Sunday, September 16, 2007

TV: What does it take to cancel this show?

After a few years, most TV shows lose their freshness. A popular cast member or two can leave and the show can become hopeless. Far worse are the programs that never should have made it to broadcast but tend to linger such as The King of Queens and Yes, Dear.

Bully Online

Make Room For Bully is a show that should never have made it on the lineup. Yet, it continues to air. If there's any consolation to be found, we feel the creators have finally grasped the show's popularity is gone and not returning. Though it's aired for ninety minutes and a full hour many times prior, Thursday's episode grabbed less than a half hour in primetime reminding us of when ABC finally wised up to the fact that America had burned out on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and sent the show packing.

We noted the show was cratering in our second look at it (August 2006): "When a sitcom has so many advocating for its cancellation, and has yet to offer a same-sex kiss or some other so-called controversial plot, we think that's a strong indication of how many have just grown tired of it." Finally, the producers grasp the disinterest and, on Thursday, attempted to shake up the formula.

Timothy Bottoms played the role as if the character were drunk and attempting to hide that fact. This explained the oh . . . so . . . slow . . . line readings. While that was an interesting choice and while the key to pulling off drunk scenes is to not overdo them, Bottoms relied solely on the tele-promoter. Not relied "too heavily," relied solely. You could see his eyes dart back and forth as he read off each line in a manner that we hadn't seen since Steven Seagal hosted Saturday Night Live all those years ago.

Faltering ratings have mean budget cuts and reduced the cast (it's also true that many of the extras who once played the press no longer wish to share the stage with him) and that left Bottoms with a non-stop monologue. We do understand that. But we firmly believe that you need to memorize the lines. Stumbling over David Petreaus' name on live television, when the character of the Bully Boy would obviously know the name, struck us as amateurish and not inspired. Similarly, the half-smirks popping up at the oddest moments also seemed ill thought out.

In order to shake things up and attempt to generate interest, the producers went with a single camera. If they were going for the urgency of ER, they should have used a hand-held camera. As it was, the shot was static and expecting viewers to stare non-stop at a closeup for an entire broadcast really requires that someone attractive be used. Bottoms is made up to look ugly and the part, true, but we both agreed the face we saw Thursday night wasn't worthy of a second look let alone a prolonged close up.

Handing the writers a monologue could have resulted in some inspired lines. Instead, it felt like Studio 60 Yada-Yada-Yada. And what didn't strike us as belabored and false, struck as extreme bad writing. "Return on success" was obviously a key phrase but, as catch phrases go, it's no, "Whatcha talking 'bout, Willis?" It didn't just lay there, it was so awkward that it drew attention to itself.

At a time when the American people want a withdrawal to begin before year's end, "Return on Success" sounds a great deal like "Eternal War." It reminded us a lot of how those in charge at The Office think they're being brave by ignoring the fact that Steve Carrell's character is not an audience favorite -- or even interesting -- but Jim is. (NBC is said to have insisted John Krasinski get more airtime this year in a last ditch effort to pump up the dismal ratings.)

The failure to give people what they want goes a long way towards explaining how Make Room For Bully has nosedived. We watched Thursday night with college students on campus. During the broadcast, there were cries of "Impeach him!" and "Admit you lied the nation into war!" The show inspires the most intense negative reaction we've seen outside of The War At Home. That show was (finally) cancelled. But apparently, cancelling this one will require an Act of Congress.

We understand the reaction because, even with the Dark Angel's human incarnate Patty Heaton due to debut shortly, we don't think we'll see anything as bad for the rest of the year. While we can take comfort in the fact that there doesn't appear to currently be any hopes of a spin-off, we do question the wisdom of allowing this show to drag on so long.

The show is so bad that even those who normally do not critique TV have been calling for it's cancellation. At the start of this year, former US House Rep Elizabeth Holtzman renewed her call for cancellation. Even historian Howard Zinn, not known as a pop culture critic, has weighed in and called for Congress to cancel the proceedings. However, as Zinn noted, "Courage is in short supply in Washington, D.C." So apparently either this show will drag on for another year or the people will really have to make their voices heard.

After Thursday night's episode was finished, time was rounded out with a gag reel. Someone portraying US Senator Jack Reed jerked around a lot physically while muttering little-nothing lines that failed to note the illegal nature of Bully Boy's war and, apparently sending up the Democrats non-stop desire to hide behind the US military, had very little to say about democracy. Paired together, the two shows could have been billed as Junta!

The Reed impersonator didn't call for an end to the illegal war or bringing US troops home, he instead issued a call that the US "redefine our mission in Iraq". The last time we checked public opinion, "redefine our mission" wasn't what the people were calling for.

But it's what the parody offered and elected Democrats have no one to blame for the cheap shots but themselves. For over four years now, they've not only hidden behind the US military, they've glorified it as if the point of a democracy was to worship the US Army. We started wondering if churches will shortly begin replacing crosses with shrapnel?

The parody was so spot-on because it perfectly captured last week when the Congress heard from General David Petraeus. Petraues is an employee of the United States. Members of Congress are representatives of the people. But nothing in the proceedings indicated that these basic facts were grasped. We can't imagine, for instance, the Head of Health and Human Services being repeatedly thanked and praised for their service. We can't imagine the agency head being told repeatedly how much respect there is for the agency.

Like that agency, the military is in the employment of the United States. Elected Democrats refuse to make that point. Instead they glorify and build up repeatedly only to be defeated in the spin wars and then whine, "How did this happen?" It happened because they forgot they were not elected to the posts of Groupies to the US Military. They were elected to represent the people. Representation means heeding the will of the people. When they instead prostrate themselves before a section of a branch of government that they are supposed to practice oversight over, they've stripped themselves of their own power. It's really sad that it was John McLaughlin (on PBS' The McLaughlin Group) who semi-jokingly raised the issue of whether what took place last week (with the will of the people being ignored) was a silent coup? But such is the state of TV today.
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