So a couple of weeks ago on ``L.A. Law,' Douglas Brackman Jr. draws a cigar from his breast pocket as he enters a stall in the men's room at McKenzie, Brackman, and two seconds later, boom!
By the next scene, Douglas has become the target of his colleagues' obvious jokes.Again.
During the five seasons that ``L.A. Law' (10 p.m. Thursdays, WXII, Channel 12) has been broadcast, the boorish, balding Douglas - in addition to being hung upside down in a hospital room with skin grafts on his posterior - has had a Slinky caught in his braces, has engaged the services of a sex therapist because sex gives him gas and makes him faint, flipped his toupee in aerobics class while trying to impress the young instructor, discovered he has a pair of boorish, balding half-brothers, been arrested in a sushi bar and has voted himself out of the senior partnership at the firm that bears his father's name.
Some viewers think of Job when they ponder the tribulations of Douglas Brackman Jr. Others think of a shlimazl (the shlemiel spills the soup on the shlimazl; Douglas is the shlimazl king of network television.)
Steven Bochco thought of his sister's husband, Alan Rachins, the actor who plays Douglas. Douglas is not a nice thing to do to your brother-in-law. Then again, Bochco, who created the immensely popular series with Terry Louise Fisher, blames Rachins for the whole tawdry business.
``Where we started initially was we wanted a guy who was really sort of pompous and self-important, who we could make fun of,' Bochco said in a telephone interview the other day. ``When you set up a straw dog and take big, broad potshots at it, it kind of disinfects the arena.
``But now you put Alan in there and he turns out to have this wonderfully quirky, idiosyncratic way about him, which, by the way, is not Alan in life at all, and it just begins to evolve.'
Rachins exhibits remarkable equanimity, even a sense of humor, on the subject.
``The humiliations started coming pretty early,' he said during one of his infrequent trips to New York.
``In the pilot episode, there was nothing of the more flamboyant or bizarre side of Douglas; he was going to be the hard-line office manager, the penny pincher. It was kind of limited, and I didn't know where it was going. But quickly it developed a lot more color and flamboyance.'
Rachins, who will admit only to being in his 40s, was a relatively unknown New York stage actor before he won the role of Douglas. David E. Kelley, the executive producer of ``L.A. Law,' credits Rachins' comedic skills with making the character at once funny but always able to win the empathy of the viewers.
``Alan does comedy so well, it's one of his strengths that we write to,' Kelley said.
``Brackman is the kind of character we can blow up on the toilet seat and not lose the character. With any of the others, we'd have to resurrect their integrity and sense of dignity; with Brackman, we don't have to write those extra scenes.
``Alan has a great way, subtextually, of commenting on a scene. He allows viewers to laugh with him at Douglas. As long as he keeps doing it so well, we'll keep embarrassing him.'