Saturday, May 20, 2006

You're Standing on My Neck!



Hello.

I don't sleep much. This will work just fine because I will have this place ALL to my self in the wee hours of the morning. I will almost never have anything terribly important to say, but I LURVE talking about ze music ad nauseum! My opinions are neither refined nor especially informed. However, what I lack in intelligence I make up for with GUSTO. I look forward to this little venture unfolding, and I thank Todd for his most surprising invitation to come aboard.

FOR NOW, I'd like to take a minute to introduce you to a new woman in my life: Lily Allen. I'd delve into an extensive post about her stylings, her DIY Myspace celebrity or even maybe her disarming cuteness, but everyone else has already said it better. Nonetheless, here's her mixtape, which serves as a pretty sublime prelude to her upcoming debut album. I'll shut up now, lest I be deemed part of the oh-so-dubious hype machine. I'll just say one more thing: Hot Damn!

I'll be back later in the week with thoughts on the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album and the much hyped Angels & Airwaves.

Until we meet again...

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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Fox and CW schedules

Firstly, Everwood is dead. So is Arrested Development.

(sigh)

And now. . .Fox. New shows are in ALL CAPS. New times are marked like this (NT).

FOX PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: FALL 2006 (All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM Prison Break
9:00-10:00 PM VANISHED

TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM STANDOFF
9:00-10:00 PM House

WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM Bones
9:00-10:00 PM JUSTICE

THURSDAY
8:00-8:30 PM 'TIL DEATH
8:30-9:00 PM HAPPY HOUR
9:00-10:00 PM The O.C.

FRIDAY
8:00-9:00 PM Nanny 911 (NT)
9:00-10:00 PM Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (NT)
(Are these new times? I don't even know when these shows are on anymore!)

SATURDAY
8:00-8:30 PM Cops
8:30-9:00 PM Cops
9:00-10:00 PM America's Most Wanted: America Strikes Back
11:00 PM-MIDNIGHT MADtv
MIDNIGHT-12:30 AM TALK SHOW WITH SPIKE FERESTEN

SUNDAY
7:00-7:30 PM Football Overrun (comedy encores)
7:30-8:00 PM Football Overrun (comedy encores)
8:00-8:30 PM The Simpsons
8:30-9:00 PM American Dad (NT)
9:00-9:30 PM Family Guy
9:30-10:00 PM The War at Home (NT)

FOX PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: BEGINNING JANUARY 2007
(All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM STANDOFF (NT)
9:00-10:00 PM 24

TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM American Idol Performance Show
9:00-10:00 PM House

WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM JUSTICE (NT)
9:00-9:30 PM American Idol Results Show
9:30-10:00 PM The Loop (NT)

THURSDAY
Same as above

FRIDAY
8:00-9:00 PM Bones (NT)
9:00-10:00 PM THE WEDDING ALBUM

SATURDAY
Same as above

SUNDAY
7:00-7:30 PM Comedy Repeats
7:30-8:00 PM King of the Hill
8:00-8:30 PM The Simpsons
8:30-9:00 PM American Dad
9:00-9:30 PM Family Guy
9:30-10:00 PM The War at Home

Sigh. Here I go with analysis and predictions.

Monday Pre-Idol: Barring losing all of its audience to the concept shift, Prison Break should jump back out in front here (especially if it gets an early start, like Fox is saying it will) among 18-49ers. This should give a good lead-in to the very compatible Vanished. Still, how much serial excitement do viewers want?
Post-Idol: Standoff is the sort of show that could be awesome or really, really bad. Fox's vote of confidence here (scheduling it in both halves of their season) suggests it's awesome, but friends have told me the Fox pilot trailers stunk up the upfront. Still, I don't see how Standoff, which is sort of an action-romantic-drama-comedy (shades of Mr. and Mrs. Smith?) leads in to 24. But 24 is pretty much impervious, unless the rumored format shift (and, no, I don't know what the Kief is talking about) kills it. And when will Prison Break be back to finish out its run (or Vanished, should that prove to be a hit)?
Predictions: Fox remains strong on Mondays. I predict Vanished debuts strong, but eventually ends up stuck in third behind the CBS comedies and Heroes. Prison Break and 24 continue to be hits.

Tuesdays Pre-Idol: House is an even bigger hit than it was last year. This should translate to an uptick to a 16 million viewer average before Idol comes back. Will this benefit Standoff at all? I doubt it. House couldn't help Bones even after Bones got off to a fast start. The only show that seems to give the shows preceding it a significant ratings boost is Idol itself.
Post-Idol: Are you kidding me? This night will dominate again, even if it's a little smaller than before and House starts to nip at Idol's heels.
Predictions: Idol and House both easily get renewed for seasons seven and four respectively. Standoff becomes the kind of cult hit Fox would have nominated in a second ten years ago. It is canceled, leading to thousands of Internetheads screaming about "Fux."

Wednesdays Pre-Idol: I really think a lawyer show is going to be a big hit sometime soon here. And people I know who were at the Fox upfront said Justice looked like the best new show on their schedule. It's slick and stylish and. . .a little like a CBS show. Bones will probably see a slump to about a 10 million average but manage to justify its renewal for season two.
Post-Idol: Justice should benefit from the magic Idol touch (which turns to gold everything surrounding it). The Loop, while I enjoy it so, is probably not going to see benefit from the Idol lead in. It's too odd and too 20something-skewing for the biggest family show on the air.
Predictions: Idol dominates. Bones is steady. Justice becomes the only Fox pilot renewed for a second season. The Loop flails, and Alan Sepinwall and I are the only ones who mourn it.

Thursdays Pre- and Post-Idol: This is the dumbest night on Fox's schedule. They're obviously just giving up. The O.C. is going to be massacred by Grey's Anatomy. The comedies look like the sort of irritatingly similar shows that were popular on CBS about five years ago. Til Death may get some eyeballs due to Garrett, but it and Happy Hour will probably suffer from the better comedies on NBC and (presumably) ABC.
Predictions: Fox has to go back to the drawing board, canceling all three of these shows at the end of the year. Bones and Justice end up here somehow for the 2007-08 season.

