He also must have had fond memories of his days as a writer for Sid Ceasar on his Your Show of Shows, because My Favorite Year was clearly made with a great deal of love for the Golden Age of Television.
The film, directed by Richard Benjamin, is loosely based on producer Brooks’ experiences on Your Show of Shows. Young Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), a neophyte writer on King Kaiser’s Comedy Calvacade, is thrilled that his hero, movie idol Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), is appearing on the show that week. There is one catch. When Swann final shows up at the studio, he’s plastered (“So are some of the finest erections in Europe.”). The show’s star, King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) wants to dump him, but Benjy convinces him to keep Swann on. There’s one catch: Benjy is responsible for making sure that Swann shows up, on time and sober.
Thus Benjy’s days are divided between chaperoning Swann, writing jokes, dodging telephonic guilt trips from his mother in Brooklyn and his Quixotic romantic pursuit of the unreceptive K.C. Downing (Jessica Harper). His boss, King Kaiser, has other problems. A local mob boss, er, I mean union leader, Carl Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell), is less than amused by King’s recurring “Boss Hijack” sketch. The head of the network (Adolph Green) wants to drop the sketch, but King refuses to cut his most popular material (“You never cut funny.”)
Benjy’s efforts to keep Swann sober (and out of the tabloids) are less than successful but he manages to get the movie star to the studio on-time for rehearsals. Things go reasonably well, and, with Swann’s tutelage, Benjy begins to thaw out K.C.’s resistance to his charms. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Swann that the show was live and in front of an audience. That leads to a panic attack of epic proportions minutes before the show goes on the air. King has more immediate problems when some union “representatives” show up at the studio to express their boss’ “displeasure” to the show’s star.
Certainly, for a film like this, much of its success depends on finding the right cast. Peter O’Toole’s performance is an effortless blending of boozy and smooth sophistication. Joseph Bologna finds just the perfect note as the oafish star with an unerring instinct for comedy. Mark Linn-Baker probably goes over the top but given his character’s state of perpetual panic, it works. Finally, Jessica Harper has the thankless job of being Baker’s straight-person but she manages to make an impression. In minor roles, Selma Diamond is delightful as the show’s crusty costume lady and Ramon Simson has fun as Benjy’s stepfather, a retired Filipino boxer.
Those of you who remember the Golden Age of Television are in for a hilarious nostalgia trip and those of us who don’t are still in for 92 minutes of well-oiled comedy.