‘Welcome to New York’: Jim Gaffigan’s First Attempt at a Jim Gaffigan Show

154 - gaffiganThe Jim Gaffigan Show has been airing this summer and has been going strong. Just as Louie and Maron have, it takes a comedian’s voice and his real life and merges them together into a blend that is uniquely their own. However, this is not Gaffigan’s first time playing a character on a sitcom named “Jim Gaffigan.” Today we look back, all the way to the year 2000, at a show called Welcome To New York.

The real Jim Gaffigan moved from Indiana to New York just in time for the comedy boom to bust. He was doing sets around town and working at his advertising job, but until he started doing commercials, things were slow in taking off. Once he entered that arena, though, things were different. Appearing in over 200 commercials, at the end of 1999 BuisnessWeek named him “Salesman of the Year.” A number of guest spots in TV and movies, until Jim’s first network TV spot as a comedian came along: appearing on fellow Indiana transplant David Letterman’s show. It would be hard for his set to go much better than it did. In an interview with Laughspin, Jim describes what happened next: “I did my set, I walked off stage and they said the executive producer wants to meet you up in his office. I thought maybe it was going to be something good. I thought maybe Dave wants me to be a writer. But they wanted me to develop my own show.”

That show would come to be called Welcome to New York and would premiere on CBS on October 11, 2000. The sitcom was about a New York City-based morning show, in the style of Today, its brassy producer, its paranoid and competitive male anchor, and the new weatherman from Indiana who’s just trying to get a feel for the big city. In addition to Jim, the show starred Christine Baranski as Marsha Bickner, the show’s producer, Roseanne’s Sara Gilbert as her sarcastic assistant, NCIS’s Rocky Carroll as Jim’s antagonist, the news anchor Adrian Spencer, and Reno 911’s Mary Birdsong as Connie, the lady who works behind the deli counter.

The first episode begins by juggling two threads: as another episode of A.M. New York wraps up, Adrian tells his producer that she needs to get his female co-anchor to stop going off-script and upstaging him. She listens but is more interested in locking down her dinner reservation for the evening with her assistant. Meanwhile, Gaffigan is trying to explain to the security guard that he doesn’t yet have an ID because it’s his first day on the job as the new weatherman. Suddenly Jim stops. “Look, I’m going to be coming in every day. We’re going to establish a routine. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot.” But a few moments later when Jim tries to connect with his new coworker about the Indiana Pacers, he’s accused of assuming the guard likes basketball just because he’s black. Welcome to New York, Jim.

After the opening credits (set to the Broadway standard, “New York, New York,”), Jim is in the office, meeting with his boss face to face. She tells him that they’re looking forward to his Garrison Keillor-esque approach to weather before getting distracted by work on her desk. “He’s from Minnesota,” Jim corrects, helpfully. “Who?” “Garrison Keillor.” “Oh! Yes, I love him. How is he?” Jim begins pitching the producer Bickner his ideas for the show, and she starts a phone call on her headset making Jim think she’s talking to him. (Translation: she’s very busy, he’s very gullible, and we’re using a very tired gag to show you that.)

Now off the call, she insists on changing a reluctant Gaffigan’s wardrobe. “Maybe it’ll give your face the illusion of color. It’s so interesting seeing you in New York. Somehow you looked… elegant in Indiana. Since you were surrounded by all those pear-shaped people.” She shows him his office where he meets Adrian, who is immediately struck by Jim’s glasses that are the exact same as his. This is clearly going to be a problem for him.

Jim, just like Dave Nelson in the Newsradio pilot we looked at last month, is the surrogate for the audience. Both of these characters are Midwesterners who are new to their New York City-based news offices as a way of introducing the viewers to the world at the same time. However, there’s a difference in the way it works for these characters. Through the course of the episode, Dave slowly meets the wacky characters he’s going to interact with, and each time Dave tentatively tries to bond with them until the inadvertently reveal what their personal weird quirk is. Jim is immediately bounced from weirdo to weirdo within his first ten minutes in the office and when he’s nice to these characters it’s either viewed as a weakness, disingenuous, or an elaborate mind game, meant to topple an alpha dog.