Fridays Pre-Idol: A cheap night to produce means Fox will probably make money off of this, even with terrible ratings (which seem assured).
Post-Idol: I actually think moving Bones to Friday nights is a smart idea. It's the kind of cool, sexy show that used to thrive on Friday nights (albeit, in their own little niches). As long as Fox doesn't have TOO high of hopes for it, it should be able to find the dateless. Not so The Wedding Album, which tested horribly but still got a spot on the schedule. Why on Fridays at midseason? It's anybody's guess.
Predictions: Bones finds its audience finally. The Wedding Album flops. In the fall, the reality shows become (ever-so-briefly) the new TGIF, unless Betty the Ugly does so instead.

Saturday Pre- and Post-Idol: It was smart of Fox to put a talk show on this night, even if it's as awful as Ferenstein's standup was at the upfronts. Other than that, this is the same thing it has been since. . .the 80s? I think?
Predictions: Cops, apropos of nothing, becomes the number one show on television. Okay. No.

Sunday Pre- and Post-Idol: I'll cheat, since the two are so similar. All in all, a smart lineup, even if it would be nice to see Fox cut the chaff here and throw in The Loop, which would fit MUCH more readily with Family Guy than The War at Home. The night flows nicely, and it's great that King of the Hill will get a proper send-off season starting at midseason. Smart move building in the football overruns like that as well. As long as The Simpsons continues to perform well enough to avoid cancellation, Fox Sundays will be in business.
Predictions: Midway through the season, Fox announces a deal to bring Futurama back. American Dad is canceled to make room. Seth McFarlane fans become even MORE annoying. King of the Hill gets rediscovered by the media. The Simpsons soldiers on, quietly getting slightly better with each episode. Family Guy marches toward syndication. And everyone tries to pretend The War at Home doesn't exist.

See? Don't you wish PoJo had done these? I don't know ANYthing!

Now, on to The CW.

But first.

A rant.

OK. Go and look at this.

Now, it's fine that Everwood was canceled. Really. I'd be okay with it if all evidence didn't suggest that it happened at the last minute just so The CW could bring 7th Heaven of all things back (no really. . .TVGuide.com reported as such). I can understand that it was expensive to produce, etc.

But, really? Not even picking it up for 13 episodes (so it could get to 100) and putting it on at the time slot suggested above? So you can air an America's Next Top Model repeat at 9? That's just LOW. If you had at LEAST brought back some of your other comedies, I could have accepted that.

The great, great irony of all of this is that I can't complain TOO much. If it was SOLELY based on ratings, Everwood (as the 9th-highest-rated show on the two networks that made up The CW) would surely have been back. But my beloved Veronica Mars (23rd) would have been canceled.

Ah, well. We'll always have the first-season DVD set, Everwood.

(And to think Sarah Drew would have been a regular!)

To be honest, though, I think The CW is going to have a tough time of it. It's obvious their development sucked this year (as The WB's development has sucked for some time now). And if they don't figure out a way to do this "being a network" thing soon, they'll be dead by 2010.

But let's look, shall we?

THE CW PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: 2006-2007 (All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM 7th Heaven
9:00-10:00 PM RUNAWAY

TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM Gilmore Girls
9:00-10:00 PM Veronica Mars

WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM America's Next Top Model/Beauty and the Geek
9:00-10:00 PM One Tree Hill (NT) (presumably, the new show HIDDEN PALMS, or, rather HAIRY PALMS, will be airing here at midseason)

THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM Smallville
9:00-10:00 PM Supernatural

FRIDAY
8:00-10:00 PM WWE Smackdown!

SUNDAY
7:00-7:30 PM Everybody Hates Chris (NT)
7:30-8:00 PM All of Us (NT)
8:00-8:30 PM Girlfriends (NT)
8:30-9:00 PM THE GAME
9:00-10:00 PM America's Next Top Model (repeat)

Mondays: "Where can you goooooooooo?/ The answer is hooooooooooooooooooome." 7th Heaven is a show several years past its prime (to be generous). It's also an expensive show. And I feel like an idiot for writing a retrospective, when I should have known it would stagger back to life. And to think it's occupying what should have been Everwood's slot (by CW head Dawn Ostroff's admission to TVGuide.com). . . But I will refrain from bitterness. 7H has loyal fans. The problem is that they don't always stick around. Everwood was about the best show for retention of 7H's numbers, and it still lost about 1.5 million viewers (big numbers in The CW-verse). The 7H viewers, like The Passion of the Christ moviegoers, don't tend to watch a lot of other TV. So it's anybody's guess as to why Runaway, a serial drama about a family on the lam (here comes The CW twist) told from the point-of-view of the teenage son, is here.
Predictions: The CW has to build a whole new Monday night in the 2007-08 season. 7H will continue to draw, but it will be too expensive and will finally be killed. Runaway won't catch on at all.

Tuesdays: Ah, Amy Sherman-Palladino. You have taken what was supposed to be the best night on television and made it a land-mine infested landscape. Even though the quality of Gilmore Girls is bound to slump a bit with the leavetaking of its creator, the show should remain one of The CW's top three dramas, by simple virtue of viewer inertia. Veronica Mars seems like the perfect match for it (and, honestly, it would be a great successor to fill the Gilmore slot in 2007-08). And Gilmore tends to boost whatever is on after it (going all the way back to Smallville, though that had interest of its own). Now, indications would seem to suggest that Veronica Mars is one of those shows that people are just avoiding for one reason or another (it's gotten SO many chances). It's like Arrested Development Redux. But creator Rob Thomas is rebooting the show, making it easier to follow. And it sure SEEMS like a fit with Gilmore Girls. But if it can't hold, say, 75% of that audience, much as I love it, it probably deserves to be canceled.
Predictions: Veronica holds on to 90% of the Gilmore audience by the end of the year (helped by viewer attrition from Gilmore over to Idol). It is named the Gilmore successor. I weep tears of joy. My mother finally checks out the show and sees what I'm talking about. She decides Veronica is "too sassy."

