A well-to-do professor inherits a restaurant.
22 episodes of 30 minute duration. CBS. USA. 1987 - 1988.
Although there have been a number of comedies (and some dramas) about African-Americans over the past several decades, 'Frank's Place' stands out for its realism and its honest depiction of the black experience in the southern United States. Unfortunately, it was a critical favorite with a relatively small fan base. That was one reason why Frank's Place had a short run in the late 1980's, while the more conventional and familiar Cosby Show was television's top-rated series during this period.
Created by 'WKRP In Cincinnati's' Hugh Wilson, 'Frank's Place' centered on black college professor Frank Parrish (Tim Reid, who also played evening radio announcer Venus Flytrap on "WKRP"), who inherits a New Orleans restaurant from his estranged father. Frank decides to sell the eatery, "Chez Louisanne" and return to his hometown of Boston. That leads the restaurant's elderly waitress, Miss Marie (Frances E. Williams) to put a voodoo spell on Frank; by coincidence, his college office burns down; he loses his girlfriend and a plumbing problem ruins his apartment. The restaurant staff was not surprised when Frank returned to New Orleans in an attempt to make "Chez Louisanne" a success.
Besides Miss Marie, the staff included fellow waitress Anna-May (Francesca P. Roberts); chef Big Arthur (Tony Burton); white assistant chef Shorty La Roux (Don Yesso); bartender Cool Charles (William Thomas Junior). A regular in the restaurant was smooth-talking con man-preacher Reverend Deal (Lincoln Kilpatrick). Robert Harper played white Jewish lawyer Sy "Bubba" Weisberger. Daphine Maxwell Reid, Tim Reid's real-life wife, played mortician Hanna Griffith (whom Frank is smitten with).
One of the first of the short-lived "dramedy" (half-hour comedy-drama hybrids) that also included ABC's 'Hooperman' and 'The 'Slap' Maxwell Story', and NBC's 'The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd' of the late 80's, 'Frank's Place' had no studio audience or canned laughter. It was filmed (not videotaped) with one camera--a procedure that had all but disappeared with sitcoms of the 1980's. The show was very well researched about the history of race relations in the New Orleans area, which made for many poignant episodes. In one, Frank is tapped to join a group of African-American professionals. It was Anna-May who used a brown paper bag to point out that dark-skinned Frank was being used to head off criticism of the group for allowing only "light skinned" blacks. Other episodes showed Frank looking for his estranged father; trying to make the restaurant a going concern; and questioning his place in the community.
Critics loved 'Frank's Place' (Rolling Stone magazine said "rarely has a prime-time show attempted to capture so accurately a particular American subculture."). But after a strong start, the ratings began to falter. (Many viewers may have thought that Reid would recreate Venus Flytrap and that it would be a "WKRP"-like comedy.) CBS began shifting Frank's Place from timeslot to timeslot, leading co-star Maxwell Reid to comment that not even her mother knew when the show would air.
The show was also expensive to produce with its filmed technique. But 'Frank's Place' also came at a time when CBS was falling into third place among the three major networks for the first time in its history. Pressured by new network president Lawrence Tisch to improve ratings, CBS canceled Frank's Place; the last episode aired on October 1st, 1988.
The show's theme song was the late, great Louis Armstrong's rendition of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?"
Today, 'Frank's Place' is hailed as a modern classic, and an excellent fictional series about the African-American experience. Not surprisingly, it sparked yet another debate about the depiction of blacks on US television. Despite multiple channels and such black-oriented networks as "Black Entertainment Television" (BET), the debate rages on.
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