Is Damon Wayans scared of Bernie Mac?
It sure looks that way, but Damon is too shrewd a show-business player to just come out and admit he's afraid Bernie's going to kick his butt.
Instead, he's playing the race card in a bid to get out of competing head-on with Bernie next season.
Here's what's bugging Damon: His ABC sitcom, My Wife and Kids, and Bernie's self-titled Fox show are the only two sitcoms on prime-time TV next fall depicting upper middle-class suburban black families.
So he's dismayed that the two shows — which theoretically are designed to go after the same audience — will be on at the same time, Wednesday nights from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
"The networks should not be playing checkers with two shows about African-American families that are working," Wayans told the Los Angeles Times this week. "This is about the big picture. . . . This speaks to a responsibility that networks have, particularly when there's a lack of diversity on prime time.
"It's hard enough trying to put together one successful show with an African-American family. Now there are two. You're putting those against each other? It's divide and conquer. Then there will be none."
Smart move, Damon. Networks cringe when their commitment to diversity is questioned, so you thought you'd get a rise out of them if you raised the issue in their hometown newspaper.
Trouble is, it's not going to work. Neither Fox nor ABC appear willing to budge.
ABC is especially interested in keeping My Wife and Kids in the 8-8:30 time slot on Wednesdays where it evolved into the network's highest-rated sitcom this past season.
And Fox won't move Bernie Mac because then it will look like it's knuckling under to Damon Wayans.
Damon Wayans is well aware that Bernie Mac is on the upswing and that Fox is poised to launch the show's second season with a major promotional push this summer.
If Damon isn't scared of Bernie, then he's understandably nervous. And the only thing he can do about it is buckle down and produce a better show.