One of Kirstie Alley’s greatest joys is to cheer viewers, and she’s getting back to that mission weekly.
After her stints on “Cheers” and “Veronica’s Closet,” plus her two spins on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” the Emmy winner is now the star and an executive producer of the aptly titled TV Land sitcom “Kirstie.” The show debuts with back-to-back episodes Wednesday, Dec. 4, but one of the ironies of the title is that her character has a different name.
Alley’s newest alter ego is Madison “Maddie” Banks, a Broadway diva whose glamorous and self-centered life is upended by the sudden reappearance of a part of her past: Arlo (Eric Petersen), the now-grown son she gave up for adoption long ago. Deciding to make a new start with her sometimes star-struck offspring, Maddie is counseled by her assistant, Thelma (Alley’s “Cheers” mate Rhea Perlman) and chauffeur Frank (Michael Richards, alias Kramer from “Seinfeld”).
For this article, Alley spoke about returning to the sitcom world and enlisting some big-name guests, including one of her former movie co-stars “Who’s Talking” again.
Zap2it: How has making “Kirstie” gone for you?
Kirstie Alley: It was a lot of work this first season, wearing both my producer hat and my actor hat … but to me, sitcoms are magical, and we have the exact right group. You can have really talented people, and they can just be lunatics. Or evil. That isn’t the case here, so I feel like I’ve lucked out again.
Zap2it: You certainly went in knowing how Rhea works, and Michael has his experience from “Seinfeld” and other shows. How important was it for you to have other well-known sitcom veterans as cast regulars?
Kirstie Alley: What it does for me, and maybe for them, is that it makes it feel like a family. Rhea and I were sort of family already, and you could tell Michael was in another family and knows what he’s doing, so I instantly felt bonded with them. And Eric feels a little foreign and alien, as he should, so it’s great.
Zap2it: Since casting the son also was pivotal here, how did you find Eric?
Kirstie Alley: That was a hard role to cast. I wanted the character to be a sort of goony, overprotected guy, but still lovable. I wanted him to be able to have a fierce quality, too, like Jackie Gleason — and Eric reminds me of him. He has a lot of pathos in his eyes. He doesn’t even have to do anything; he just has those puppy eyes.
Zap2it: While Maddie is a toast of the New York theater scene, she now has to learn to be a mom. What do you like most about her?
Kirstie Alley: I like to play flawed characters, and she’s got lots of flaws. I love people who just think they have it all together, and she does in one location, on the stage. Period. That’s what makes her fun for me to play.
Zap2it: Just as TV Land has had many familiar guest stars on “Hot in Cleveland” – including you — “Kirstie” has some in its first weeks, such as Kristin Chenoweth, Jason Alexander, Cloris Leachman and your “Look Who’s Talking” comrade, John Travolta. How was it to work with John again?
Kirstie Alley: John’s got a lot of sides to him. He’s fierce, he’s sweet, he’s dramatic, he’s silly … he just has all these characteristics that make him unique from many of my other friends. He can p*** me off faster than any of them, and he can make me laugh faster than any of them. He’s got some world records there.
Zap2it: How exciting is it for you to get him to do a TV role now?
Kirstie Alley: All of us have worked long enough that we know enough of these people. Sometimes we’ve done them favors, and sometimes they just like us and will come in and do it for us. We’re getting a lot of big stars who might or might not do a sitcom. They’re not going to want to do a guest-star role unless it’s something they wouldn’t get to do anyplace else, and our writers are great at that.
Zap2it: Since your character is named Maddie, why is the show called “Kirstie”?
Kirstie Alley: I liked “Giant Baby” (the original title). I didn’t want my name in the title, since I’m not playing anybody named Kirstie, and their example was “Cosby.” And then they said, “Newhart.” They just liked it to be named “Kirstie.” I fought it for months, but they won that one, so there we are.
Zap2it: Have you ever wanted to be a stage star yourself?
Kirstie Alley: I have this view of Broadway being just the ultimate in acting, and I’ve always had a dream of doing this play or that one. I’ve been offered Broadway plays, but if I didn’t love it, I just know I couldn’t do it. You’re bound to eight shows a week, so you’d better love it.
The only play I’ve done is “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and that run was only six weeks. That was fine, but when you’re talking about a year or two years, I can’t even imagine it. I’ve been offered musicals. I’ll play the songs over and over, and if I’m sick of them in one day, I’m like, “No!”