Dave’s World: Miami Herald Columnist Dave Barry Goes TV
"Dave's World" premiered on CBS Sep 20, 1993
For ten years, Dave Barry selflessly slaved away as a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. His long, long hours spent scouring the Herald archives and newsroom performing research on topics such as exploding cows and boogers finally mildly paid off in 1988 when he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. But in America, literary awards and recognition are about as important to the general public as that “Hardest Tryer” award you win in Summer camp. So it would be another half-decade until Dave Barry’s effort REALLY paid off.
It was in 1993 that the television show loosely based on his work, “Dave’s World” premiered on CBS. While one might find it rather odd to take the daily musings of a humor columnist and turn them into network TV (especially in the days before UPN and Pax) producers Jonathan Axelrod and James Widdoes thought differently. Widdoes, known more to most as frat president Hoover in Animal House, approached Barry about a possible TV show, getting his attention only because the author knew him from his role in the 1970’s classic. (His work as the father on “Charles in Charge,” while brilliant, goes highly ignored). Axelrod and Widdoes bought the rights to two of Barry’s most popular books, “Dave Barry Turns 40” and “Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits.” Both huge fans of the Herald Columnist’s humor, they soon began work on creating a fictional life for the columnist, one that they felt would compel people to watch the same way they did to read.
The premise for the show was rather simple: A columnist for the factional Miami Record Dispatch deals with the everyday issues of being a father from the hippie generation. Harry Anderson, best known for his work as Judge Harold T. Stone on “Night Court” was cast as Dave, with DeLane Matthews playing his wife, Beth (the real name Barry’s wife at the time. Interestingly, the couple were divorced during the third season of “Dave’s World” so, much like Lucy and Ricky, the TV couple outlasted the real-life one). The supporting characters were made up of his two sons Tommy and Willie, his best friend and Editor Kenny (played by Hollywood Squares legend Shadoe Stevens) and his recently divorced plastic surgeon buddy Shel (played by “Designing Women” alum Meschach Taylor).
Each episode was based on either an idea derived from one of Barry’s columns, or as little as one line out of one of his books. Typically, during each episode, Anderson would read a passage form one of Barry’s works as a sort of analysis of what he had learned during the course of the show. But this was about as far as Dave Barry’s influence was felt on “Dave’s World.” While CBS had great hopes for this being their next big family comedy hit, Barry still had no desire to do any writing for TV.
Like many programs set in Miami, “Dave’s World” was still filmed in Southern California. The show, despite lacking the pastel and tropical locales of “Miami Vice” still did manage to make references to various Miami landmarks in each episode, and featured plot lines familiar to South Floridian’s such as a house being swallowed by a sinkhole and air-conditioner-buying hysteria (the latter being more recognizable to the modern-day South Floridian as “generator-buying- hysteria”). While the show may have been of great local interest to those living in Miami, the rest of the nation was not nearly as amused.
Despite CBS’ high hopes, the show never got more than lukewarm reviews. “Dave’s’ World” was only nominated for one Emmy, for lighting in 1996. Other than that, the only recognition any of the actual creative talent received were some child acting nominations for Andrew Ducote and Zane Carney, who played Barry’s fictitious sons. Critics agreed that while “Dave’s World” was entertaining, it paled in comparison to Barry’s columns. Perhaps it was because of the writer’s lack of involvement in the show, but somehow the humor expressed in the pages of the Miami Herald didn’t translate to television as much as Widdoes and Axelrod had hoped. Even given a prime starting slot between Burt Reynolds’ hit “Evening Shade” and the long-established “Murphy Brown,” Dave’s world got no more than acceptable ratings. It usually ranked in the high twenties to low thirties, enough to get renewed, but not enough to be classified as a “hit.” After four seasons and 98 episodes, “Dave’s World” was canceled by CBS.
That same year another show about a newspaper columnist and his family premiered on this network, only college buddies were replaced by eccentric family members and the locale was switched from Miami to New York. That show picked up and ran with the ball where “Dave’s World” fell off and became one of the most critically acclaimed series of the past 20 years. So while “Everybody Loves Raymond” managed to succeed where “Dave’s World” failed, Ray Romano, at the very least, owes Dave Barry a note of thanks.
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