The (Mostly) Failed Pilot Project: The Art of Being Nick (1987)

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It’s time for a new installment of The (Mostly) Failed Pilot Project on 80s Baby! This week we are leaning into the failed aspect of the title. The Art of Being Nick (1987) is the third attempt to create a spin off show for the Nick Moore character from Family Ties. The episode relies entirely on the audience being familiar with the Nick character, making no references to Family Ties. I actually like this approach, especially because it lays bare that this ancillary character from a popular sitcom isn’t interesting enough on his own to carry a television show. If you’d like to watch the show you can do so here.

The episode begins with Nick having moved to New York City to live with his sister and her son in the East Village. Nick is an artist, and the opening credits is a montage of arty Manhattan neighborhoods like Astor Place, SoHo, and Washington Square Park before introducing the audience to Nick, his sister Marlene, and her son Louis. Louis, or “Louie” as New York by way of Ohio meathead Nick calls him, is a precocious quip machine, so at least they nailed that 80s sitcom trope. It gets a little muddled which is supposed to be the A plot and which is the B plot, but the show initially has Nick attempting to settle in to his life in NY and get a job, which he does by going to see Marlene’s friend Rachel Phillips, who owns a bookstore and is played by an already wonderful in 1987 Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The conceit is that Rachel is sophisticated and worldly but also just getting out of a painful relationship so she immediately falls for Nick’s raw sexuality. Julia’s acting is to be commended here because in my eyes Nick looks less like an 80s hunk and more like one of Sam Rockwell’s street gang flunkies from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Lust wins out and Nick gets the job, just in time to assist Rachel in putting on a book reading about battling depression, which leads to some broad 80s gags and a couple of solid lines. 

The second plotline which winds its way into being the A plot is that Marlene announces that she and Louis’s teacher, Bob, have gotten engaged. Nick is excited and Louis acts like this is good news until the next day, when Louis chains himself to a desk in class, ostensibly for getting a D on an exam. Marlene of course blames Nick now being in Louis’s life for Louis’s uncharastically bad behavior, rather than the very big announcement she made the night before that involved the person in whose classroom Louis is now chained up.

Post-chaining, Nick gets Louis to admit the real reason he’s upset, and Louis confesses to his mom that he doesn’t want her to get married again. She apologizes to Nick, and Louis calls him Uncle Nick, something he previously refused to do because Nick was a stranger to him. Credits roll, and we all can’t wait for next week’s installment. Alas. 

Did This Show Deserve a Longer Shelf Life? Not really. I could take or leave Nick as a character, but if the show had gotten picked up and his role receded, with greater focus on Rachel and the lower Manhattan art scene in the 1980s I could see this being an entertaining show. Since this was designed as a starring vehicle for Scott Valentine’s Nick character this wasn’t going to happen though, we don’t need additional episodes to peel the layers of the onion that are Nick Moore, especially since he was still a recurring character on Family Ties at the time.

Memorable Quotes

  • Rachel: “Oh my god, he’s beautiful” Nick: “Ehhhhh”  Rachel: “What a cruel joke of nature.”
  • Rachel, to attendee of the book reading on depression who climbed a ladder in the bookstore: “Excuse me, but if you’re going to climb the ladder I’ll have to take your tie”

Random Minutiae

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus appeared in a 1988 episode of Family Ties entitled “Read it And Weep, Part 2” as Susan “Raindrop” White, Esq. along with Scott Valentine.
  • Writer Bruce Helford wrote on Rosanne and Family Ties and created or co-created The Drew Carey Show, Kevin Can Wait, The Conners, George Lopez, The Norm Show, Wanda at Large, and Anger Management.
  • Scott Valentine (Nick Moore) now works as a principal at Excelsior Capital Partners, a boutique investment firm focused on renewable/sustainable energy

Thanks for reading!  

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