Wednesdays: America's Next Top Model and Beauty and the Geek are both solid reality entertainments, sure to continue to draw audiences (and I can't wait to see the gender-reversal BatG). One Tree Hill gets what is probably the best slot on The CW schedule for it. It had better start pulling its weight soon.
Predictions: It doesn't. The CW is looking for a new drama to pair with the reality shows, unless Hidden Palms somehow takes off.

Thursdays: This night was strong for The WB. So it moves over here completely intact.
Predictions: It remains strong. The CW continues to think they can find something better than Supernatural, however, and puts that Aquaman show on at midseason (picking it up at the absolute last minute). It bombs, and this becomes the only night The CW carries over wholesale to 2007-08.

Fridays: I've never known anyone who was really in to wrestling. Actually, my sister was for a while. I had to TiVo it for her once. But I don't think we ever talked about it.
Predictions: And we never will.

Sundays: Here's another boneheaded move. Everybody Hates Chris is a show with BREAKOUT potential. Why are they putting it in, arguably, the worst time slot not on Saturday? And why put the whole African-American comedy bloc (or what's left of it) on Sunday night, when many of the potential viewers are in church? This is a DESPERATELY underserved minority on the television landscape. The money you make from the advertising to African-Americans could fund a WHOLE OTHER NIGHT just because there's no other reliable way to reach that demographic (well, CSI and Idol). This whole bloc is way too early. I bet the Model repeat is moved to the 7 p.m. slot posthaste. Does it score THAT well?
Predictions: Chris is the only comedy that sticks around. In 2007-08, The CW figures out a way to pair it with a Model repeat, which they manage to stretch to 2.5 hours.

So there you go! The Upfronts 2006! I'm working on finding this year's pilots, so I can tell you just how disappointing a great development season turned out to be!

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He's got rhythm. . .

From the start of SDD, I've wanted to make it a place to discuss things in culture other than television. Unfortunately, aside from the odd movie or book review, I just haven't had the time to do this.

So I'm going to be adding some other writers. You've met Positive Jon, who did an excellent job this week with the upfronts. Now, meet Daniel, who will be writing about music. He doesn't have a specified format, nor will I be heavily editing him or anything. Hopefully, he'll get two to three posts up per week, but we'll let him get settled first.

So if you like music, Daniel's the guy to talk to.

DANIEL.

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Who needs all ten of their toes or all two of their hands anyway?: Prison Break, season one

I feel as though I've written an inordinate amount about Prison Break, but I should probably review the season anyway. I stuck with it, even though I felt the show lost its way and dragged out the plot for a little too long towards the end there.

I hope to get the Best of TV survey up this weekend, but next weekend is probably a more realistic goal. I should be unburied from the stuff I have to do (already, I have to get the Fox and CW schedules up with predictions, the Scrubs review up and the Invasion review up -- not to mention the four additional show retrospectives bearing down on me).

Prison Break is a show that should get some points for sheer daring. Obviously, 24 sort of invented the "one story told over a season" genre, but Prison Break made that formula much, much more specific. You could now focus on one event sufficiently interesting enough to provide entertainment for a whole season (or more). May I suggest the next series of this type be called Haircut? And the networks were obviously noticing. Next season, every other series (seemingly) is a breakneck thriller. Most (if not all) of them will fail. But for now, Prison Break is the show everybody wants to be, which is odd, since it's not even THAT big of a hit.

As I've written before, Prison Break has two big things going for it: the presence of Wentworth Miller and the intricate nature of the break out story, where every episode put a new piece of the puzzle in place. It's going to be interesting to see if the show's writers can come up with a new way to put a puzzle together in season two when all of the characters are on the lam. Because without that, Wentworth's going to have a LOT of heavy lifting to do.

Without its star or unique structure, Prison Break would probably be forgettable. It, quite honestly, never met a cliche it didn't like. The characters talk in cliches. Many of the plots are cliched (someone's handcuffed to someone else? why not chop off their hand?). And essentially every hangup or plot snafu is of the, "HOW DO WE GET TO THE END OF ANOTHER HOUR?!" type.

Despite all of this, I really liked the show, especially the first half that aired before the long break. The second half got a little bogged down, mostly because the plan that Michael (Miller's character) put into place to break out was foiled by. . .a pipe. So he had to hatch a NEW plan, but the writers didn't have time to adequately explain this one, what with the government conspiracies and the prison politics and the near executions to write into every episode. So the second escape felt almost perfunctory, whereas the first one was extremely cool (Michael flooded a tunnel so he could swim through it and tie a rope to a grate! Cool!). When it came time for the final escape (which involved putting on costumes and shimmying over a pole), it felt almost perfunctory.

Now, the writers say they've got everything planned out. I'm sure they do. But they should have realized that when Michael said his backup plan was "suicide," we expected to see nothing less than Michael leading his band of merry prison-breakers through the fires of Hell itself. Shimmying over a pole? NOT the fires of Hell.

But, essentially, all of this is forgivable because this show has the courage of its convictions. It takes itself really, really seriously. I can't decide if that makes the show better or more laughable, but it makes it work as guilty pleasure either way.

This is not a series that should be winning Emmys. It's a show for when you've exhausted the better stuff on the TiVo and you just want to turn your brain off. But if you're a student of the medium, you could do worse to observe a format that's going to become very VERY popular in the years to come than watching Prison Break. Seeing how the writers broke the escape (especially that first, much cooler, escape) into tiny little pieces, tiny little jobs that Michael had to accomplish, will probably give you a better example of how to structure this sort of thing than just about anything else on right now.

