by Mad Dog
Its hard to imagine anything much sadder
than working hard to get a degree in journalism and winding up a TV critic. Except maybe
to be the head of network programming when this years ratings come in.
|| The new fall TV season has begun and I couldnt be much more excited.
Okay, maybe a little. But thats only because it promises to be a pleasant change
from the stupor brought on by summer reruns, the same four episodes of Seinfeld rotating
in a continuous loop 24-hours a day on three channels, and my new nightly ritual of
turning the sound down during "Change of Heart" so I can pretend to be Chris
Jagger and say "Will they stay together? Or will they have a change of heart?"
along with him. Now, thanks to Must See TVhell, if its that imperative it has
to be good!theres a glimmer of hope on the network horizon.
First, an admission: I havent seen any of the new shows
yet. Of course Im not sure I saw more than one or two of last years crop
either. Its not as if the networks send me advance copies to screen, which is really
a shame since I could use the free videocassettes to tape something Id really like
to see, like the Spice Networks gay S&M miniseries, "Star Whores: The Fan
Dom Mens Ass."
At this point I dont even feel a need to see the new
shows. Not after being bombarded with newspapers and magazines featuring articles about
the new fall TV season, each one written by a writer who was wined, dined, and entertained
by the very people he or she would be writing about. Its hard to imagine anything
much sadder than working hard to get a degree in journalism and winding up a TV critic.
Except maybe to be the head of network programming when this years ratings come in.
Theres a show about a single father, one about a single father with a daughter,
another where a father becomes single because hes gay, and one with a dog that talks
|| It got so bad
this past week that the new television lineup got more column inches of print than the
presidential campaign, hurricane Floyd, or the rampage in East Timor. And as usual, most
of it has been trumpeting how the networks are stretching the boundaries and creating
groundbreaking, iconoclastic TV. The San Francisco Chronicle, for one, calls it a season
that "veers audaciously from the old honey, Im home
conventions." If you believe that youll believe there will be a Ru Paul, Jr.
This years crop of new shows is so groundbreaking that three of them are spin-offs
of existing series, two are rip-offs of long-running English TV programs, and one is based
on a comic book. Now thats original thinking. Four of the new shows brag that they
"break the fourth wall", which is when the characters speak directly into the
camera. Pretty revolutionary stuff here. At least it was when George Burns did it in 1950.
Probably the closest thing they have to boundary-stretching
involves sex, as in "How nasty can we get and still keep our advertisers?" As
you may have figured out, advertisers are more important to the networks than viewers
since theyre the ones who pay the bills. Viewers are but a major inconvenience; the
only reason they consider us at all is because the more of us they get the more they can
charge the advertisers. If they could figure out a way to get the advertisers to pay up
without having any viewers, trust me, they would.
So what do we have to look forward to this season? Lets
see, theres a show about a single father, which is pretty groundbreaking stuff.
Theres also one about a single father with a daughter, one about a father who
becomes single because hes gay, another where the teenagers are aliens, one with a
dog that talks in subtitles and, if all thats not groundbreaking enough for you,
theres "Now and Again", in which an insurance agent is patched up after
falling under a subway train so he can become a scientifically engineered government
agent. Think of it as the "Six Million Dollar Man" adjusted for inflation.
If they put the recycled symbol in the lower right-hand corner of the re-edited 30-minute
"Ally McBeal" episodes instead of the Fox logo Ill take all this back and
actually watch it. With luck half the length means half the obnoxious, whiney, nattering
|| There are at least six
shows about high school kids coping with adolescence, four about post-high school kids
coping with post-adolescence, two about dead people coming back to life (not including
"Stark Raving Mad", in which Patrick "Doogie Howser" Harris tries to
bring his career back to life), and one about Hollywoods favorite subject: itself.
But all is not lost. At least well have "WWF Smackdown", a two-hour weekly
primetime World Wrestling Federation show on UPN, which means we still have a fighting
chance of seeing some real acting this season.
begs: Do we really need two new shows about a guy whos surrounded by a household
full of women? Is anyone really interested in watching a second show about vampires? And
is it absolutely necessary that they re-edit old "Ally McBeal" episodes down to
30 minutes so Fox can claim a tax credit for recycling? (Tell you what. If they put the
recycled symbol in the lower right-hand corner of the screen instead of the Fox logo
Ill take all this back and actually watch it. After all, with luck half the length
means half the obnoxious, whiney, nattering neuroses.)
Okay, so maybe Im not real excited by the new TV season,
Im sure there are plenty of people who are. For one, the network executives whose
jobs are on the line care a lot. So do the companies that spend gobs of money advertising
in the hopes that someones bored enough to tune in. But most of all, there are those
who really stand to profit from the new TV season: cable channels like TVLand which
feature good old reruns, spouses who may see their mate turn off the TV and pay more
attention to them, and of course, book stores.
Oh yeah, and me too. After all, if there was a good batch of
fall shows to watch I would have had to spend a lot more time thinking of something to
write this week and might have missed the previews for "Shasta McNasty", a show
about white rappers rooming together in Venice Beach. Excuse me while I go to the
©1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them while waiting for the mid-season replacements.