Kirstie Alley didn’t set out to become a sitcom queen. It happened almost by accident.
“My great plan was to do Cheers for one year so I could show the world I could do comedy in a movie,” she says.
But look what happened while Alley was busy making these other plans. She fell in love with sitcoms.
“This is my favorite medium,” she says of the classic half-hour, multicamera, filmed-with-a-studio-audience format. “I’m drawn to this style more than any other. Every day, you go to work and you have fun. It’s like Christmas every day.
“That’s how it was for me on Cheers [1987-93] and Veronica’s Closet [1997-2000].”
And that’s the way it is for Alley all over again in her new TV Land sitcom, Kirstie, which premieres with back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
“I think I’ve hit the jackpot in the comedy world,” the 1991 and ’94 Emmy winner says.
Alley stars as Madison Banks, a self-involved “enough about you, let’s talk about me” Broadway diva whose life is turned upside-down when the 26-year-old son she gave up for adoption (Eric Petersen) shows up at her door.
Maddie has played countless roles onstage, but the one part she’s not ready to handle is being a mother.
“I’m a huge fan of Auntie Mame and All About Eve, all of the sort of divas of the 1940s and ’50s,” Alley says. “I’ve always wanted to play one of these great dames.”
But it’s a character, she notes, that couldn’t be more different from the real her.
“I don’t have anything in common with her,” Alley says. “I’ve never done Broadway. I don’t have cocktails; I don’t drink. I don’t carouse around late at night; I’m a morning person, more like a farmer. I love kids; I’ve loved kids my whole life. I have two kids. I was a nanny. I was a babysitter. Maddie has no animals; I have a menagerie. She dates all the time, always sleeping around, and that’s about as far from me as you get.
“We’re pretty much 180 degrees apart, but she sure is fun to play.”
Kirstie is TV Land’s latest comedy original that, in the tradition of Hot in Cleveland, has one foot in the present and the other firmly cemented in the past.
Alley’s supporting cast includes two other sitcom legends: Rhea Perlman of Cheers (as Thelma, Maddie’s personal assistant) and Michael Richards of Seinfeld (as Frank, Maddie’s pot-smoking chauffeur).
“How lucky am I?” she says. “I created this with Marco Pennette with Rhea and Michael in mind. I’ve known Rhea for 20 years. Love her. Amazing friend and a brilliant actress, period.
“I didn’t know Michael before this, but he was my dream person to play Frank. I didn’t think we would get him. But when we did, it was like a godsend. He’s unique.
“If you can’t get Michael Richards, it’s not like there are five other guys out there who are similar. And he’s a great guy. Easy to work with, fun on the set, doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
What’s more, practically every episode features a classic sitcom guest star.
The lineup includes John Travolta ( Welcome Back, Kotter, and Alley’s co-star in the “Look Who’s Talking” movies), George Wendt ( Cheers), Jason Alexander ( Seinfeld), Kristen Johnston ( 3rd Rock From the Sun) and Cloris Leachman ( The Mary Tyler Moore Show).
“What it boils down to is, what is your life like on an everyday basis?” Alley says. “Working with these guys makes me feel like, ‘Man, I’ve hit the jackpot.’”
In recent years, her highest profile gigs were in two seasons of Dancing With the Stars. But TV Land had been after Alley for quite some time to return to her sitcom wheelhouse.
As was the case in her previous TV comedies — when she played rich-husband-hunting Rebecca Howe on Cheers, lingerie designer Veronica Chase on Veronica’s Closet and a cartoonish version of herself, seeking a comeback, in Fat Actress (2005) — she is always willing to be the self-deprecating clown.
“Anybody who is afraid to look foolish should never be doing a sitcom,” she says. “I was always goofy and could make people laugh, but I didn’t think about doing it to make a living.
“The first things I did in Los Angeles as an actress, none of them involved being funny. But then I was offered Cheers and the rest is sort of history.”
To Alley’s way of thinking, there’s only one thing more that could make her life absolutely perfect.
“Who knows?” she says. “Maybe a new man. God help him!”