The Original King of Comedy and star of Fox's rookie hit The Bernie Mac Show says he's okay with Fox's decision to move his series to a timeslot directly opposite Wayans' ABC comedy My Wife & Kids, despite Wayans' recent complaints that Fox's move would undermine two quality shows aimed at black audiences.
"Wherever I am, I have to play. I have to put on a good show," Mac told reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena.
Mac said Wayans called him and asked for help in his battle. But ultimately, he said, "That's not my fight," saying there should be room for both shows to thrive on television.
Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment, claimed that Mac's audience was actually quite different than what My Wife and Kids attracts.
"I think about 86 percent or 87 percent of the audience that watches Bernie Mac doesn't watch My Wife and Kids," he said, adding, "We don't feel any obligation to ensure the success of any of our competitors' shows...So whether casts are black, white, green, yellow, purple, we're in a business here."
That's probably not the kind of contrition Wayans wanted to hear, after spouting off to the Los Angeles Times last month about Fox's plans to move Bernie Mac up a half-hour next season, to Wednesdays at 8 p.m., opposite My Wife and Kids.
"I was shocked when I learned what was going on," Wayans said. "The networks should not be playing checkers with two shows about African-American families that are working."
For now, at least, Wayans is ready for the competition. During an ABC party last week, the former In Living Color star reiterated that Fox's programming move was "unfair," but he also acknowledged that in the end, it's all business.
"They're playing chicken with Bernie's show," he told the Buffalo News. "I understand the bigger picture...the bottom line is it's business. This is Fox seeing ABC is vulnerable and they're trying to hit them where it hurts--8 o'clock Wednesday. If they can take that from them, they can definitely claim to be the number-three network.
"I love Bernie Mac," he added. "I think he's really funny. I've talked to him, but he's in an awkward position. It's like you are in your parents' house. You can't say much. But I know that he doesn't like it. But what are you going to do?"
In the meantime, however, Wayans declared to another newspaper: "We're at war."
Last season, Wayans' My Wife and Kids pulled in more viewers (11 million, on average) than Mac's 9.5 million. But Mac's got the critics on his side: The series, starring the funny guy as a reluctant dad to three adopted kids, has already nabbed a Peabody Award, two Emmy nominations (for Outstanding Writing and Lead Actor for Mac) and two honors from the Television Critics Association Sunday, for Best Comedy and for Mac's Individual Achievement.
Larry Wilmore, the show's executive producer, said he's not thinking about his competition in terms of race, and he doesn't think Fox launched an "insidious plot" in which they thought, "Hmmm, we have to kill this black show."
"To just think of our show in light of being an African-American show marginalizes what Bernie Mac is," he said. "It's a show about America. The fact that it's about a black family is secondary."
In other television critics news Sunday, Fox also scored honors from the TCA for its real-time thriller 24. The show was named Outstanding New Program and Program of the Year.