Duet and Open House

Duet (1987-1989)
Open House (1989-1990)
Type: Spin Off

   Duet was a solid and entertaining sitcom in the early years of the Fox network that, I dunno, either never quite caught on or just ran out of steam. The show's title referred to the show's central premise: it followed the evolution of a couple's relationship starting off with dating and going from there.

   The couple in question was a writer named Ben Coleman and a caterer named Laura Kelly. The idea was to play it for laughs but let the relationship play out like a real life relationship would. Only thing is, in real life a couple can call it quits. On TV where both people are the stars of a show centering on them having a relationship, you can't totally break up. Not that it was all happiness and roses. They had their fights and they did break up for a time but given the premise they had to eventually get back together.

   Also on the show was another married couple Richard and Linda Phillips who were friends with Ben and Laura. Richard was a happy friendly guy who worked for his dad while Linda was a cold abrasive go getter who worked for a movie studio. Logically you had to wonder what nice guy Richard was doing with someone so harsh but in terms of the show they were broad and funny characters and it just worked. No matter how annoying Linda was, it was clear Richard loved her, truly and unconditionally.

   I do think that the show's downfall did come from it just running out of steam. The proof of this for me is the big changes that started happening as season one wound down and season two started up. Linda got pregnant towards the end of season one. Makes sense. She was so not the mommy type that this would generate some good comedy. But it's also just a smidge desperate. They need something to stir up comedy so they bring in a kid. Not only that, the new energy is centered not on the show's main characters but rather on it's supporting players. On the exact same note, Richard quit living off his dad by leaving his job to try and make a living as a piano player. Again, lots of major plot and conflict added to the show... for the supporting characters. The central "duet" was getting hard to keep fresh.

   Then season two kicks into gear and the show seems to have skipped a couple chapters. Suddenly Linda has already given birth to her daughter Amanda, Amanda is already a toddler and Ben and Laura are now married! What the hell? I'll tell you what the hell... they were running out of ideas and felt the need to rejuvenate things. Ben and Laura were getting dull so lets get them married! Married people have so much more stuff going on in their relationship to write stories about than single people. Hahahaha. Yeah. That's why on Rhoda when Rhoda got married the show got boring. You can do married couples in sitcoms (Mad About You, The Dick Van Dyke Show) but they are actually harder to write good stuff for and this change ended up being the exact opposite of the "quick fix" I think Duet was hoping for. As for the kid, they needed her to be older because you can get a lot more comedy plots and mileage out of a toddler than out of a baby that can only poop and cry.

   So jumping ahead was a cheat really to get the characters to a more interesting point in the story. Uh, excuse me. Writers, can I get your attention? If you have characters you are interested in you should be able to find something interesting to write about them. If you are jumping ahead in time, suddenly having people married, basically utterly turning everything on its head to make it more interesting, I'm thinking you are just bored with your characters and desperate. And if that's the case... you're done. Just give it up and throw in the towel.

   And that's what they actually did. After two seasons, the Duet was over. The next season though most of the cast returned in the new sitcom Open House. Open House moved the focus of the action onto pushy Linda. Not a huge surprise since as Duet went on it had featured her more and more prominently. They clearly found her to be the character they could do the most with. She and Laura were now working as Real Estate agents. Ben was history but Linda and Richard were still together. Richard was still playing the piano. Ben and Laura's breakup seemed... abrupt. Instantly married, instantly broke up. So much for covering the full evolution of the couple. They didn't want to do Duet anymore, they needed Ben gone so it's, "Oh, they broke up." Sloppy.

   Open House was more of a typical sitcom than Duet. Duet had tried to be more. Duet had wanted to be and often was a funny look at relationships. Open House was a show about the wacky goings on at a real estate office run by a bunch of "crazies" (woo hoo!) with stuff going on that would never happen in real life! One of the real estate agents was an impressionist who used his impression to trick people on the phone and help him make sales? Oh yeah, I buy that. My uncle does that. Sure. Oh wait. No he doesn't. Nobody does because that idea is unrealistic and utterly asinine.

   By mid season Richard was written off the show. Linda had a rivalry going with her coworker Ted Nichols and they wanted to evolve that rivalry into a romantic relationship so hubby had to go. So they got rid of him even less tactfully then they had Ben. They said that Richard had abandoned his wife and daughter and run off with a stewardess. When they did this I got angry. As I stated above Richard had been written as the nicest guy on the planet. He loved his wife no matter how bitchy she was. And he loved his daughter. Chris Lemmon who played him made him a character you really liked. Then because they wanted to do something different with the show he was made to be the asshole who abandoned his family. That's not just sloppy writing, it's insulting to both the character Chris Lemmon had created and to the viewers. Boooo! Hisssss! And for their sloppy efforts and sitcommy style the Open House folks were rewarded with cancellation after a single season.

   Open House was also the first series for Ellen DeGeneres who would later go on to fame and notoriety with her own show Ellen. On Ellen her character ended up coming out as being a lesbian. On Open House she was ironically the goofy man chasing receptionist.

   In both Duet and Open House, Linda was played by Alison LaPlaca. She has also starred in The Jackie Thomas Show, Tom and The John Larroquette Show all of which also didn't exactly kill in the ratings. Over at the Internet Movie Database they posted a theory that there are certain actors, actresses and directors who are jinxes who for whatever reason cause whatever they work on to go right in the crapper. Alison LaPlaca was the prime example given. Seems like a nice lady, she's a funny actress but any show she's a regular on tends to get cancelled faster than... well... than the last show she was on.

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