Sunday, May 20, 2007

TV: The lows and the really lows

On the old Soupy Sales television series there was a character named Philo Kvetch who liked to toss out pearls of wisdom such as, "Show me a cow wearing rags and I'll show you a bum steer."

In a really lousy TV week, we kept coming back to that phrase.

It didn't help that last week, as various networks announced their fall schedules, CBS elected to air the Reba McEntire hosted Country Music Awards. Watching, with a friend not nominated this year but nominated in the past (never a winner), we (Ava and C.I.) first rubbed our eyes in disbelief as Reba strode to center stage from a great distance. Why, we wondered, was she wearing a black dress with off-white sleeves? Then, as she came closer, we realized those were her bare arms and someone neglected to powder them.

The dress (with a long train neither she nor anyone else carried) seemed to exist solely to dust the stage. The three of us discussed what looked like some serious work. For instance, the left breast is now much higher than the right. And her squinty eyes were gone while her eyebrows were much higher. Watching her grimace and scowl, we quickly ruled out Botox which just left us to debate whether she'd had a chemical peel or a face lift?

Our musings ceased quickly as she immediately launched into her GOP playbook, making a 'gay joke' about West Hollywood. Does the average country music listener even know where West Hollywood is? Reba didn't care, she's a 'survivor,' remember, one who hitched her wagon to the Bully Boy and damned if she wasn't going to use her airtime in service of the administration. That was most noticeable when Reba decided to share what a laughing matter she thought global warming was. Like the Bully Boy, Reba doesn't buy into it and thought it was "cute" (remember, the woman also thinks she herself is cute so there exists a huge gulf of misunderstanding) to joke about "2 kegs of ice cold beer" and how "Kenny Chesney has agreed to only drink cold beer." Intermixed, as always with this eyesore, were repeated sayings of "a-ha!" To cue audiences that she thinks what she says is funny, Reba always feels the need to laugh first. It doesn't make the lines funnier but when, as she readily admitted, "I just blew that joke right there," it probably is needed so that viewers will know it was supposed to be funny.

She quickly moved into an introduction of Hannah Storm whom she hailed as a "news anchor" -- if that didn't have you laughing, Storm's outfit would since news anchors (of either gender) rarely wear plunging necklines that end below the breasts. Reba applauded like crazy (apparently for the bed ruffle at the bottom of Storm's tacky dress), providing multiple laughs as her flesh flapped in the wind. Either work on the delts or stick to outfits with sleeves. That was really driven home when Reba raised her arm and treated the world to the ugliest armpit -- and the only part of Reba that may still be semi-natural.

In an evening of guts hanging out over too tight pants and tiny heads on thick necks, Reba seemed, if not entertaining, right at home. After a commercial break, she was back to introduce Martina McBride and she was still wearing the same dress which led us to wonder if Reba only had time to hit one garage sale last week?

In three seconds, McBride shook the show to life and showed what it could have been with a real performer hosting. (She was also the first woman on the show to wear an evening dress that fit as opposed to looking like it was purchased to "grow into.") Reba's recording career ended long ago (even if labels haven't wised up -- though the desperation factor in September's Reba Duets indicates that they have caught on) and her eternally low rated sitcom finally went off the air. But there she was hosting because CBS doesn't like people with political views . . . unless they're the same as the Bully Boy's.

CBS also doesn't like women so the asexual Reba (she forever comes off like Frankie in The Member of the Wedding) was the perfect fit.

When we repeatedly warned that CBS was attempting to pull The New Adventures of Old Christine, Ty noted skeptical e-mails came in. The gist of the e-mails was, "It's a hit. Why would a network mess with their own hit?" If you missed it, the fall 2007 season doesn't include the show (it's scheduled to return mid-season). It does include Rules of Engagement which, we'll note yet again, had declining ratings, week after week. Why would CBS do this? We've noted the whys of that many times. If you weren't listening then, you probably wouldn't now but, again, note, the show is pulled. No one works harder than CBS to disown their female driven hits. Which is why they monkeyed with a successful Monday night line up (at the end Rules of Engagment wasn't just losing viewers each week, it was getting millions less viewers than The New Adventures of Old Christine had in the same time slot) and now are all geared up to return the audience disperser to Monday nights while letting Christine sit it out. The reality is that Fox may, as happened when CBS was attempting to destroy Cybil, steal the Monday night audience away with a new program (Ally McBeal then, K-Ville this fall).

