The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer
From left to right: Nibblet, Desmond Pfeiffer, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln
Created byBarry Fanaro
Mort Nathan
Written byMarc Abrams
Mike Benson
Bill Boulware
Barry Fanaro
Jim Gerkin
Mort Nathan
Brian Pollack
Mert Rich
Directed byMatthew Diamond
StarringChi McBride
Dann Florek
Christine Estabrook
Max Baker
Kelly Connell
ComposersRich Eames
Scott Gale
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes9 (5 unaired)
Executive producersBarry Fanaro
Mort Nathan
ProducerMarica Govons
CinematographyGeorge La Fountaine Sr.
EditorMike Wilcox
Running time22–24 minutes
Production companiesFanaro-Nathan Productions
Paramount Network Television
Original release
ReleaseOctober 5 (1998-10-05) –
October 26, 1998 (1998-10-26)

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (/pəˈffər/ pə-FY-fər) is an American sitcom that aired on UPN from October 5 to October 26, 1998. Before it even debuted, the series set off a storm of controversy because of a perceived light-hearted take on the issue of American slavery.[1]


A Black English nobleman named Desmond Pfeiffer, chased out of the United Kingdom due to gambling debts, becomes President Abraham Lincoln's valet. In the show, he serves as the intelligent and erudite backbone of a Civil War-era White House populated by louts and drunkards.[2]



Before the series' premiere, several African-American activist groups, including the Los Angeles Chapter of the NAACP, protested against the premise of the series. On September 24, 1998, a protest against the series was held outside Paramount Studios. Five days later, UPN released a statement regarding the controversy and stated that the network planned on delaying the controversial pilot episode (which never aired) and would instead air an alternate episode in its place.


The first episode of the series aired on October 5, 1998, ranking 116th out of 125 television programs for that week. Desmond Pfeiffer was removed from UPN's schedule on October 24, and after airing one episode two days after being removed from UPN's lineup, was cancelled, thus hastening the demise of UPN president Dean Valentine's career.[3]


David Hofstede rated the show one of the "100 Dumbest Events in Television History", but pointed out that despite the protests, the show did not portray slaves and did not employ racial humor. Instead, it was intended as a critique of Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, with the sexual world of the Oval Office played for laughs. Hofstede considered the sexual humor juvenile, but found the racially sensitive backlash even "dumber".[4]

It was ranked #5 on Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 TV Bombs.[5]

In popular culture

The series was alluded to multiple times[6] in the unaired pilot episode of Clerks: The Animated Series, "Leonardo Leonardo Returns and Dante Has an Important Decision to Make", which featured Dante and Randal drawing inspiration from a nonexistent episode of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, which Randal describes as "classic Pfeiffer". In the also-unaired third episode, "Leonardo Is Caught in the Grip of an Outbreak of Randal's Imagination and Patrick Swayze Either Does or Doesn't Work in the New Pet Store", Dante and Randal are seen at the drive-thru for Desmond Pfeiffer's Civil War Burgers, a fictional fast-food restaurant.


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
1"A.O.L.: Abe On-Line"Matthew DiamondJim GerkinOctober 5, 1998 (1998-10-05)
Lincoln engages in "telegraph sex" with a woman he's never seen.
2"Up, Up and Away"Matthew DiamondMarc Abrams & Michael BensonOctober 12, 1998 (1998-10-12)

Desmond, Nibblet, and the President wind up trapped behind enemy lines after a freak accident with an observation balloon, and President Lincoln must dress in drag to escape Confederate territory. Meanwhile, General Grant tries sobriety.

Guest stars: Curtis Armstrong and Sherman Hemsley
3"Saving Mr. Lincoln"Matthew DiamondBrian Pollack & Mert RichOctober 19, 1998 (1998-10-19)
When Lincoln falls ill before a meeting with Queen Victoria, Mary Todd decides to hire a body double to impersonate the president. Little does the body double know that she's got another use in mind for him.
4"Once Upon a Mistress"Matthew DiamondBill BoulwareOctober 26, 1998 (1998-10-26)
When foreign dignitaries bring their mistresses to visit, President Lincoln finds temptation in a gift from a foreign dignitary. Meanwhile, Nibblet concocts a tonic for Mary's migraines.
After managing to get himself hired as President Lincoln's butler, Desmond Pfeiffer schemes to return to his native England.
6"Pigeon English"TBDTBDN/A
When Confederate soldiers kidnap Mrs. Lincoln, Grant retaliates by kidnapping Robert E. Lee's wife.
8"School Daze"TBDTBDUnaired
9"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"TBDTBDUnaired

See also


  1. ^ Millner, Denene (September 20, 1998). "A Racial TV Battle: Blacks Rip Sitcom About Lincoln Butler That Find Humor in Slavery". Archived from the original on September 30, 2009. Retrieved May 26, 2009.
  2. ^ DVD R Hell The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer HD: Cinema Snob-Internet Archive
  3. ^ "Q & A: The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, Whodunnit?". May 20, 2009. Retrieved May 26, 2009.
  4. ^ Hofstede, David (2004). What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events In Television History. Back Stage Books. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8230-8441-8.
  5. ^ TV's Biggest Blunders Ever - CBS News
  6. ^ DVD Review - Clerks Uncensored - The Digital Bits