Hoping to make good with his coworkers, Jim heads to the deli to buy a cheese and cracker basket from Connie, who also gets off on the wrong foot with him. “WHAT. DO. YOU. WANT?” she loudly intones as he steps to the counter. When questioned why she’s talking to him like that she’s surprised to hear him speak English. “I just thought with the jacket and the fanny pack you were German!”

Back at the office, Adrian gets to the point. “Being the anchor has certain privileges. If I want to wear a red tie, you don’t get to. If I want to come in naked with a bolo tie…” Jim interrupts. “Someone did that at my old job. But they had a gun!” Adrian jumps ahead and begins again, “We have the same $1400 glasses.” Jim stops him again, stunned that Adrian paid that much for his glasses when he had only paid $110. Hearing this, Adrian begins to walk away. “I tried to handle this man to man… You dropped the needle. I’m ready to tango.”

Later in the week at his new job, things aren’t any easier. He learns from his boss’s assistant that his nickname around the office is “Bickner’s Boy” after all the special attention he’s been getting from her. In order to confront the situation he takes her out to lunch, but she immediately views his dislike of the nickname as a betrayal of her stepping to the plate for him in order to hire him. He apologizes, she talks about how hard it is to be a strong woman in a world of white guys, the two get drunk, and as we learn from Jim as he tells his woes to the deli counter lady, he made out with his boss. Connie gives him the advice that he needs to make it clear to his boss that they’re not dating, and he heads back to the office.

Once there he’s intercepted by Adrian who pulls Jim into his office where he has Jim’s old optician on speakerphone. The optician reveals that Jim paid $135 for his glasses, and even though, as Jim points out, that’s $1200 less than Adrian paid, it’s not the $110 he initially said, allowing Adrian to call Jim a liar. Suddenly Gaffigan remembers using a coupon and the optician confirms that he did indeed. For $25. “Well played, sir,” Adrian intones, coolly. “Have I met my match?” Jim, incredibly frustrated, storms out, sputtering: “I don’t know!”

In Marsha’s office, he attempts to set the record straight, but she cuts him off, dancing around the subject of what happened at the restaurant using hypotheticals. Jim tries to clarify, “So we’re not an item.” “NO!” “Why didn’t you just say that? Not one person here just says what they mean!” His producer attempts to console him: “You’re upset. And I mean that.” They decide that they’ll start fresh. Lunch never happened and from now on, they’ll just be direct. But when he leaves and her assistant let’s her know that someone from the network wanted to speak with Jim, her eyes narrow. “Do not give the network Jim’s number. Jim is my boy.”

Welcome to New York lasted 13 episodes before being cancelled by CBS due to low ratings. Though Gaffigan was a producer on the show, there’s not much about the show that captured his voice, with the exception of one joke about how pale he is. Instead it seems to revolve around one facet of his life experience: the fact that he moved to New York from Indiana. That could work as a show, the “fish out of water” concept is one of the wells writers have gone to and will continue to go to until the sun explodes, but there’s so much more that you can do when you have a Jim Gaffigan on your show.

When reflecting on the sitcom in a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Jim places the blame for the failure partly on himself. “It was definitely a shot, but I don’t think I had the maturity to take the authority I should have,” Gaffigan says. “Everyone looks at Roseanne — and some of it was sexism — as this woman ‘asserting herself,’ but that’s why that show was so damn good.” Welcome to New York didn’t last, but thankfully it was Jim’s last shot as a leading man on a sitcom playing Jim Gaffigan.

Ramsey Ess is a freelance writer for television, podcaster and a guy on Twitter. His webseries “Ramsey Has a Time Machine” just launched a second season featuring Chris Elliott!

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