To finish up our Reba coverage this month, we wanted to talk about what she’s been up to for the past decade, since she’s only released 3 studio albums in that time – and I don’t count any of them among essential listening. You should check out her take on the Kenny Rogers-penned ‘Sweet Music Man’ from her Greatest Hits 3 disc though.
In 2001, Reba took to New York to play Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, earning rave reviews and several theater awards. Later that Fall, the ‘Reba’ television show premiered on the WB Network, and spent 6 years as the network’s highest-rated sit-com. I asked my buddy Michael Allan to write about the show for us, and here’s what he had to say about it:
- J.R. Journey
In the fall of 2001, traditional three-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks and live studio audiences were still big business. Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace and Frasier were all regular visitors to the Nielsen Ratings’ Top 20. So Reba McEntire and her family packed up their bags and moved to Hollywood to get a piece of the pie and conquer television. The result provided the WB network with it first (and only) sitcom hit since its launch in 1995:
Reba served as co-executive producer and starred as Reba Hart, a real estate agent and divorced mother of three in Houston. She was the (often sarcastic) voice of reason in the chaos that was her family life. Christopher Rich (of Murphy Brown fame) played her dim witted and vain ex-husband, dentist Brock Hart and Joanna Garcia (Privileged) was their oldest daughter, Cheyenne - a ditzy, shallow teenager who discovered she was pregnant by her boyfriend, high school football star Van Montgomery (Steve Howey) in the pilot episode. Van was far from bright but he had a good heart and proved to be an excellent father. The two married and ultimately had a daughter named Elizabeth. A storyline in later seasons focused on Cheyenne dealing with alcoholism. Garcia and Howey would later appear together in the music video for “Every Other Weekend”, Reba’s duet with Kenny Chesney and/or Skip Ewing.
Reba’s middle child Kyra was played by Scarlett Pomers. Kyra inherited her mother’s red locks and biting sarcasm. She was also musically inclined, unlike her mother. A running joke on the show was Reba Hart’s poor singing skills. I’m not sure, but I think Reba did perform on the show once or twice. Remind me in the comments section if you can remember. Over the course of the show’s run Pomers dealt with an eating disorder and had to miss most of Season 5. It was addressed light heartedly when she returned at the beginning of Season 6. Reba asked Kyra, “Where have you been?” to which she responded, “I went to get something to eat.” At another point in the same episode Van asked Kyra, “Where are you going?” and she answered, “I’m going to grab something to eat.” Van replied, “Ok. See you next year!” Pomers later became an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association.
The role of Reba’s youngest son Jake was filled by Mitch Holleman.
The breakout star of the show, however, was Melissa Peterman as Brock’s much younger hygienist and eventual second wife, Barbara Jean. Barbara Jean also finds out that she is pregnant in the series’ first episode. However, her and Brock’s son Henry and Reba’s granddaughter were rarely used in storylines and as such were seldom seen on the show. Barbara Jean was loud, boisterous, over the top and, in my opinion, her relationship with frenemy Reba provided the show with its strongest laughs. Her character would later work as a weather girl. After the show’s cancellation Peterman went on to open some of Reba’s concerts with her comedy routine and she can currently be seen as the host of CMT’s The Singing Bee.
Park Overall (Empty Nest) also played in a handful of Season 1 episodes as Reba’s best friend Lori Ann. Other notable guest stars over the years included Dolly Parton, Patrick Duffy, Kelly Clarkson, JoMarie Payton-Noble, Richard Kind, Wendy Malick, Bryan Callen, Leslie Jordan and James Denton.
The show premiered on October 5, 2001, a few weeks before the release of Reba’s third Greatest Hits collection, I’m a Survivor, the title track of which served as the sitcom’s theme song. While the reviews weren’t as harsh as they had been for other artists that had tried their hand at a weekly television series (cough cough Bette Midler, Dolly Parton), it was never a critical darling. However, due to its family friendly themes and placement on the Friday night schedule, it became the WB’s top rated sitcom. The show usually averaged 3.5 – 4.5 million viewers and fared particularly well with the Women Age 18-49 demographic. Repeats also held up strongly in the ratings. However, due to the considerably lower availability of the WB network, Reba usually ranked in the 100s and I have to question its potential (or lack thereof) on a major network like CBS or NBC.
And while Reba isn’t Lucille Ball by any stretch of the imagination, she certainly held her own in the strong ensemble cast. She won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer in a New Television Series in 2002 and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 2004. Reba (the show itself, not the woman) was also nominated for two cinematography Emmys in 2005 and 2006.
In 2006 the WB and UPN merged to form a new network, the CW, and Reba was cancelled after five seasons. However, to avoid a fine in the syndication contract, the show was suddenly renewed for a 13-episode sixth season. Even though it was the CW’s #1 sitcom, Reba didn’t exactly align with their vision for a younger, more hip image and the final episode aired on February 18, 2007. All six seasons of Reba are available on DVD and reruns air from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM on the Lifetime television network as well as on Ion.
With 125 episodes produced, it’s hard not to see Reba as a success. However, during its run Reba only released one studio album (2003’s Room to Breathe). So while it may have increased her profile, I think it detracted from her music career. In fact, the summer of 2002 was the first one in which she didn’t tour in 25 years. Today the show provides a great way to wind down after a busy day. It doesn’t require a lot of thought or knowledge of a plot heavy background to catch a viewing and you’re guaranteed at least a few laughs.