that the show's leads seemed "lost in the TV equivalent of summer stock".

Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly went one step further, likening it to a variation of The Odd Couple that possessed "neither romantic spark nor crisp verbal byplay".

The Los Angeles Daily News claimed it was the worst new show of the season and that if you tuned in to the show at 8:30, you would "probably be watching something else by 8:38".

TeeVee's Peter Ko wrote a lengthy review (which itself got some publicity nine years later) in which he heavily bashed Tim Curry, then he went on to state:

"I have stood in a freezer full of dead people at the morgue. I have seen a man's scalp pulled back over his nose. I've even seen 35 minutes of Ellen DeGeneres's Mr. Wrong. But I can now honestly say that until Steve Carell's turn in the premiere of Over the Top, I have never known true horror."

On the other hand, the Washington Post's Tom Shales was substantially kinder than most critics, saying "the show seemed merely okay at first encounter," but after seeing the season's other new shows, "Over the Top is looking better and better. I could almost kiss it right on the lips."

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