Place, an exceptionally innovative half-hour television program
sometimes referred to as a "dramedy," aired on CBS during the 1987-88
television season. The program won extensive critical praise for
the ways in which it used conventions of situation comedy to explore
serious subject matter. As Rolling Stone writer Mark Christensen
commented "rarely has a prime-time show attempted to capture so
accurately a particular American subculture--in this case that of
blue-collar blacks in Louisiana."
In 1987 Frank's Place won the Television Critics Association's
award for outstanding comedy series. In 1988 one episode, "The Bridge,"
won Emmy awards for best writing in a comedy series (writer and
co-executive producer, Hugh Wilson) and outstanding guest performance
in a comedy series (Beah Richards). Tim Reid, star and co-executive
producer, received an NAACP Image Award. In spite of its critical
success, however, the show did not do well in the ratings and was
not renewed by CBS.
Place was developed by Wilson and Reid from a suggestion by
CBS executive Kim LeMasters. Wilson, an alumnus of the heyday of
MTM Productions, had previously produced WKRP In Cincinnati,
a sitcom favorite in which Reid played super-cool disc jockey, Venus
Flytrap. The premise for their new show centered on Frank Parrish
(played by Reid), an African-American college professor from Boston
who inherits a New Orleans restaurant from his estranged father.
Wilson, who had directed for film as well as television, decided
against using the standard situation comedy production style--videotaping
with three-cameras in front of a live audience. He opted instead
for film-style production, single camera with no laugh track. Thus,
from the beginning, Frank's Place looked and sounded different.
Changed, too, were the broad physical humor and snappy one-liners
that characterize most situation comedies. These were replaced with
a more subtle, often poignant humor as Frank encountered situations
his formal education had not prepared him for. He's the innocent
lost in a bewildering world, a rich and complex culture that appears
both alien and increasingly attractive to him. And he is surrounded
by a surrogate family who wish him well but know he must ultimately
learn from his mistakes.
ensemble cast included Hanna Griffin (played by Daphne Maxwell Reid),
a mortician who became a romantic interest for Frank, and Bubba
Weisberger (Robert Harper), a white Jewish lawyer from an old southern
family. The restaurant staff included Miss Marie (Frances E. Williams),
the matriarch of the group; Anna-May (Francesca P. Roberts), the
head waitress; Big Arthur (Tony Burton), the accomplished chef who
rules the kitchen; Shorty La Roux (Don Yesso), the white assistant
chef; Tiger Shepin (Charles Lampkin), the fatherly bartender; Cool
Charles (William Thomas Jr.), his helper. Reverend Deal (Lincoln
Kilpatrick), a smooth-talking preacher in constant search of a church
or a con-man's opportunity, was another regular.
journey into the world of the southern working-class African-American
begins when he visits Chez Louisiane, the creole restaurant he inherited
and plans to sell. The elderly waitress Miss Marie puts a voodoo
spell on him to ensure that he will continue to run the restaurant
in his father's place. After Frank returns to Boston, his plumbing
erupts, telephones fail him, the laundry loses all his clothes,
his girlfriend leaves him, and his office burns. Convinced he has
no choice, he returns to New Orleans, to the matter-of-fact welcome
of the staff, the reappearance of his father's cat, and the continuing
struggle to turn the restaurant into a profitable venture.
lines in many episodes provide comic and pointed comments on the
values and attitudes of the dominant culture. In one story, college
recruiters bombard young basketball star Calvin with virtually identical
speeches about family and tradition and campus life. Calvin's naive
expectations of becoming a professional athlete contrast with Frank's
concern about academic opportunities. In another episode, the chairman
of a major corporation stops in for a late night dinner. Commenting
on efforts to oust him, he eloquently condemns speculators who use
junk bonds to buy companies they know nothing about and with which
they create no real value or service. The plot takes an ironic turn
when he realizes his partners may have made mistakes in plotting
the takeover and he enthusiastically schemes to thwart them.
and racial issues emerge in many story lines. On Frank's first night
back in New Orleans, he wonders why there are so few people in the
restaurant. Tiger explains with a simple observation: their clientele
are working people who eat at home during the week--and white folks
are afraid to come into the neighborhood at night. In a later episode
Frank is flattered when he is invited to join a club of African-American
professionals. Not until Anna-May pulls out a brown paper bag and
contrasts it with Frank's darker skin does he understand that those
who extended the invitation meant to use him to challenge to the
light-skin bias of the club members.
