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Musty TV
by Mad Dog


It’s 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 year’s ratings come in.
     The new fall TV season has begun and I couldn’t be much more excited. Okay, maybe a little. But that’s 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 TV—hell, if it’s that imperative it has to be good!—there’s a glimmer of hope on the network horizon.

     Yeah, right.

     First, an admission: I haven’t seen any of the new shows yet. Of course I’m not sure I saw more than one or two of last year’s crop either. It’s 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 I’d really like to see, like the Spice Network’s gay S&M miniseries, "Star Whores: The Fan Dom Men’s Ass."

     At this point I don’t 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. It’s 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 year’s ratings come in.



There’s a show about a single father, one about a single father with a daughter, another where a father becomes single because he’s gay, and one with a dog that talks in subtitles.
     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, I’m home’ conventions." If you believe that you’ll believe there will be a Ru Paul, Jr.

     This year’s 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 that’s 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 they’re 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? Let’s see, there’s a show about a single father, which is pretty groundbreaking stuff. There’s also one about a single father with a daughter, one about a father who becomes single because he’s gay, another where the teenagers are aliens, one with a dog that talks in subtitles and, if all that’s not groundbreaking enough for you, there’s "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 I’ll take all this back and actually watch it. With luck half the length means half the obnoxious, whiney, nattering neuroses.
    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 Hollywood’s favorite subject: itself. But all is not lost. At least we’ll 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.

     The question begs: Do we really need two new shows about a guy who’s 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 I’ll 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 I’m not real excited by the new TV season, I’m 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 someone’s 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 bookstore.   

1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them while waiting for the mid-season replacements.

 

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