ABC actually does care about women, it just has a hard time attracting them when not in soap opera mode. To their credit, they've stuck by Men in Trees which remains the network's best show that not enough people are watching. Their big hopes are pinned on a spin-off (no one whisper "Time of Your Life" or "Joey" too loudly) and a title that had a New York Times' Docker Boy reaching down the front of his pants last week: Dirty Sexy Money. Apparently, TLC's Crazy Sexy Cool never made it onto his playlists judging by the way he panted over the title.

As bad as that is, nothing is as hopeless as the CW which wants to offer both an update of Dakatari (entitled Life Is Wild -- but without the cross-eyed Clarence or Judy the chimp) and Touched by an Angel in reverse: instead of working for God, the lead works for the devil (Reaper starring Bret Harrison) by retrieving evil souls that have escaped from hell. We question the premise of the latter -- not only because just titling the Robert Blake vehicle Helltown was too much for some viewers but also because why would Satan be despondent that evil souls were making it back to the earth and doing bad things? Lucifer with a soft spot? We've only met the Dark Angel's female approximate, so maybe we're missing something.

"Nothing is as hopeless as the CW? Surely you both are forgetting Patricia Heaton!" Would that we could forget Patti (who is the Dark Angel's female approximate, for anyone wondering). Back To You is a show we wouldn't miss. In fact, we intend to preserve it for those rough days when you need a little pick me up to get you through. What we're hearing (among other delicious details) is that this century's Rose Marie is convinced not only that she has one more hit series in her but that she knows comedy. This is leading to disputes (and grumbling in makeup and wardrobe) between her and the male lead Kelsey Grammer. Grammer thinks the comedy should be a bit more high brow and Patti's idea of high brow seems to be saying "Excuse me" after picking her nose in public. Those working on the show swear the duel of wills would make a great reality show but that it's not making for a sitcom. We will be front and center, rooting for a huge train wreck.

Fox cancelled The War At Home and, a story to share there, when they did a multi-arc storyline, we were asked by a friend with the show to give it another look. We did. It was surprisingly good. The characters were finally clicking. All of the characters. Then the storyline ended and the show went back to its usual crap. That's why we didn't re-review it. Yes, the gay storyline allowed the show to actually be about something. Yes, it allowed all the characters to be involved and for actual dialogue, specific to characters, to be written. But the minute Kenny (Rami Malek) moved back to his own home, the show returned to unwatchable. We've made our feelings very clear about the male lead but even his character was watchable when he was forced to interact with Kenny. Had they used that to reinvent the show, we would have loudly praised it. They didn't so we will note here that those episodes were not just the finest of the series but the finest of any comedy Fox aired this year. There's a lesson if anyone at the network wants to pay attention. Various characters living in a home does not make a family even when the words "Mom" and "Dad" are frequently used. There has to be some glue that pulls them together. For several episodes, that was Kenny and it felt like you were watching a family and not assorted actors reciting dialogue. (Often bad dialogue.)

We'll come back to Fox in a minute. NBC. In this Sophie's Choice, the daughter always dies. Which is why Crossing Jordan was cancelled. While we're noting things, we'll note that Bug was a victim of the Patriot Act at the end of this season. You saw the government break the law -- as they do whenever questioning alleged 'terrorists'. That storyline wasn't over and, had NBC renewed the show, you would have seen some hard hitting repercussions from torture. The good news is that after football season is over, Medium will return. Or you could say, the really bad news is that Medium will sit out half the year. And apparently still wanting to keep the "No Girls Allowed" sign over their clubhouse, moments after unveiling their new lineup last week, NBC began having pangs of doubt about their remake of The Bionic Woman. It is now said to be "on the crater." The crater is the opposite of the bubble. Meaning if anything goes wrong early on, bad reviews, bad ratings, NBC's dumping it quicker than you can say "Kidnapped" (or quicker than they could say "Cancelled" last fall).

Apparently all the money wasted on the boy 'genius' and his hideous series (and Water Cooler Critics should never be able to live down their attempts to market that bad show) has so tapped out the network (which is in dead last in the ratings for the big three and Fox) that they've again scheduled only six nights of programming. One of the Docker Boys was hailing the shake ups NBC was allegedly putting forward but somehow missed that fact. In the current economy, sitting out an entire night makes no sense unless you're a net-lette. NBC has many times owned Saturdays, most recently with Golden Girls in the 80s. If they think the way out of ratings cellar is by (yet again) abandoning Saturday nights, it's obvious that not enough alleged shake ups have taken place.

