“Well, you can’t expect everyone to like you. And you can’t expect everything to work out exactly the way you plan it. Because life is full of surprises. You never really know what’s around the next corner. But if you do the best you can, and if you give 100%, then you can go to sleep with a clear conscience. What you didn’t win today, you can always win tomorrow. And remember, never lose sight of your goals. Because there are some people who really are worth that extra time and effort. And in the end I believe that, if you work hard enough, everyone comes around.”
–Jim Profit, at the end of the pilot episode
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Nobody’s perfect. None of us can really say we’ve made all the correct decisions, or have been completely blameless in our interactions with others. That’s just the way humanity is. In striving for what we want and need, sometimes people’s feelings get hurt along the way. We’re not bad people, but we occasionally make mistakes.
But if Jim Profit happens to be around, then we know we’ve got a friend to turn to. Jim’s a great guy. He understands. He’s been there. He’ll help us out as much as he can. It’s not his fault if we end up getting a figurative knife in the back from someone else, right? Unless, of course, we’d ever discovered that he was helping that someone else with their problems as well, and guided that knife right between our shoulder blades while he sat and watched us all like a stage manager watching a play. Those uplifting sentiments expressed above come from the VILLAIN of the show… or is he the hero?
Profit was a 1996 drama on Fox detailing the machinations of Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar), an up-and-coming executive at multi-national company Gracen & Gracen (G&G). G&G was the fifteenth largest company in the world and growing, thanks to their new junior executive. But Profit wasn’t just looking to succeed. Ultimately, he wanted the entire company for his own, and didn’t really care how he got there… or what happened to others along the way.
The climb up the corporate ladder starts simply enough. The previous Junior VP for acquisitions has died of a heart attack, and Profit is elevated to the position… and he promptly starts blackmailing a fellow VP’s secretary into helping him. The secretary, Gail Koner (Lisa Darr) is scared of her small transgression being revealed, and helps Profit at first. But when her possible part in the plan is discovered, she decides to expose Profit. Her modest theft of company funds (to help her ailing mother, no less) is turned into something more like Grand Theft and the embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars, thanks to more maneuvering by Profit. But Profit then gets her off the hook, throwing blame on another person in the company (whom he wanted rid of anyway) and causing Gail to become even more indebted to him… and the vicious cycle begins.
Profit starts to play his chess game with other people’s lives at G&G. With Gail’s assistance as his new secretary, he disgraces his boss, Senior VP Jack Walters (Scott Paulin), who temporarily loses his job and starts trying to find out what happened. Walters brings in old friend (and long ago mistress) JoAnne Meltzer (Lisa Zane), G&G’s chief of security to help him, and they start on the trail of Profit.
But Profit has a bit of a head start, and he’s heading to the top. The older Gracen brother Chaz (Keith Szarabajka) is the CEO of G&G, takes a mistress himself every year, and would probably be someone Jim Profit would kind of admire… if he wasn’t in the way of Profit’s drive for the company. His younger ne’er-do-well brother Pete (Jack Gwaltney) is an alcoholic and doesn’t appreciate his marriage to his beautiful ignored wife Nora at all… a point Profit uses to manipulate each of them.
“Trust. The foundation of any marriage. If broken, it can hurt even the strongest ones… and kill the weak ones.”
By the time the orchestrations of Profit are finished, Nora (Allison Hossack) has fallen for Profit (who first encouraged her and then, nobly to all appearances, walked away from the potential affair). But husband Pete is duped into thinking that the potential affair is with brother Chaz, and all three are to blame and untrustworthy in each other’s eyes… with Profit nowhere near the disaster, completely innocent to all concerned.
Jim Profit is an absolute bastard, but he’s very good at being a bastard. Some referred to him as “Satan in a suit.” The question is, why? Hang on, there’s more….
A woman named Bobbi Stakowski (Lisa Blount) comes to visit Profit in his apartment. She’s a vulgar, loudmouthed thing, with an apparent heroin habit and a need for money… and she’s Profit’s stepmother. Worse, she apparently seduced him when he was younger! Now, she’s back for money and attention, and is willing to bring him down if she doesn’t get them. Profit goes along with this… until he finds a way to turn the tables, framing her for the murder of his own abusive father (her husband), hopefully getting rid of her. But Bobbi learned how to survive, just like Profit… and she’s not gone for long. And the repercussions of that abusive childhood haven’t really left Profit, no matter what he lets the rest of the world see.
“Anyone who thinks controlling people is a science is dead wrong: It’s an art.”
Want to know the really scary part of all this? Everything I’ve described so far happens in just the two-hour pilot movie. This is just the appetizer… wait for the main course.
Just like Jim Profit’s schemes and plans, nobody saw this show coming. Profit was a critic’s darling in 1996 (one called it “Refreshingly cruel”) because it dared to do something no other show had really done before: The lead was the bad guy, and he was the one the audience was supposed to identify with. The title character narrated the show, with comments like the one at the start of this article that seemed perfectly reasonable and rather positive, but in the context of Jim Profit’s manipulative rise to the top of G&G there were rationalizations for murder, blackmail, lies, betrayal, and the worst behavior possible. He was our eyes.
Of course, not everyone wanted to see through those eyes. While the critics almost universally loved the characterization, some Fox affiliates (especially in the Bible Belt) threatened not to air the show due to its content. Jim Profit was a thoroughly broken man with dark and Machiavellian methods, portraying uncomfortable motivations for most viewers. These days, audiences accept such things (witness Dexter on Showtime or Breaking Bad on AMC, where the heroes are murderers and drug dealers), but Profit aired in 1996 when audiences still expected their heroes to be, well… heroes. Jim Profit was a hero, all right, but most saw him as a hero only to himself.
