“Who builds a convenience store next to a toxic waste dump?”
Charles, the bearded Seinfeld writer known for, among other things, directing the first Borat and numerous Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes, has had a lot of success in showbusiness. But on his YouTube channel, he shared an absolute gem of a failure—his first FAILED pilot, as he describes it.
The story goes like this: After leaving Seinfeld in 1995, NBC wanted another comedy from the man. So the network and Charles landed on a vehicle for Newman himself, Wayne Knight, who was riding high in the mid-90s, with Seinfeld, Jurassic Park, and Basic Instinct.
Somehow, though, they ended up with a mix of two ideas, one about a vegetarian who owns a butcher shop and another about a guy who works in a “biochemical agriculture company, like Monsanto” where “weird shit would go on.” There was also a brother-in-law who runs a convenience store just outside the plant and is “affected” by what goes on there. As showcased in the pilot, the brother-in-law (Peter Crombie, who played Crazy Joe Davola on Seinfeld) runs a store outside a toxic waste dump. He acts like the toxic fumes are altering his brain chemistry.
Meanwhile, Knight plays Roy Mittelman, who, in addition to getting usurped by an underling at the plant, hosts his in-laws (played by the superb Angela Paton and James Greene) and get the animal control guy on the phone to come and get the wild animal living in his walls. As for the rest of the cast, it’s a who’s who of Seinfeld stars, including Patrick Bristow, Pat Kilbane, and Siobhan Fallon.
Middle Man is bizarre, playing like a show they would watch on Seinfeld rather than an actual sitcom. Still, you can see Charles’ flourishes shine through, particularly in his skewed and cartoonish approach to observational humor that made Seinfeld episodes like “The Fire” so memorable.