On Wednesday September 19, 2007, FOX debuted a new comedy series starring Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”) and Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) in their highly-anticipated TV returns. “Back to You”, celebrating 10 years this week, only lasted a season, but it’s left a lasting impression on me – as one of my all-time favorite TV comedies.
Grammer played Chuck Darling, a news anchor who just got fired from LA and is now returning to one of his old stomping grounds, a TV station in Pittsburgh. He’s back at the anchor desk with his old partner, Kelly Carr (Heaton). Their reunion isn’t exactly smooth. And that night, Kelly tells Chuck that he’s the father of her only child, daughter Gracie. No one else knows about this – not even Gracie.
“Back to You” started-out with positive reviews and decent ratings (including 9.5 million viewers for the premiere), but it hit a road block after its 7th episode: The Writers Strike. It was off the air for three months. During that time, FOX hadn’t given-up on it yet. In January ’08, Fred Willard (who co-starred as sportscaster Marsh) attended a local FOX telethon near where I live in Albany, NY. I had the chance to meet him and we talked about “Back to You” and his upcoming live-action role in Pixar’s otherwise animated “WALL-E”.
“BTY” returned for two episodes in February (both on at 9:30 after “American Idol”), followed by five more in April and May. During the Writers Strike period, the show also went through some casting changes. Ayda Field, as meteorologist Montana, was fired. And the role of Gracie (who was originally played by Laura Marano of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Disney Channel’s “Austin & Ally”) was now played by Lily Jackson.
The show aired its Season 1 finale on May 14, when Chuck and Kelly finally make the big reveal to everyone. This was the 14th episode that aired on FOX, though 3 others were also produced, including an episode that takes place after Chuck and Kelly make the announcement. These episodes were included on the “Back to You” Season 1 DVD, which was released in Oct. ’08.
Shortly after its finale, FOX decide to cancel “Back to You”. Though it had better ratings than “‘Til Death”, starring Heaton’s “Raymond” co-star Brad Garrett, FOX cited budget issues (in particular, it cost too much to pay both heavyweights Grammer and Heaton). The show was already into production on Season 2, and Grammer was disappointed. He shopped “Back to You” to CBS, and sent them some episodes, to potentially add it to their network lineup, but they said no.
Grammer, Heaton and co-star Ty Burrell (who played reporter Gary) all quickly had new TV projects – comedies for ABC. Burrell’s “Modern Family” premiered on Sept. 23, 2009 and Grammer’s “Hank” and Heaton’s “The Middle” debuted on Sept. 30. The three were even featured in a promo together. “Hank” was cancelled after just 5 episodes, while “Modern Family” (which also features Willard as the dad of Burrell’s Phil Dunphy) and “The Middle” are entering their 9th seasons.
In 2010, Grammer performed in the Broadway revival of “La Cage Aux Folles”, which earned him a Tony nomination. I went to the show that June, and afterwards he signed the cover of my “Back to You Season 1” DVD. I told him, “I didn’t want it to end.” He replied, “Me too.”
I went to see Regis and Kelly on Veteran’s Day that year. Burrell was on promoting “Modern Family” and his small role in a new film about TV news – “Morning Glory”. Burrell referenced “Back to You” at one point, and soon he saw me holding up my DVD in the audience. Burrell only stayed for one segment. During the commercial break, Kelly saw me in the crowd and asked if I wanted him to sign it. So I gave it to her and she gave it to a staff member. Someone came by during the next commercial break and apologized because Burrell went-off too soon to sign it.
“Back to You” also co-starred Josh Gad, just a few years before “The Book of Mormon” and “Frozen” fame. I met Gad outside of “Mormon” in 2011 (months before I saw the show). I went-up to the doorman and told him that I wanted to meet Gad because of “Back to You”. He went inside and told Gad, who couldn’t believe it. Gad rushed-out at the end of that evening’s performance to say hi, and we posed for a picture. After I went to see “Mormon” a few months later, we met up again afterwards and he told me that he was going to CA to see Burrell and shoot an episode of “Modern Family”.
This past December, I got the chance to officially meet Burrell and talk with him about “Back to You”. He was at the Critics Choice Awards nominated for “Modern Family”. He appreciated how much I liked “BTY”, but said, “If ‘Back to You’ didn’t get cancelled, ‘Modern Family’ would never have happened.” Later that night I talked with the co-creator of both shows, Steve Levitan, and he told me also the exact same thing as Burrell, “If ‘Back to You’ didn’t end, we wouldn’t have done ‘Modern Family’.” I replied, “Wow” on both occasions.
So “Modern Family” (which featured Grammer in a guest-starring role in January) wouldn’t have happened, and Heaton certainly wouldn’t have starred on “The Middle”. If “Back to You” was a multi-year hit, Gad might not have done “The Book of Mormon” or “Frozen”. And Grammer might not have headlined “La Cage”, the Starz series “Boss” and various other projects.
I wish “Back to You” had stayed on the air. But at the same time, I’ve really enjoyed “Modern Family”, and “The Middle” is another one of my all-time favorite TV comedies. [The series finale in May will be difficult to watch.]
If you’re looking for something “new” to binge – the 14 aired episodes of “Back to You” are available to stream on Amazon, and the 17-episode DVD is available to purchase on many online shopping outlets. This is a really smart, sharp and memorable show that pokes fun at TV and local news in the most brilliant ways. I guarantee you’ll laugh at least two or three times a minute.