Created by
  • Judd Pilot
  • John Peaslee
ComposersScott Van Zen
Chris Wagner
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes9 (1 unaired) (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Judd Pilot
  • John Peaslee
  • Jerry Leider
  • Richard Reisberg
  • John Larroquette
  • Tim Steele
  • Kevin Berg
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time30 minutes
Production companies
Original networkCBS
Original releaseMarch 15 (1999-03-15) –
April 28, 1999 (1999-04-28)

Payne is a 1999 American sitcom adapted from the 1970s British television comedy Fawlty Towers. This adaptation, which was a mid-season replacement on CBS, originally aired from March 15 to April 28, 1999. It costars John Larroquette, who was also an executive producer for the series, and JoBeth Williams. Featured too as regular supporting characters are Julie Benz and Rick Batalla. Despite receiving the blessing of John Cleese, who reportedly agreed to be an "irregular cast member" and perform in a recurring role as a rival hotelier if Payne were renewed, the series was cancelled following the broadcast of its eighth episode.[1][2] A total of nine episodes were filmed, but one was not aired as part of the series' original presentation on CBS.[3]

Payne is the third unsuccessful attempt by American television producers to adapt and transplant a version of Fawlty Towers to the United States.[4] The first one, developed in 1978, is a 30-minute sitcom costarring Harvey Korman and Betty White.[5] Titled Snavely and directed by Hal Cooper, that production never progressed beyond the completion of a pilot.[4][6] The second series, Amanda's starring Bea Arthur, was broadcast in 1983 on ABC and lasted 10 episodes before it was cancelled.[4]

Basic description

Payne was a remake of Fawlty Towers, though set in this version at an ambiguous location on the coast of California, as opposed to Torquay, England, in Fawlty Towers. The action takes place at the Whispering Pines Inn, owned and operated by Royal Payne and his wife, Constance. Royal was always trying to improve the quality of his hotel and eventually franchise the place, in search of immortal legendary status as a hotelier, like Hilton or Waldorf.

The pilot episode, "Pacific Ocean Duck" (which actually aired fifth in sequence), merged the plots of the Fawlty Towers episodes "Gourmet Night" and "The Hotel Inspectors".[7][8][9]

Mirroring the opening sequence of Fawlty Towers, each episode begins with a closeup of the "Whispering Pines" sign, which either falls over or a letter or some other piece of it falls off as the scene progresses. In the episode "I Never Forget a Facelift", involving how the hotel deals with a hurricane, the sign is shown lying in pieces, shattered by the storm's heavy winds.


Williams and Larroquette as Connie and Royal Payne
Williams and Larroquette as Connie and Royal Payne


During its eight-week run in 1999, Payne received widespread negative reviews in the American and Canadian media. Caryn James, of The New York Times, disliked the series from its outset. In her review dated March 15, she wrote: 'It's enough to say, that this remake of John Cleese's hilarious, farcical Fawlty Towers has been given a hackneyed Hollywood treatment', adding that the comedic talents of Larroquette had been 'reduced to delivering hideous lines' from a patently weak script.[10] Tom Shales, television critic for The Washington Post, was also critical of the sitcom in his review published on the same date, especially about Larroquette's casting as a much less likeable Basil Fawlty. Shales stated: 'Larroquette is all too believable as an obnoxious boor.'[11] After cautioning every potential viewer of the new series to "Spare Yourself Payne", Shales recognized the production as 'barely' an improvement over the 1983 sitcom Amanda's, a previous failed attempt to adapt Fawlty Towers to American television.[11]

In Florida, Tom Jicha, television/radio reporter for the Sun-Sentinel, suggests in his review that the comedy should be renamed 'Payne-ful', adding: 'Let's be clear about this; Payne is not a bad show because it doesn't stand up to Fawlty Towers. It is a bad show, period.'[12] On the other side of the country, in California, the entertainment critic Kinney Littlefield provided an equally blunt appraisal on behalf of the Orange County Register: 'The original Fawlty Towers (1975/79) was wicked fun. Payne is just plain dumb. It is written for morons.'[13] Other national and regional newspapers also issued disparaging reviews, a few being in USA Today, The Atlanta Constitution, The Sun, The Boston Globe, Cincinnati Enquirer, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Post, which featured a bold heading for a review by Michele Greppi, proclaiming 'Original Fawlty Still Towers Over This Clumsy Knock-Off'.[14]

In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, John Allemang, the television critic for The Globe and Mail, summed up his opinion of Payne in the title of his review dated March 17: 'TV comedy inflicts Payne and suffering.'[1] "Fawlty Towers it's not", he asserted, explaining that '"Payne"'s basic structure and its less 'dangerous' comedic tone belie any serious comparison of the American series to its British predecessor:

In the 22-minute format, with short scenes that go nowhere, the visceral terrors of Fawlty Towers become simple misunderstandings. Nothing is wounding or dangerous, no one's going to snap and every problem is quickly resolved. In this happy-face California version, even the hotel has become comfortable and immaculate. "Payne"'s producers are so confident their show will last that they plan to give Cleese a role once the series gets established. He will play Payne's rival in the hotel trade and — we're in America now — he will be the nicest man in the world.'[1]