I'm not sure how much of season 2 I'll watch. I'll certainly give it an extended shot (and it's not like there's a lot else in that time slot, barring the CBS comedies. . .or Wife Swap if you swing that way). It will be interesting to see if the show can maintain its momentum outside of the prison walls. I'm guessing no, but one never knows. No show has ever tried this huge of a concept shift in season two (Lost came close). It will be interesting to see if the fans follow or jump ship in droves.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Watching the ABC upfront

So I cobbled together most of the ABC upfront by finding the clips scattered about the Internets. And I liked what I saw. So let's compare notes, shall we?

--The only OUTRIGHT bust I saw was Big Day. The trailer was straining for amusement but never quite reaching it. Still, the cast is pretty great (Wendie Malick is able to sell just about anything), so I have to assume there are bigger laughs hiding in the actual pilot. Right? RIGHT?! Or maybe they all just signed on for the format: 24 as sitcom. Ah, well.

--William Shatner singing. There's something that never gets old. And introducing attractive men! Who all looked embarrassed! Except for Hurley! But that's to be expected.

--The next comedy introduced, In Case of Emergency, was actually a little dark, I thought. It seems very SERIOUS, which is cool for a sitcom, but I wonder if that will alienate viewers. It's not so much funny ha-ha as it is funny-stew-about-how-the-world-has-screwed-you-over. Which we all gotta do sometimes. It's amazing they didn't think this was a good fit with DANCING WITH THE STARS.

--Speaking of which, Stephen McPherson has charisma, baby. And, apparently, he can dance. As the head of ABC entertainment showed by dancing with one of the dancers from DWTS. He's a welcome tonic to the dry, dry, dry folk at NBC (whom I've only seen bits and pieces of).

--I don't remember which comedy was next, but for sake of my memory, let's say it was Ugly Betty. . .er. . .Betty the Ugly (I like the original title better). This looked kind of cute, if not like something I would watch week after week (it's the televised equivalent of a chick flick). One of the problems with putting TV for singles on Friday nights is that said programming tends to drive home just how UNattractive and ALL ALONE the singles are. Betty doesn't do that. America Ferrara brings a new type of woman to primetime, and it looks like she does the role justice. I didn't laugh, but I smiled.

--ABC seems a bit. . .embarrassed by the Desperate Housewives now. They were trotted out for a cursory wave at the end of the presentation, but even in ABC's montages, DH was sandwiched in between Lost and Grey's every time. DH was overexposed, and the quality fell off sharply in its second season. In that regard, it's remarkably similar to Friends (even if Friends' second season was much better quality-wise). I hope Marc Cherry can right the ship, even though I'm not watching anymore. I feel kind of bad for him. Even though I won't watch his show.

--Help Me, Help You finally got me to chuckle (under my breath). There's just something about an angry, angry man that is comic gold every time. And the gag about the suicidal guy landing on the boss who just fired him is timed well (if a little grim). Does ABC REALLY think dark humor is the future of sitcoms? Really? Still, it's got Ted Danson and Jane Kaczmarek.

--If DH is embarrassing McPherson, he's in LOVE with Grey's Anatomy. That show was everywhere, right down to the odd parody of the Super Bowl episode's shower scene.

--Let's Rob. . . finally found my funny bone. If the whole 30 minutes is as funny as this trailer, ABC has found its comedy hit. Smart lines, instantly recognizable characters. . .even a hilarious turn from Mick Jagger. I knew the creators of Ed would strike gold someday. And here it is. But about that title. . .let's change it.

--Everybody's thrilled about multiple platforms and the like. But the talk about watching TV on your cell phone, computer, etc. got really boring really quickly.

--Notes from the Underbelly could be another comedy hit for ABC. But it's in a terrible time slot. It's not the best show ever (you can tell), but it's got potential (you can tell) and some good actors. Plus, it's got an interesting point-of-view. Still. . .that horrible time slot? Let's hope ABC has an alternate plan for this one. Still, it's relatable.

--I know Jon thinks single-camera sitcoms will take off. But I think there are going to be too many of them. It won't matter if they're good. People will long for the reassuring sounds of the (sigh) laugh track.

--On to the dramas! I don't know (exactly) how The Nine is going to be a series. But the trailer was sure intriguing. And the cast is the definition of "full of TV all-stars." Which you could say for a lot of ABC's drama pilots. And the idea of turning post-traumatic stress disorder into a whole series, then teasing out exactly what the trauma was is one full of promise (the creator figured out how to follow up CSI with Without a Trace, so I think he knows what will go well with Lost). I'll be checking it out (of course, I check everything out).

--Smart move giving all of the advertisers the complete pilots for every show on DVD. It shows confidence, and it shows that you think your product is worth selling. ABC seemed proud of every one of these shows. The law of averages says many will stink, but we won't think about that just now.

--Brothers & Sisters looks too much like a cable show to make it on network, I'm afraid. It, too, has an all-star cast, but I think maybe it will be too dour to follow Housewives. Still, it looks like ALL OF THE CHARACTERS HAVE SECRETS, so maybe it will give everyone that feel of first-season Housewives.

--ABC has been really smart about splitting up its dramas this year. There are three action-oriented "for the guys" pilots and three soap-oriented "for the girls" pilots. And Six Degrees looks like it could be both.

--Next, Daybreak, and we're back to the action. Of the ABC drama pilots, this looked the least likely to succeed. The cast is amazing (again), and Taye Diggs is a VERY charismatic lead, but I just don't see a way to do Groundhog Day the series (even with extensive action) and not make it get boring after a while. And what happens in season two? He lives a different day over and over and over? Still, a good choice to fill in for Lost, even if I felt something else would have worked even better (it's coming).

--ABC seems to be returning all of its alternative series (the fancy name for reality shows). All of them work well enough I guess. I just think it's stupid abandoning Monday with the Wife Swap/Bachelor duo. Though I guess they have to have SOME night where they won't do promotion. Still, there's a definite theme. Nice things happening to people who deserve it. And stars dancing.

--Men in Trees is another series that looks cute enough, though it's another I probably won't watch. Anne Heche isn't all that bad now that she's no longer trying to channel Celestia, and the cast of men in Alaska is full of "Hey! I know that guy!"s. But, even though I like Alaska as a setting, I don't know who the audience is for this on Friday nights.