If you look closely though, nothing could be further from the truth.
“The line most people say they won’t cross? It’s usually something they’ve already done when they thought no one was watching.”
Look back over what Jim Profit did in just that pilot episode. Yes, he manipulated people, preyed on their vulnerabilities, used them for his own purposes. But each and every one of them fell victim to his schemes only because of their own personal errors, their own personal faults, their own personal desires. None of them ever fell because they did what was right, and Profit simply used their own darkened souls against them. Again, Satan in a suit?
This show wasn’t uncomfortable for viewers because the title character was a bad guy. It was uncomfortable because far too many people watching had their own skeletons in their home closet, and Jim Profit was the kind of guy who would remind them of their own secrets. No one wants to deal with the darkness within. And because Jim Profit was darker than most, he lived comfortably in a place none of us wanted to see in ourselves.
Too many people use television only as an escape, as a reason to get away. Viewers don’t like to be reminded of their faults and problems. Yet, the best drama and literature in history has examined the exploitation of those very human foibles and fallacies. Creators David Greenwalt and John McNamara came up with the idea while watching a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The very first scene prominently displays Machiavelli’s The Prince on a bookshelf, which has been used as a motivational tool for both personal philosophy and business advancement, despite its message of manipulating the innocent.
But Jim Profit didn’t take advantage of the innocent, only the guilty. Think about that. As I said before, nobody’s perfect. We’re all guilty of something. And by that logic, I would have to say that each and every one of us would be a potential target for the manipulations of Jim Profit… or anyone even remotely like him. THAT’S the part of Profit that should really scare everyone. And that’s what makes the show so incredible to watch… if you can stand to.
ADRIAN PASDAR (Jim Profit) may not have played a heroic character in Profit, but he’s best known as one of the leads of the NBC series Heroes. He was previously a regular on Judging Amy and Mysterious Ways. He is married to country singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.
LISA DARR (Gail Koner) appeared regularly on Popular, Strong Medicine, and Life as We Know It. She also played the girlfriend of Ellen DeGeneres when the lead character “came out” on Ellen, being part of the first serious open portrayal of a gay couple on a network television series.
SCOTT PAULIN (Jack Walters) was seen on I’ll Fly Away, and Hotel Malibu, and in recurring roles on JAG and Beverly Hills 90210 (’90’s version). He’s currently seen in a recurring role on ABC’s Castle and teaches acting at the 2nd Story Theatre in Los Angeles.
LISA ZANE (JoAnne Meltzer) was a good person in a series that featured the evil one on Profit, but she had just come from playing villain Queen Diana on Roar (which means she’ll show up here again soon). She’s about as multi-talented as they come, shining as a theatre performer, a writer, and a singer, and was recently recognized by the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame as one of their new songwriters of the year. (Oh, and she’s got a really cool website too!)
KEITH SZARABAJKA (Chaz Gracen) had previously been a co-star on The Equalizer for four seasons. Genre fans know him as a vampire hunter on Angel and as the lead in Stephen King’s Golden Years. He has become an often used voice-over actor for video games, heard in franchises like Bioshock, Mass Effect, Dead Space, and Call of Duty. (And Keith’s got a website worth visiting too….)
JACK GWALTNEY (Pete Gracen) has appeared in many New York-based TV series, with guest roles in three different Law & Order series, CSI: NY, and Sex and the City. He’s also protective of NY, volunteering for the Disaster Response Team of Greater New York.
ALLISON HOSSACK (Nora Gracen) is a native of Canada, and has appeared in Vancouver-based shows like Cobra, Kingdom Hospital, and CBC series Falcon Beach. She also had a recurring role on Reaper, and a pivotal role on Supernatural playing the grandmother of lead characters Sam and Dean Winchester.
LISA BLOUNT (Bobbi Stakowski) received wide notice as Debra Winger’s best friend in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. She later won an Oscar as a producer for the short film The Accountant. She accidentally died in late 2010, apparently suffering from a condition in which low levels of blood platelets cause difficulty in creating blood clots, threatening anyone with it that suffers even small blood loss. No foul play was involved.
“Failure is a much better teacher than success.”
Although only four episodes (five hours) of Profit aired on Fox in 1996, all nine produced hours were released on DVD in 2005. The DVD is hard to find these days, but it is well worth it for both the riveting episodes (with three commentaries) and an hour-plus long feature on the creation and making of the series. There’s a phony site for Gracen & Gracen with pics and a supposed “interview” with rising executive Jim Profit, plus a timeline for the events happening within the company as seen onscreen. I’d also highly recommend these ads for the series which aired on Fox in the lead-up to the show’s debut. The first one with the spider is especially telling….
Television has changed significantly over the years, as have audiences. The good guy/bad guy mold of the early days has become much more developed into shades of grey. The very definition of a “hero” and a “villain” has become more based on context instead of purity of purpose and motivation. But really, it’s always been that way, it just took movies and TV some time to catch up to Shakespeare, traditional Greek theatre, and humanity in general. Some people can just more easily handle watching the darkness within their fellow man and themselves.
Of course, Jim Profit is one of those people. He not only can watch the darkness, but show others how to deal with it. Each of us has those small imperfections, the places we wouldn’t want to confront or expose to the light of day. Jim Profit knows that and, as a friend, would never want to let those things be seen by others. He’ll help. You can trust him, can’t you?
4 aired episodes — five unaired
First aired episode: April 8, 1996
Last aired episode: April 29, 1996 (The unaired episodes later aired on cable networks Trio and Chiller)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central? No, although Jim Profit would have taken over that time if he could. The series aired after frothy lead-in Melrose Place on Mondays at 9/8 Central, but was really aimed at a more serious audience who never found the show.
Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.