Payne did have some supporters in the media. In his assessment in Variety, syndicated entertainment critic Ray Richmond described it as an 'agreeably over-the-top farce' with performances that make it 'more than just another Brit-inspired rip-off'.[15] He also referred to Larroquette as 'one of TV's comedy treasures' and noted that he and JoBeth Williams displayed 'a surprisingly tasty chemistry' as wise-cracking spouses.[15] After watching a preview of the series on March 11, Richmond observes: 'Subsequent episodes, screened from a review tape, slide somewhat in quality and level of laughs, but not enough to dampen the enthusiasm for a sitcom that so enthusiastically embraces its own sense of stupidity and refuses to let go.,[15] Manuel Mendoza, of the Dallas Morning News, was also a fan of Payne, at least of Larroquette's performance after seeing the series' initial broadcast: 'John Larroquette strikes just the right balance between Mr. Cleese's unreconstructed near-sociopath and the typical American-sitcom bad boy.'[16] Additional positive comments about the show could be found in the Detroit Free Press, the New York Daily News, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Tampa Tribune, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.[17] Still, most of those supportive comments registered as mild compliments, not avid endorsements. For example, the Detroit Free Press reported on March 15 that 'in moments...Payne can be lightly enjoyable'; while Walt Belcher, of The Tampa Tribune, admitted in his review that the series was "not as hilarious as Fawlty Towers" but 'it shows potential'.[18]


Episodes aired in the UK on the ITV network soon after the series run. Episode 9 was also broadcast in the UK, unlike on CBS.

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
1"The J. Edgar Hoover Pin Story"Dorothy LymanGail ParentMarch 15, 1999 (1999-03-15)
Royal has forgotten his and his wife's nineteenth wedding anniversary and he has no gift for Connie. Fortunately, he finds a diamond lapel pin in the hotel's lost-and-found cupboard, and he gives it to her to mark their special occasion. Unfortunately, a former guest—the pin's owner—returns to look for it.
2"Sexual Intercom"Michael ZinbergJennifer FisherMarch 17, 1999 (1999-03-17)
Rival hotel, "The Sand Dune", is touting its new high-tech telephone system. Not to be outdone, Royal purchases an old, but sophisticated telephone system from the local mental health hospital. Much to gossipy Connie's delight, and Royal's eventual chagrin, they discover that the system allows the switchboard to eavesdrop on the sounds in any room.
3"Whatever Happened to Baby Payne?"John RichRob Dames & Lenny RippsMarch 24, 1999 (1999-03-24)
A reviewer from "Family Friendly Travel" is staying at the hotel with her baby. While she is there, the most dubious characters to ever stay at Whispering Pines check in and make their presence known.
4"Gossip Checks In and a Cat Checks Out"John PasquinJudd Pillot & John PeasleeMarch 31, 1999 (1999-03-31)
Royal scolds Connie for her incessant gossiping when it causes him embarrassment. However, he does a complete reversal when there's some gossip going around that he's desperate to know about and now Connie will tell everyone but him the juicy news. Royal's patience is further tried by a broken down air conditioning system during a record heat wave.
5"Pacific Ocean Duck"Andrew D. WeymanTeleplay by John Peaslee & Judd Pillot
Adapted from stories by John Cleese & Connie Booth
April 7, 1999 (1999-04-07)
Royal's stress level could not be higher. While trying to pull off a "gourmet night" featuring the creations of his new and talented but extremely temperamental chef, he hears a rumor that covert hotel inspectors are in town. He also learns that one can hire a high-price call girl in the bar at The Sand Dune, and prudish Royal is terrified that these trollops might infest his bar as well. As gourmet night gets underway the new chef is found unconscious (from an unknown health issue), and Royal assumes him to be dead, resulting in a replay of an element in the Fawlty Towers episode "The Kipper and the Corpse". Royal persuades a local Chinese restaurant to modify Peking duck into a concoction he calls "Pacific Ocean Duck"; but his car, which he had tried to repair himself, stalls, and in his haste to hop out and attempt to fix the car, Royal leaves it in gear and it rolls over a cliff, with the duck inside. Royal then hijacks a bicycle to fetch a replacement duck, but at the restaurant he accidentally takes the wrong tray, one that contains table scraps instead of the needed gourmet dish. Finally, Royal's sexist assumptions cause him not to realize that a hotel inspector might be female, but he knows a call girl would be, resulting in his making another disastrous assumption about a female guest. (Merges elements from the Fawlty Towers episodes "Gourmet Night" and "The Hotel Inspectors" with a brief scene inspired by "The Kipper and the Corpse".)
6"Trouble in Room 206"John RichJoseph StaretskiApril 14, 1999 (1999-04-14)
Prudish Royal would never consider renting a room by the hour, but the price offered by an amorous young couple is too much to decline. The problem is the hotel is full (a rarity); nevertheless, Royal thinks an elderly man and his wife will be away from their room for much of the day, so he decides to rent their room for a few hours. The situation quickly becomes complicated when the young couple literally get "entangled", are unable to leave, and elderly guests return.
7"I Never Forget a Face-Lift"Craig ZiskJames KramerApril 21, 1999 (1999-04-21)
A woman arrives to convalesce from a face-lift with bandages covering her eyes. As a hurricane has blown down the sign outside, her driver and she believes that they are at The Sand Dune, where she actually has a reservation. Royal pretends that this IS The Sand Dune, and everything that could possibly go wrong does.
8"Wedding Fever"Dorothy LymanSteve Atinsky & Dan O'ConnorApril 28, 1999 (1999-04-28)
Whispering Pines is hosting a wedding. Royal gives the bride's parents (who are paying for it) a 100% satisfaction money-back guarantee on the extremely expensive affair. Connie expects her rendition of the song "Fever" to be the highlight of the wedding reception and annoys everyone by practicing it incessantly at the piano in the bar. The groom and Breeze fall hard for each other, jeopardizing the wedding and Royal's money-back guarantee.
9"Uncle Royal and Aunt Connie"Michael ZinbergJonathan Leigh SolomonUnaired
Wealthy businessmen Mr and Mrs Allenbee are in town, deciding where to spend their spring retreat. Royal and Connie are expecting them for lunch, but Connie's nephew Nick is also visiting — straight out of prison.

