Cybill

1995 | United States

Cybill may be the closest American television has come to the spirit (and success) of the British hit Absolutely Fabulous. Though it was not a copycat of the UK series, Cybill had some similarities with 'AbFab.' Both involved women in their 40's who knew they were getting no younger. But while AbFab's Edina tried to turn back the clock, Cybill was smart enough to make the most of what she had--and she had plenty to begin with!

And like Edina, Cybill Sheridan had a best friend who liked to booze it up more often than she should. In Cybill's case, friend Maryann frequently referred to her former and never-seen husband as "Dr. Dick" (an excellent example of both a noun and a verb). The true focus of Cybill, however, was a middle-aged woman who was still attractive, had a vital and active sex life, but found her career as an actress limited, thanks to Hollywood's narrow view of older women--a unique premise for US television. Certainly American TV likes its actresses either young and sexy, or if they're "mature", either oversexed or more of a grandmother-like figure (think The Golden Girls or Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote).

Cybill Shepherd, the former model turned actress, was the inspired choice for this sitcom (she was also a co-producer). In fact, Shepherd's real-life experiences helped form the basis of many episodes. Unfortunately, her reputation as a temperamental television diva (which began when she co-starred with Bruce Willis in the classic 1980's detective comedy-drama Moonlighting) followed her to this series as well. Couple that with a network (CBS) that wasn't altogether comfortable with the show, and you had a comedy with a relatively short life.

The pilot episode (which aired January 2, 1995) introduced Cybill Sheridan, best-friend Maryann Thorpe (the talented Tony-winning actress Christine Baranski, who beat out veteran Sally Kellerman for the part); older daughter Rachel (Dedee Pfeiffer, sister of actress Michelle); sarcastic teenage daughter Zoe (Alicia Witt); ex-husband number one, stuntman Jeff Robbins (played by former Dukes of Hazard star Tom Wopat); and ex-husband number two, writer Ira Woodbine (Alan Rosenberg, who co-starred in Civil Wars and L.A. Law). It was an immediate top-20 hit, helped by its placement Monday nights after the successful Murphy Brown. But in the fall of 1995, CBS moved the show to Sundays, where it faced tough competition from such series as Mad About You and The Simpsons

Not helping matters was Cybill's relationship with Baranski. In her autobiography "Cybill Disobedience", Shepherd wrote that when the New York actress first auditioned for the show, "I checked her out with some...theater friends, and everyone said the same thing: her work was respected, she was serious and talented, but watch your back". Things didn't help when Baranski won an Emmy in the show's first season for Best Supporting Actress, and Cybill lost to Candice Bergen of Murphy Brown for lead comedy actress.

Shepherd wrote that CBS never gave her show the support it needed, and moved it from timeslot to timeslot until the show's ratings dropped to the point where the network justified the need to cancel it. Whatever the reason, Cybill had a relatively short life span on US network television. But it was a consistently good comedy with a message. In this case, Cybill Disobedience came through.

Published on December 5th, 2018. Written by Mike Spadoni (2002) for Television Heaven.

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