--ABC's new alternative series include a show where people in a bad spot sell their crap on eBay and learn just how much money their crap is worth. Also, there's a game show. I don't foresee that taking off. And a show where people do crazy stuff like extreme parallel parking. And they just picked up a hidden-camera show today. THAT I can see taking off. And. . .let's see. . .there's the country music awards? I zoned out during this part.

--Traveler is the show that should have stepped in for Lost (unless they're saving it to go before Lost at some point or something, though that might be too intense). This just looks like an insanely good time, seeing as its a mash-up of 24, Prison Break, The Fugitive and our fears about the War on Terror. Plus, it has Viola Davis. The cast for this one was a little under-the-radar, so I didn't pay it a lot of heed at first. After seeing the trailer, I'm definitely interested.

--Mary J. Blige turned up to sing U2's "One," which is something she's becoming known for, I guess. "One," a song about finding yourself through love for God and love for your neighbor (and the pain that both cause), was being used to sell advertisers on the idea of buying ad time on television. Fill in your own irony as you will.

--And, finally, J.J. Abrams rides in to save the day, as Six Degrees spreads its wings. ABC loves them some Abrams, and the man knows how to craft a pilot. This one (again) has an all-star cast, full of faces you'll recognize (and Hope Davis!). The premise (six strangers are connected, even though they don't know it) is one full of promise, even if it's also fraught with danger (in essence, the show is going to have to link together six mini-shows to pull this off). There was no dialogue in the trailer, but it looks handsomely shot. And Erika Christensen shows us her ta-tas.

--At the start of the presentation, a new device was introduced that was said to be a device that would revolutionize the world, that would connect us all. The device, of course, was a television, designed to drive home the point that TV can reach more eyeballs than anything else. And, I swear, NOTHING got a louder round of applause than that TV. Not Mary J. Blige. Not the new shows. Not even Jimmy Kimmel (who was funnier than I expected). It ACTUALLY TOOK William Shatner, a chorus line of beautiful girls, the creator of Desperate Housewives AND a parade of hunky, hunky men (all at once, mind you) to top the applause that television got. And the TV didn't even DO anything! It didn't sing or tap dance or anything!

--And at the end, they played "Midnight at the Oasis," and all was well.

More reviews coming up (Prison Break and Scrubs), plus farewells to Will & Grace and That '70s Show. Plus, I'll be introducing more new writers as the weeks roll on. So stick around.

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CBS: We Rock So Bad (Written by Jon)

How badly do they rock? So badly they only had to pick up four new shows for next season, with their biggest shift being the break-up of TV's biggest night, CBS Thursday. Yes, CBS took a risk. They appear to realize that Crime Procedural Fatigue (Hereby referred to as CPF) will probably begin its slow descent next fall, and of the three dramas they picked up, only one is crime-centered, and that takes place on the bad side of the law. The schedule:

MONDAY
8:00-8:30 PM HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (NT)
8:30-9:00 PM THE CLASS (N)
9:00-9:30 PM TWO AND A HALF MEN
9:30-10:00 PM THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE
10:00-11:00 PM CSI: MIAMI

TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM NCIS
9:00-10:00 PM THE UNIT
10:00-11:00 PM SMITH (N)

WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM JERICHO (N)
9:00-10:00 PM CRIMINAL MINDS
10:00-11:00 PM CSI: NY

THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM SURVIVOR
9:00-10:00 PM CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
10:00-11:00 PM SHARK (N)

FRIDAY
8:00-9:00 PM GHOST WHISPERER
9:00-10:00 PM CLOSE TO HOME
10:00-11:00 PM NUMB3RS

SATURDAY
8:00-9:00 PM CRIMETIME SATURDAY
9:00-10:00 PM CRIMETIME SATURDAY
10:00-11:00 PM 48 HOURS: MYSTERY

SUNDAY
7:00-8:00 PM 60 MINUTES
8:00-9:00 PM THE AMAZING RACE (NT)
9:00-10:00 PM COLD CASE (NT)
10:00-11:00 PM WITHOUT A TRACE (NT)

Monday: As the only night on all of television with a successful comedy block, it stayed that way with the only change being the absence of the aging King of Queens kicking off the night. Instead, sophomore sitcom How I Met Your Mother will take that slot, leading into new sitcom The Class, about a group of twentysomething friends that took third grade together. Otherwise, the night is the same way it was left off this season.
Predictions: HIMYM draws a young audience that could flow well into The Class, while the other three shows should probably stay the same, unless Charlie Sheen turns off more viewers with his off-screen antics and CPF takes over Miami.

Tuesday: Unexplainable hit NCIS remains at 8 for the old fogies and patriotic folk, while The Unit hopes to continue holding said old fogies and patriotic folk like it successfully did this midseason. CBS is then hoping said old fogies and patriotic folk can dip into their bad side with Smith, the only crime-themed new show on the schedule about a group of career criminals led by Ray Liotta.
Predictions: Dancing with the Stars could tap into the older audience that keeps NCIS afloat during Idol season, but it should still perform well along with The Unit. Smith will be tricky though. Are people willing to watch criminals get away with their crimes after two hours of successfully crime-solving and terrorist busting? It probably won't hold a lot of those shows' audience, but it could do well enough among 18-49ers (A group the first two shows lack in) to be considered a success.

Wednesday: Another night with a new drama that otherwise stays the same. Jericho is probably the biggest gamble CBS is taking this fall, as it has virtually no companion show (It's a dark genre show about a small Kansas town post-apocalypse), and will most certainly turn off CBS's main audience (Older people). Again, though, if younger audiences can find it, it could do well. This then leads into last season's oddest hit Criminal Minds and CSI: NY.
Predictions: CBS's main intent with Jericho seems to be to bring the young audience, and if it can do that in a big way, that'll be enough to please them. As for CM and NY, I think both'll suffer slight falls, as they are the kinds of procedurals that audiences will probably begin to suffer from CPF first, due to the shows' young age.