References and notes

  1. ^ a b c Allemang, John (1999). "TV comedy inflicts Payne and suffering", The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario), March 17, 1999, p. C2. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
  2. ^ "Finding 'Fawlty' With John Larroquette", The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona). March 15, 1999, p. D1. ProQuest.
  3. ^ Digital copies of all nine episodes of Payne are available for viewing on the streaming service YouTube, Google, Mountain View, California; originally posted by Jay Vanzil, 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Strum, Charles (1999). "Payne attempts a 'darker, edgier' Fawlty: New series starring John Larroquette is the third try to reproduce the British hit for the U.S. market", The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia), March 15, 1999, p. B8. ProQuest.
  5. ^ "Snavely 1978 Harvey Korman Betty White Fawlty Towers", YouTube, originally posted by Jay Vanzil, December 17, 2019. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  6. ^ "Snavely (1978)", catalog, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Atlanta, Georgia; Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  7. ^ Jay Vanzil (May 31, 2014). "5 Pacific Ocean Duck". Archived from the original on December 19, 2021 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ "Payne - PACIFIC OCEAN DUCK". Archived from the original on June 30, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  9. ^ "Payne - UNCLE ROYAL AND AUNT CONNIE". Archived from the original on June 30, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  10. ^ James, Caryn (1999). "Whispering Pines Whispers Of Its Origins", The New York Times, March 15, 1999, p. E5. ProQuest.
  11. ^ a b Shales, Tom (1999). "Larroquette: A Persistent 'Payne'", The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), March 15, 1999, pp. C1, C3. ProQuest.
  12. ^ Jicha, Tom (1999). "Larroquette Series Really Is A Pain", Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), March 15, 1999. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  13. ^ Littlefield, Kinney (1999), "CBS series' name says it all: `Payne'", Orange County Register (Santa Ana, California), March 14, 1999, p. F5. ProQuest.
  14. ^ "'Fawlty' logic leads to an excruciating 'Payne'", USA Today (McLean, Virginia), March 15, 1999, p. 3D; "Larroquette's sitcom takes 'Fawlty' approach 'Payne' missing British show's spark", The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia), March 15, 1999, p. D8; "British classic tamed to pap; Preview: 'Payne' has its moments, but without the 'Fawlty Towers' edge, there aren't enough of them", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 15, 1999, p. 1E; "Americanized 'Payne' is faulty, not 'Fawlty'", The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), March 15, 1999, p. C7; "Without help, new shows will be DOA", Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), March 15, 1999, p. 27; "A Pain to Watch: John Larroquette May Not Be John Cleese, But He's Not Even His Old Self in 'Payne'",Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), March 15, 1999, p. 3; "Original 'Fawlty" Still Towers Over This Clumsy Knock-Off", New York Post (New York, N.Y.), March 15, 1999, p.83.
  15. ^ a b c Richmond, Ray (1999). "Payne", Variety (Los Angeles, California), March 11, 1999. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  16. ^ Mendoza, Manuel (1999). "Payne' is 'Fawlty' and that's fine", Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), March 13, 1999: 1C. ProQuest.
  17. ^ "Larroquette Plays It Safe In New Series", Detroit Free Press, March 15, 1999, p. C3; "New 'Payne' Relief For 'Fawlty' Fans", New York Daily News, March 1999, p. 85; "'Payne' is 'Fawlty Towers' Fun, American Style", St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri), March 15, 1999, p. E6; "Payne' offers pleasure to "Fawlty' fans", The Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), March 15, 1999, p. 3; "Larroquette's Chancy 'Payne' Almost Faultless", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), March 15, 1999, p. D8.
  18. ^ Belcher, Tom (1999). "Payne' offers pleasure to "Fawlty' fans", The Tampa Tribune, March 15, 1999, p. 3. ProQuest.