Nothing delights Tim Reid more than a good fish-out-of-water tale. A story where, say, a decent man finds himself thrown from the life he knows and loves into one that's completely unfamiliar.
Sure, he's summing up Frank Parrish, the Boston professor turned New Orleans restaurateur he played on "Frank's Place" or Venus Flytrap, the supercool yet sensitive disc jockey from "WKRP in Cincinnati."
But the life he's also describing could be his own.
That's because after winning praise playing offbeat TV characters, the 45-year-old actor has left the high-profile world of prime time to co-host with his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid, a daytime talk show being taped in Baltimore.
As "Tim and Daphne" finishes its second week on the air, however, one half of that duo is still feeling slightly out of his element.
"I'm in a whole different environment with very little first-hand knowledge, a lot of heart, a lot of energy and a lot of creative juices," Mr. Reid says. "But I like shaking it up. I like change."
For his actress wife, the major change has been learning how not to perform. "As actors we've been, for the past 15 or 20 years, putting on characters. You get comfortable doing that and then someone asks you to stand before the camera and, 'Be yourself, expose yourself, relax, enjoy,' " she says.
As they sit in the Rusty Scupper, having just taped an interview with Jasmine Guy of "A Different World," the couple playfully rib each other, often turning conversation into an impromptu comedy skit.
He has bad taste in shoes. She has bad taste in friends. He's too idealistic. She's too pragmatic.
With Ms. Reid's megawatt smile and seemingly poreless skin, it's easy to understand how the 42-year-old actress was once Northwestern's homecoming queen and a Glamour magazine cover girl. But if she exudes grace and composure, her husband counters with comic relief.
How have they managed what others might consider unimaginable, living -- and working -- together during their eight-year marriage?
"Therapy," says Mr. Reid with a laugh. "We have a psychiatrist who lives with us."
His wife answers more seriously. "We balance each other. He's intuitive. I'm analytical. He's black and white. I'm gray. He's highly emotional. I'm highly adaptive," she says.
Those same qualities attracted executives at King World, the high-powered syndicator of "Oprah" and "Wheel of Fortune," when they met with the Reids last spring, says Bianca Pino, the director of development for the company.
"My first impression of them was that there was this great bond between these people. I thought, 'We've got to get this on television,' " she recalls. "They don't always agree on everything, which causes a little of the fun. But there's always true respect between them. That's never in doubt."
The show, which is seen weekdays at 11 a.m. on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), is being test marketed in Baltimore. By December, the company hopes to begin national syndication, while continuing to tape here, Ms. Pino says.
Baltimore was chosen because it fit the syndicator's demographics and was a favorite of the couple's. "It's a city that's close to our hearts," says Ms. Reid. "We have friends here in Baltimore that make it comfortable for us to stay here."
In their show, they aim to deliver a blend of inspirational segments, celebrity interviews and consumer-oriented pieces in an informal setting. "When you try to create a show for daytime, you don't want to reinvent the wheel," Mr. Reid says. "We can't compete with Oprah Winfrey and the way she does her show. She is the top of the form. . . . We're trying to take the daytime talk show format that everybody's familiar with and add a few unique features. Every day hopefully someone will come away from our show with a very uplifting, positive attitude about their lives based on something they've seen."
That outlook, no doubt, came from the couple's own backgrounds. She grew up in the Manhattan projects, the daughter of a housewife and short-order cook, and graduated from Northwestern after majoring in architecture and interior design. She married while in college, had a son, Christopher, now 19, and worked as a model before turning to acting.
Mr. Reid's youth, by comparison, was far less stable. "I got all the traumas," he says. Born in Norfolk, Va., he was raised in poverty by his mother, a domestic, who separated from his father before he was born.
"Every time the rent was due we moved," he says.
One of those moves brought him to Baltimore, where he spent several years living in homes on Fulton Avenue and McMechen Street. "Whenever I think of Baltimore, I think of being very hungry," he says. "I remember a little Jewish grocery store where . . . the man was very kind to me and my mother. I could go in with 21 cents, and he'd give me a pound of bologna, four slices of bread, four cigarettes and a Coca-Cola."
Things had grown so dire by his ninth birthday that he was sent to live with his grandmother in Norfolk. But four years later, he had found his way into real trouble in a street gang. That's when his father, whom he'd never known, intervened and helped him turn his life around.
"I was headed down the wrong road, and he brought me in [to his home] and gave me a whole different environment," he recalls.