Thursday: TV's biggest night year-round (FOX Tuesday doesn't do too well with only House in the Fall) just got a shake-up. Fading Survivor and foresnics drama CSI remain where they are, but new drama Shark will air after CSI, which, judging by the description from CBS, sounds like House, Esq. (And the pilot is directed by Spike Lee!).
Predictions: Going into edition 13, Survivor is bound to go down again this season, but should remain dominant unless Fox moves Idol here, while CSI will take a hit from Grey's Anatomy and CPF, but should still stay on top among total viewers (an 18-49 win is unlikely though). How Shark will perform will be interesting to see. Lawyer shows aren't too hot right now (the only one currently on is the kooky Boston Legal), but medical dramas were hardly the thing when House premiered. I think it should still win the hour though simply from the power of CSI, unless Six Degrees hits it big airing out of Grey's.

Fridays: The only night on the schedule to stay the same. Ho hum.
Predictions: All three shows are successful in their own way and usually win the night, and I don't see that changing this season.

Saturdays: Oh right, this night too. Ho hum.
Predictions: Again, they usually win this night, and unless College Football breaks out on ABC, that won't change.

Sunday: After the old-old-faithful 60 Minutes at 7, its an all-new night. The Amazing Race hopes to cut into Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's audience with Edition 10 (heh), leading into Cold Case (A smart move, as the show usually did well there when Football pushed it back in the fall), and Without a Trace will finally see whether it has an audience on its own as it goes up against Football and Calista Flockhart.
Predictions: For the first half of the season, this schedule is usually pushed back by Football (Sometimes by as much as an hour), which could be rough for appointment TV like The Amazing Race and then completely mess up the next two hours. Post-Football though, things should get back on track.

Tomorrow: The CW finally releases its official schedule (Though pretty much everyone has probably pinned it down already), while Fox tries once again to show it can survive Pre-Idol (Ha!).

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A tale of three comedies


Oh Earl. When WILL you learn?

Last fall, the big story was that comedy was BACK in a BIG WAY, baby. Three shows looked to lead the charge: NBC's My Name Is Earl, UPN's Everybody Hates Chris and CBS' How I Met Your Mother.

Mother debuted respectably, Earl killed in the ratings, and Chris (for one week) beat NBC's Joey. Everybody got a full season. Everybody was happy.

I kept up with all three shows all season long, and I think they've all held their own. But they all offer vastly different approaches to what they're doing. It might be beneficial to look at them in comparison to one another.

Chris, I think, has been the most consistent. It has disappointed some people by not being as abrasive or confrontational as a Chris Rock routine, but the story of the young Chris Rock and his childhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant never erred from the path it set for itself. It was always intent on being a sweet show about coming of age and finding a safe haven in your family. The jokes, such as they were, were never scabrous, instead choosing to be more gentle and observational, like the kind of humor found on The Cosby Show or The Wonder Years.




And it was those two shows that Chris seemed most like. Its structure was roughly similar to Malcolm in the Middle, but none of its characters were over-the-top stereotypes like that show's characters. The family at the center of the show started out a little thinly drawn (here's an abrasive mother! and a caring father!), but the show slowly deepened them, showing the desperation and love beneath the mother's abrasiveness and just how worried the father was at all times about keeping his family above water. The two younger siblings of Chris, barely there in the pilot, were given B-stories, developing their rivalry and affection for each other. And the show even expanded the world of the hapless, nerdy Greg, Chris' only friend at the predominantly white junior high school he goes to. Greg's life with his single father was drawn in around the margins of the show, but it offered up pathos and gave a new view at a character who could have been pathetic.

Where the show most excelled, though, was at filling in the universe around Chris' family. The block Chris lives on was richly populated with recurring characters and locations and running gags. From the guys who just want to "hold a dollar" to the owner of the little store across the street, Everybody Hates Chris created a universe by going small, by finding the little details that add up to make a childhood.

Lord knows the show isn't the funniest thing on TV, and it has its problems, but I've stuck with Chris because it offers up a worldview full of heart and original comic perspective. There used to be a place on the schedule for smartly written, well-acted family sitcoms like this. It's somewhat ironic that it took Chris Rock to bring them back.

My Name Is Earl has also remained consistent, but, somehow, it hasn't held my interest, despite the fact that it's done virtually the same things as Chris, almost as well. The jokes are sharp, the characters are well-defined and well-played, and the universe of the show has been expanded by increments over the season.

So why don't I like it more?

I think my issues from Earl stem from the stakes of the show. The idea of a comedy chronicling one man's self-improvement is a good one. But Earl makes the decision to live his life a certain way one day, then never looks back. He doesnt doubt himself, he doesn't make more mistakes, he doesn't find it that difficult to follow the path Karma has set for him. And the money he won in the lottery offers him a safety net at all times. Whatever happens, you know Earl and his friends will learn a lesson and probably be better off for it. The relationships stay relatively static, all attempts by the show to change them to the contrary.

Earl is sharply written, and some of the gags are great. But it's a show about one guy who makes a big change, then applies that change to the rest of his life, instead of a guy who makes many smaller changes that eventually add up to one big one. I'm sure I'll stick with Earl, but it will never be an abiding passion of mine.


Finally, we come to How I Met Your Mother, easily the most uneven, most flawed, most improved and most interesting of the three. The will-they/won't-they stuff is both interesting and not interesting because we know that Ted and Robin aren't going to get together. This both begs the question of how these two crazy kids never got together AND the question of whether we care enough to watch them NOT make it as a couple.

But the ensemble here is, again, gold. At the start of the season, the writing was wildly erratic. For every joke that worked, there were five that didn't. But eventually, the staff found its way to episodes that were roughly one joke that worked, one joke that didn't. And that ratio continued to improve. The show also figured out how to use its central character. Where Ted was kind of a loser at the start of the season, they figured out how to make him both yearn for what he can't have and be proactive in going to get it. Ted felt more like a regular guy, and that allowed Josh Radnor to sink into the role.

