Known for his work on such critically acclaimed fare as "St. Elsewhere" (NBC) and "Brooklyn Bridge" (CBS), and the more recent popular success like "Touched By an Angel" (CBS) writer-producer-series creator John Masius has had a career peppered with misfires (remember CBS' "Dolphin Cove" and NBC's "Nick and Hilary"?), making the surprise success of his 1999 midseason replacement "Providence" (NBC) all the sweeter. While working as a waiter in Los Angeles in 1978, Masius was invited by producer Bruce Paltrow to join the production team for the series "The White Shadow" (CBS, 1978-81). Hired as a gofer, within three years he would rack up writing and producing credits on the powerful high school basketball themed drama.
In 1982, he again joined executive producer Paltrow, working on the series "St. Elsewhere" as producer and writer and joining Tom Fontana to form an award-winning screenwriting team responsible for some of that time's best television. A remarkably well-written series, "St. Elsewhere" went beyond the routine medical dramas of TV's past, delving into serious issues with a minimum of melodrama, managing to be both heartfelt and edgy, and remaining unpredictable even after six seasons on the air. After that show's demise, he and Paltrow co-created the short-lived "Tattinger's" (NBC, 1988-89), an engaging drama set at a restaurant on New York's Upper West Side. The failure of this series was followed by the 1989 two-episode run of his offshoot "Nick & Hilary", a sitcom version of "Tattinger's" that proved it was the characters and concept, not the genre, to which audiences were not responding. 1989 also saw the quick demise of "Dolphin Cove", a forgettable adventure drama co-produced by Masius.
In 1990, Masius took on the sitcom genre, developing, creating, producing as well as writing the pilot for "Ferris Bueller", a failed TV adaptation of the hit teen comedy film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Masius recovered as writer and creative consultant for the first season of the critically acclaimed and modestly popular "Brooklyn Bridge", a heartwarming look at Brooklyn in the 1950s through the experiences of a close-knit Jewish family. While it had its funny moments, the uncommon and realistic half-hour series played more like a television drama than a sitcom and lived on in reruns long past its run.
Masius' next challenge brought him to "L.A. Law" in 1992, its producers looking to the renowned screenwriter to help steer the flailing drama through its troubled seventh season. The series continued to falter, and Masius, finding the creative atmosphere uncomfortable and the cast members uncooperative, was fired partway through the season. Success would shine on him again with the hit CBS drama "Touched By an Angel" (1994- ), although Masius would be invited to enjoy his part of the celebration outside of the creative process. His pilot script was thought to be too skeptical of God's goodness, not in keeping with producers' vision for the series, and he was promptly fired. As creator of the series, Masius was still able to reap some of its financial rewards if not have a hand in bringing the somewhat cloying heavenly program down-to-earth. He returned to comedy with the uninspired effort "The Single Guy" (NBC, 1995-1996), a series that benefited greatly from its post-"Friends" time slot, but stood out as clearly the weakest link in the network's blockbuster Thursday night lineup. "The Visitor" (Fox, 1997) would mark his first entry into sci-fi programming, and its quick demise was evidence that when it comes to otherworldly entertainment, audiences aren't really interested in Masius' brand of slice of life earthiness.
After this spate of hard professional times, Masius scored a bona fide hit with the 1999 midseason replacement "Providence" (NBC). Although not as edgy as his work on "St. Elsewhere, (and nowhere near as envelope-pushing as the contemporary series former writing partner Fontana was working on), the show had a refreshingly uncynical appeal. Masius brought to the screen more of his lovably off-the-wall character's with the show's family, the Hansens. Dr Sydney Hansen (Melina Kanakaredes )was a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to the stars who moves back to her childhood home in the titular city following her mother's death and the discovery of her live-in boyfriend's apparent bisexuality. She takes on a low-paying but rewarding job in a low-income medical clinic and tries to get her life on track. One of the zanier aspects of the series has Syd's neuroticisms manifesting themselves in the form of a walking, talking apparition of her mother that haunts her dreams every night, offering guidance. Surrounding Syd is her long-suffering veterinarian father Jim (Mike Farrell), her outspoken single mother sister Joanie (Paula Cale), and her ne'er-do-well brother Robbie (Seth Peterson). Part medical drama, part domestic comedy, and part old-fashioned feel-good family fare, the series showed its contemporary savvy with a dose of "Ally McBeal"-esque neurotic fantasy thrown in for good measure, and, as was true of "St. Elsewhere", writers did not shy away from the still rare unpredictable plot twists, like killing off a likable recurring character. Although quirky, "Providence" was an unapologetic, hopeful and affirming series, and as such impressed few critics, but the show found a large and loyal audience, and marked Masius' triumphant return to television.