Mr. Reid was accepted at Norfolk State College, where he majored in business marketing. While there, he married and tried his hand at acting. But when he was recruited by DuPont's Corporate Management Training Program, he put any thoughts of acting aside and moved with his then wife and son, Tim, now 24, to Chicago. (He also has a daughter, Tori, 19, by his first marriage.)
Several years later, he had grown bored with the 9-to-5 world and developed an anti-drug skit with Tom Dreesen, an insurance agent turned comedian. The two spent the next six years touring with their "Tim and Tom" comedy act. In 1978, Mr. Reid's big solo break came in the sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati."
His first meeting with Ms. Reid could also be considered the stuff of sitcoms. Nearly 20 years ago, the two were introduced while zTC doing a Sears commercial in Chicago. The sparks didn't exactly fly.
Ms. Reid sums up her first impressions of her future husband: "I thought he was the weirdest looking dude. He wore plaid suits and golf shoes."
"They had been golf shoes," Mr. Reid explains. "But I liked them so well I screwed out the cleats and I wore them."
Ten years later, the two, then both divorced, met again, and the chemistry was different. His shoes this time -- a respectable pair of cowboy boots -- passed the Daphne Maxwell fashion taste test. "We had a five-minute refresher date, and it lasted for five hours," she says.
They spent the next two years struggling to make a commitment to each other. Things hit rock bottom in 1982 when Mr. Reid walked out, leaving for Europe on a project.
But while there, one date with another woman convinced him that he wanted to make a life with Ms. Reid. "I was sitting across from this person thinking . . . 'This is dating?' I don't want to date. I've got somebody. She's crazy, but I like her," he says.
Ms. Reid, meanwhile, surprised him by meeting his plane when he returned from Europe. "When I landed and saw her, I thought, 'This is the one I want to marry.' So I proposed to her as I was coming through customs."
In December 1982, the couple married, and now they have homes in Los Angeles and Charlottesville, Va. But living together is only part of their marital equation. Ever since they began dating more than a decade ago, they've made a habit of finding projects that keep them united.
He was undercover cop Downtown Brown and she was television reporter Temple Hill on "Simon & Simon." He was a restaurateur, she was a mortician on "Frank's Place." And on "Snoops," he played a criminology professor, while she was a protocol officer for the State Department.
But while their shows have won them fans and praise from TV critics, many have been decidedly short-lived. The program many still lament was "Frank's Place," a 1988 dramedy Mr. Reid also helped produce. Its cancellation by CBS prompted a letter-writing campaign among "beloved fans."
"Beloved doesn't mean anything to the Nielsens," Mr. Reid laments. "Beloved and No. 89 [in the ratings] is not going to get you anything."
Last year, things went from bad to worse with the hourlong mystery "Snoops."
"The entire show was not a pleasant experience," says Mr. Reid, who was also co-creator and producer of the program. "It was just sort of a little gift [from the network] for having screwed up 'Frank's Place.' They were hoping against hope that I would come up with something as creative. And I went in with 'Snoops' trying to do something that would prove to them that I could do something more commercial."
The show was among the first CBS casualties of the season.
He escaped with no bitterness but with a sober view of how the television industry functions. "It's a closed shop for most people creatively," he says. "There are not enough black people or women involved in creative positions to give the view of this country that should be coming through our television tubes."
But even as he admits all this, he's not given up on the medium, he says. On Nov. 18 and 20, he stars in the ABC miniseries "Stephen King's It." And with Black Entertainment Television President Bob Johnson, he recently formed a production company called United Image Entertainment to develop programming with "a black point of view" for cable and network TV.
But it's the daytime show -- and the stories of hope he and his wife hear everyday -- that has his attention now.
"One of the problems with becoming successful in the entertainment business is that the success takes you away from your very roots and the people that gave you the inspiration in the beginning," he says. "What I feel I have to do now is reconnect with that."
Occupation: Actors, talk show hosts.Born: Tim: Dec. 19, 1944.
Daphne: July 13, 1948.
Education: Tim: graduated from Norfolk State College, 1968.
Daphne: graduated from Northwestern University, 1970.
Family: Tim: Tim Jr., 24, and Tori, 19, by his first marriage.
Daphne: Christopher, 19, by her first marriage.
Residence: Los Angeles and Charlottesville, Va.
Guest I'd give anything to have on the show: Tim: Reginald F. Lewis, chief executive officer and chairman of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., a multinational food company. ("We're not talking about a guy saying, 'Can I create a black hair product?' We're talking about a guy who went to the top, the pinnacle of the business sector, and pulled off a major coup.")
Daphne: Lena Horne.
What I'd most like to change about my spouse: Tim: "I'd like to see her dream more."
Daphne: "I'd like for him to be a little more tactful sometimes."