And this show knows about stakes. While it's another show about well-off single white kids in the city, it's about well-off single white kids in the city who can't figure out how to get themselves on track. And, in some ways, the drama of the show is better than the comedy. The fight in the finale between Marshall and Lily was genuinely heartbreaking (not to mention that the idea of pausing a fight is the best idea ever). And the moment when Ted makes it rain was one of those goofly adorable sitcom moments that you can't help but enjoy (like a low-rent version of the scene where Jim confessed his love to Pam on The Office).

The characters on HIMYM grow. They change. They screw up big time. And that makes them more realistic, even if they're sometimes the mouthpieces for crappy, crappy jokes.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

That Big, Gutsy Move (And the Rest of ABC's Schedule)

Jon again, reporting on the ABC schedule and what is sure to be the biggest move of the season. Sorry for the lateness of the post; I thought I had posted but I guess I didn't.

I'm sure you've heard by now that, after months of speculation that rising hit Grey's Anatomy would be moving to Mondays (which seemed all but confirmed when Part 2 of the season finale aired this Monday), ABC pulls a whopper in what Todd rightfully calls "biggest, gutsiest scheduling move in at least six years," moving it instead to Thursdays in the face of CSI.

As for the rest of ABC's schedule (The rest of it has some pretty cool moves too, like moving Dancing to AI's pattern):

MONDAY:
8:00 p.m. "Wife Swap"
9:00 p.m. "The Bachelor"/"Supernanny"
10:00 p.m. "What About Brian"

TUESDAY:
8:00 p.m. "Dancing with the Stars" (new night)/"Set for the Rest of Your Life" (new alternative series)
9:00 p.m. "Let's Rob..." (new comedy series)
9:30 p.m. "Help Me Help You" (new comedy series)
10:00 p.m. "Boston Legal"

WEDNESDAY: 8:00 p.m."Dancing with the Stars" (new night)/"George Lopez"/"According to Jim" (new night)
9:00 p.m. "Lost"
10:00 p.m. "The Nine" (new drama series)

THURSDAY:
8:00 p.m. "Big Day" (new comedy series)
8:30 p.m. "Notes from the Underbelly" (new comedy series)
9:00 p.m. "Grey's Anatomy" (new night and time)
10:00 p.m. "Six Degrees" (new drama series)

FRIDAY:
8:00 p.m. "Betty the Ugly" (new comedy series)
9:00 p.m. "Men in Trees" (new drama series)
10:00 p.m. "20/20"

SATURDAY:
8:00 p.m. "ABC Saturday Night College Football"

SUNDAY:
7:00 p.m. "America's Funniest Home Videos"
8:00 p.m. "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"
9:00 p.m. "Desperate Housewives"
10:00 p.m. "Brothers & Sisters" (new drama series)

http://www.thefutoncritic.com/pr.aspx?id=20060516abc01

Onto the analysis and predictions:

Monday: I find it odd that, on the night that ABC had been saying they be working on next, they change absolutely nothing. And its not like the night actually worked or anything. Wife Swap did decently, but The Bachelor is about 5 seasons past its prime, and What About Brian? needs to move if it ever wants to grow.
Predictions: I don't see their results changing much. WAB? might increase a bit, but they're gonna need to shake it up if they want to be a player on this night.

Tuesday: Moving Dancing with the Stars into the AI pattern is an odd move, but a fairly good one. They also hope to have better luck with holding the audience with Mick Jagger (Let's Rob. . .) and Ted Danson (Help Me Help You). And as the ony thing that worked here this season, Boston Legal stays at 10. As for Set for the Rest of Your Life, its an interesting concept (People win a monthly payment for the rest of their life) hoping to catch onto the new game show craze started by Deal or no Deal. Considering nothing was ever able to build off of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'s fame, don't expect this to build off a much smaller success. Plus, it won't hold up in the face of Idol
Predictions: Pre-Idol, the 8p.m. timelsot is usually pretty calm (Minus the hit-nobody-can-explain NCIS), so Dancing should have an easy time winning the timeslot (. . .Rest of Your Life will have a much harder time). Let's Rob. . . and Help Me Help You will have a bigger uphill clime up against House, Kidnapped and The Unit, but with those all being dark, intense dramas, the two shows could grab the comedy audience that made My Name is Earl a hit here last fall. And Boston Legal should do same old, same old.

Wednesday: Someday. SOMEDAY, ABC will realize that Lost needs a DRAMA as a lead-in, not a sitcom or family/old-people oriented show. Still, Dancing with the Stars is a much better lead-in then Freddie ever was (According to Jim, however, will probably be worse). Airing after the reliable Lost is The Nine, about victims of a hostage situation, which should hopefully do a better job of holding Lost's audience then Invasion.
Predictions: So much for thinking The Biggest Loser had a chance here yesterday. Dancing should pull an easy victory here and give Lost a good lead-in. As for The Nine, I don't see it having the same "too boring!" complaints Invasion got this season. Plus, the same guy made Without a Trace, the show that finally caught CSI's audience.

Thursday: Here it is. The biggest, most unexpected move of the upfronts and arguably the biggest schedule move since CBS did their own Thursday bet with Survivor and CSI six eventful seasons ago: Rising hit Grey's Anatomy moves to Thursday at 9 in the face of CBS monster CSI (Not to mention the heavily hyped Studio 60). Whether or not it'll pay off will be fun to see, along with the effect on the rest of the schedule. As Todd says, whoever controls Thursdays, controls the week. This could be a turning point. . .or the show's death knell (Especially if enough fans feel the same way Todd did after the finale last night). As for the rest of the night, ABC is putting their best-tested sitcom (Notes from the Underbelly) and Drama (Six Degrees) here, showing that they're not relying entirely on Grey's to claim Thursdays.
Predictions: ABC hopes to combat the sometimes-rauchy NBC comedies with Big Day and Underbelly and could get a family audience for both, assuming they aren't raunchy. Grey's will probably become a close second to CSI, but it should easily top it among Adults 18-49. And with E.R. fading and the Crime Show waiting to come crashing down, Six Degrees could do very well there. Overall, this has now become the most crucial night for ABC and the one that everyone will be watching.