With the way things go in cycles, we'd argue that Saturdays are ripe for a comeback and just waiting for the brave network (none currently) willing to offer programming, original programming. At this rate, to win Saturdays, you wouldn't even have to be good, just new. "Drama series encore" doesn't qualify for that. We'll offer one suggestion, move Friday Night Lights to Saturday. It's the height of stupidity to program a show about Friday night high school football on a night when the core audience will be . . . away from their TVs attending high school football games. We'd further suggest that when so many of the networks have mid-seasons replacements scheduled this early (as already noted Medium and The New Adventures of Old Christine and add to the list Notes from the Underbelly), mid-season replacements scheduled before you've even begun filming some of your fall shows, you might want to toss some of those on a Saturday night as well.

If there was any good news for NBC at all it was the inclusion of MyTV in the ratings which made it look so much better by comparison. The Roger Ailes network was supposed to storm the ratings, that was the talk leading up to fall 2006: They understood audiences and what audiences wanted was telenovas! And regardless of whether they were huge ratings hits or not, they were sticking with the format!

Of course, when the cellar dweller Fashion House is your top rated program all year long, you quickly have to rethink things. MyTV now intends to build the Murdoch empire around 'reality' shows. We're guessing that will go over about as well as the telenovas did. Ty reports e-mails coming in asking that we review this telenova or that telenova. If time permits, we may grab the final telenovas but, honestly, what is there to say about Wicked, Wicked Game other than Oscar winner Tatum O'Neal does a fine job impersonating Courtney Love? Fashion House, the network's 'hit,' averaged approximately half a million viewers each showing -- apparently the world was not interested in seeing Bo Derek yet again attempt to throw her legs around the world. By comparison, it was a great year for NBC.

Back to Fox. Though it may surprise many younger viewers, Fox once attempted to program on Saturdays. Those days are long gone. That noted, their new line up should cause the most interest. Whether or not anything will actually reach out to viewers, they are offering the most interesting sounding fare. Julianna Margulies returns to TV with Canterbury's Law, The Sarah Connor Chronicles revolve around the character from the Terminator, Parker Posey lands her first TV series in The Return of Jezebel James (Posey previously did guest spots on Will & Grace and Boston Legal, this is the first primetime series she's been a regular in), and the always watchable Craig Biekro and Rashida Jones in The Rules for Starting Over. Who knows how any of them will look by the time they hit TV screens? (Sarah Connor Chronicles is penciled in for mid-season but Fox suits think they have one dog that will need to be put down quickly and so Sarah Connor Chronicles could begin airing prior to mid-season.) But that's what rolling out a new line up is supposed to look like. The net-lette seems to grasp that (currently) better than the big three does.

And that really may be the worst thing (other than Reba) in a week of worsts. The big three is still programming as if we lived in a six-day week world and their idea of generate some excitement is to turn 'characters' from the Geiko commercials into a TV show: ABC's Cavemen.

Yes, cavemen will return to network TV next fall. Though African-Americans still can't catch a lead on the big three, look for the 'diversity' of cavemen to beam into your homes on Tuesday nights.

We're counting about 29 new shows debuting in the fall that we could consider reviewing. When we told that to Ty he said including that fact would seriously cut down on some of the e-mails he has to read. He also noted a number of e-mails regarding a panic over this summer. Usually, they note that the CW will be airing *Hidden Palms* (yes, we plan to review it). We may do an overview piece like this but we also will have commentaries relating to just one show as well. We stated over and over throughout the fall, winter and spring that we were saving 30 Rock for the summer because it would be renewed. ABC has cancelled The George Lopez Show and According to Jim and we will probably offer farewells to both (not fond in the case of the latter). There's a talk show Rebecca suggested we review last fall that we told her we'd try to grab during the summer. We're sorry that Jim and Mike noting the fact that there is so little to review has caused a mini-panic and we do appreciate Ty passing on that three long term readers said, "Go ahead and grab cable." We won't. We can continue to cover broadcast TV and do so each week.

That may mean the occassional overview piece like this. But last week was the week that was supposed to build excitement for fall 2007, instead most networks rolled out so-so presentations (Jerry Seinfeld doing bits is not Jerry Seinfeld returns to television -- it's Seinfeld dabbling and NBC shelling out a ton of money for those doodles). And, as if to underscore what a crap week it was for TV, CBS offered up born trash, die trash Reba as a "draw." Short of teaming her up with Patti Heaton, can it get much worse than that?

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