Throughout the series tidy resolutions are missing. A group of musicians
from East Africa, in the United States on a cultural tour, stop
at Frank's Place. One of them, who longs to play the jazz that's
forbidden at home, decides to defect. Frank refuses to help him
and he is rebuffed by jazz musicians. But in the closing scene,
as he sits listening in a club, he gets an inviting nod to join
the musicians when they break. The final frame freezes on a close-up
of his face as he rises, suspended forever between worlds. In another
episode, a bum moves into a large box in the alley and annoys customers
by singing and begging in front of the restaurant. Nothing persuades
him to leave until one evening Frank tries unsuccessfully to get
him to talk about who he is, where he's from, the reasons for his
choices. When Frank steps outside the next morning, he's gone. A
final image, as Frank dusts off the hat left on the sidewalk, resonates
with a recognition of kinship and loss. Visual sequences in many
episodes suggest the loneliness of Frank's search for father, for
self, for his place in this community.
explanations have been offered for the decision to cancel Frank's
Place after one season. In spite of a strong beginning, the
show's ratings continued to drop. Viewers who expected the usual
situation comedy formula were puzzled by the show's style. Frequent
changes in scheduling made it difficult for viewers to find the
show. CBS, struggling to improve its standing in the ratings, was
not willing to give the show more time in a regular time slot to
build an audience. The large ensemble and the film-style techniques
made the show expensive to produce. In the end, it was undoubtedly
a combination of reasons that brought the series to an end.
Place, however, deserves a continuing place in programming history.
It did, as Tim Reid told New York Times reporter Perry Garfinkel,
present blacks not as stereotypes but as "a diverse group of hard-working
people." Hugh Wilson attributed this accuracy to the racially mixed
group of writers, directors, cast and crew. Authenticity was heightened
by the careful researching of details. Individual stories were allowed
to determine the style of each episode. Some were comic, some serious,
some poignant. All of them, however, were grounded in a compelling
sense of place and a respect for those who inhabit Chez Louisiane
and its corner of New Orleans.
PRODUCERS Hugh Wilson, Tim Reid
Parish................................................ Tim Reid
Sy "Bubba" Weisburger......................... Robert Harper
Hannah Griffin........................... Daphne Maxwell
Reid Anna-May................................. Francesca
P. Roberts Miss Marie...................................
Frances E Williams Mrs. Bertha Griffin-Lamour...................
Virginia Capers Big Arthur ...............................................Tony
Burton Tiger Shepin.....................................
Charles Lampkin Reverend Deal..................................
Lincoln Kilpatrick Cool Charles................................
William Thomas, Jr. Shorty La Roux.........................................
Hugh Wilson, Tim Reid, Max Tash
September 1987-November 1987
Monday 8:00-8:30 December 1987-February 1988 Monday
8:30-9:00 February 1988-March 1988 Monday
9:30-10:00 March 1988 Tuesday
8:00-8:30 July 1988-October 1988
Christensen, Mark. "Just Folks." Rolling Stone (New York),
10 March 1988.
Aldore. "Hollywood's Hottest Couple." Ebony (Chicago), January
Perry. "Frank's Place: The Restaurant as Life's Stage."
The New York Times, 17 February 1988.
Herman. Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for "Blackness."
Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
Michael E. "Frank's Place Serving Rich Television with No Calories."
Washington Post TV Week, 16 December 1987.
People Weekly (New York), 25 April 1988.
Horace. "The Sense of Place in Frank's Place." In Thompson, Robert
J., and Gary Burns, editors. Making Television: Authorship and
the Production Process. New York, Praeger, 1990.
John J. "Two New Series in Previews." The New York Times,
15 September 1987.
Jimmie L., and Richard Campbell. "Misplacing Frank's Place:
Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" Television Quarterly
(New York), 1989.
Rip. "Tim's Place: The Executive Suite." TV Guide (Radnor,
Pennsylvania) 16-22 April 1988.
Frank. "Tim Reid." American Film (Washington, D.C.), October
R. J., and G. Burns. "Authorship and the Production Process." Millimeter
(New York), March 1988.
Mimi. "What's the Difference? Frank's Place In Television." Wide
Angle (Athens, Ohio), July-October 1991.
and Television; Reid,