Jeffrey Tambor

In the new CBS comedy "Welcome to the Captain," Jeffrey Tambor plays Uncle Saul, an overbearing busybody who lives in a Hollywood apartment building. Saul's a writer whose career peaked when he was on the staff of "Three's Company."

In real life, when Tambor first moved to Hollywood nearly four decades ago, he moved into an old Hollywood apartment. And one of the tenants was one of the writers/creators of — well, it's quite a coincidence.

"I actually lived in an (building) very much like The Captain when I first came," Tambor said in a conference call with TV critics. "It had actors and writers of every level. In fact one of my mentors — I would say very much like Uncle Saul to me — was actually one of the (producers/writers) of 'Three's Company,' Michael Ross."

Tambor himself was in five episodes of "Three's Company" between 1979 and 1982 (playing four different characters). One of those characters, Jeffrey P. Brookes, took Tambor to "The Ropers" (with Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) — a short-lived "Three's Company" spinoff that lasted 28 episodes over two seasons.

The character of Uncle Saul was a former "Three's Company" writer when executive producer/creator John Hamburg wrote the script, long before Tambor had been cast in the role.

"I'd obviously known that Jeffrey was on 'Three's Company' and 'The Ropers,' but he told me that he also lived in the building with one of the creators," Hamburg said.

"It's just a coincidence," Tambor said.

"It's not a coincidence. It's karma," Hamburg said.

"Welcome to The Captain," which premieres tonight at 7:30 on Ch. 2, is an ensemble comedy about an eclectic group of characters who live in a a classic old Hollywood apartment building — the El Capitan, which they call The Captain. (In real life, it's the El Royale on Vine Street.)

At the center of the group of oddballs is Josh (Fran Kranz), a struggling writer/former wunderkind who's hit a dry spell. On his way back to New York, his buddy/accountant, Marty (Chris Klein), persuades him to move into a vacant apartment in the building. And Josh decides to stay when he's instantly taken with Hope (Joanna Garcia), an aspiring acupuncturist.

Other residents include Charlene (Raquel Welch), a faded actress who's still a seductress; Jesus (Al Madrigal), the gossipy doorman; and Astrid (Valerie Azlynn), an aspiring actress.

"Welcome" is not a traditional sitcom like the others in CBS's Monday lineup — it's filmed on a set with no studio audience. It hasn't got the setup, joke, setup, joke rhythm of a traditional sitcom — it's sort of low-key and more mildly amusing than laugh-out-loud funny. But it has a certain charm that builds from the characters.

And Tambor — a six-time Emmy nominee for his roles in "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Arrested Development" — loves his character on "Welcome to the Captain."

"He's very real to me," Tambor said. "I'm 63 and he's 63, and we both come across at the same time. When he gets tired, I get tired. When he gets enlivened, I get enlivened."

"And I just think it's hysterical that Mickey (Ross) sort of mentored me, because I was doing 'The Ropers' then. And so here we are, circles within circles within circles."

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