Friday: I don't quite get why ABC thinks two new dramedies can do well on Friday nights, but both tested well and seem like audience pleasers, so we shall wait and see.
Predictions: As I said above, both seem to be audience pleasers, so if they somehow find an audience, they could become a force.

Saturday: In ABC's second biggest upfronts shocker, their big plan to reclaim Saturdays is. . .College Football. Did ANYONE see that coming?
Predictions: Regular College Football doesn't usually get high ratings, but on a night where the only other choices are reruns, edited down movies and criminals being brought to justice, they could form a decent-sized, loyal audience here.

Sunday: Somehow, America's Funniest Home Videos remains on the schedule despite being about 5 seasons long in the tooth and being replaced half the time anyway by special two-hour Extreme Makeover: Home Editions. And Brothers and Sisters gets the role of Anatomy's successor after much spectulation.
Predictions: Even though it skews mostly female, Housewives should still feel the heat of Football for the first half of the season, especially if the show doesn't improve (something ABC will probably be working on over the summer). And Brothers and Sisters should do a decent enough job of holding DH's audience.

Overall, a pretty decent schedule with the right kind of risks (Unlike NBC), though it may be a bit. . .crazy? Definately the network to watch out for.

Tomorrow: CBS brags about its wonderful, flawless schedule (And maybe announces a couple changes).

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Hey! Where's my theme song?: Grey's Anatomy, season 2


Before we begin, take a moment to remember that weird little music box twinkle that the theme song was eventually reduced to before it disappeared entirely in favor of the menacing chords of doom we were introduced to in the two-part (three-episode) season finale.

There it is. Right there. Yeah. You remember it.

Anyway, thanks to the lack of a breakout new hit, the skyrocketing Grey's Anatomy (and the also skyrocketing House) turned into the big ratings stories of the year almost by default. It didn't hurt that Grey's overcame its first season false starts to find its true rhythm in its second year.

But that's not to say the show is perfect. Not by a long shot.

Grey's is a show I want to love. I really want to take it into my arms and hug the life out of it. Instead, I hold it at arm's length. I wasn't really sure why, either, until the season finale. So let's take a look at that show as an expression of the series and its problems as a whole.

I think the biggest problem with the show is one that most network series have: It burns through story too quickly. Obviously, this is the appeal of a network series at some level. It's fun to tune in and see plot twist after plot twist (preferably if you don't see those plot twists coming -- something Grey's specializes at). But at some point, you begin to sacrifice character realism for super-cool plot twists. And the process of how quickly you burn through story is getting faster and faster and faster. To the point where Grey's may have burned through all of the stories naturally suggested by its initial situations midway through season two.

In the finale, the character of Izzy does some ridiculously contrived things to keep a man she proclaims to love alive. Now, this man (Denny) is a fine character. But he's not someone we've become invested with. Plus, we haven't set up that Izzy is willing to do anything to land a guy. She, indeed, held off a guy who was pretty interested in her for some time. So what makes THIS guy special? The show is trying to force her into a relationship that seems, at best, contrived.

Also, look at the way they've turned Alex from agreeable rogue to agreeable rogue with a heart of gold to all-out villain to service the plot. The guy just went EVIL there for a while in a way that real people never do. And then, in the finale, when the show needed him to have that heart of gold again, he found it.

But this wouldn't be so bad if the stakes on the show were higher. As it is, the patients just aren't people we care about. They tend to be metaphors for the characters' interpersonal relationships, and that makes it hard to care about them as patients, when we know all they're going to be doing is exemplifying conflicts within the story. They're cannon fodder, in essence. Exceedingly well-cast cannon fodder. But cannon fodder nonetheless.

This lowers the stakes almost irreparably. At some point, the surgeries stop being interesting, and all we care about are the various soap opera pairings, which are eventually going to run out.

All of this might be acceptable, of course, were it not for the quirk. Quirk is a hard thing to master, but this show was doing a good job of it. At some point, though, (it may have been the apartment in the hospital) it all started to fall off the tightrope. The hospital prom in the finale may have actually been the last straw.

And I haven't even talked about the show's weird relationship to its female protagonists, wherein they are strong, beautiful, knowledgeable women who drop everything for a man. ER McBeal indeed.

Despite all of this, the show is darn addictive. It's just good TV storytelling at some level, and the actors make it all work.

I don't think Grey's is going to be one of those everlasting hits, but it's going to be fun while it lasts. The train may derail next season. It may derail three years from now. But eventually, this tightrope is going to get to be hard to walk.

But I'm along for the ride. Against my will, maybe. But along for the ride anyway.

Coming soon: Prison Break, season one; a tale of three comedies; and the two shows about guys who just want to stop being single.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Serendipity

It appears ABC managed to keep the biggest, gutsiest scheduling move in at least six years a complete secret from everyone. And I'm impressed.

But Jon can tell you more about that tomorrow morning. I know he was pretty impressed too.

Anyway. . .if anyone out there in readership land would like to read my latest script venture and comment on it (by being brutally honest), you know how to reach me.

Since our readership has gone through the roof again for upfronts week, I might as well link you all to the South Dakota Dark Index, which desperately needs updating but should still steer you true.

Anyway. To the post title.

Last night, while watching something the TiVo had randomly recorded, I made an offhanded remark about something I thought would be funny in a project of mine. Libby laughed, then stopped and said, "That would be a great episode of Family Guy."

And she was completely right.

I don't even LIKE Family Guy. But she was completely right. The idea was SO GOOD that I was literally shocked when I went through their episode listings to see exactly what they had done. . .and they hadn't done it!

Serendipity. It's a nice thing to have around sometimes.

Grey's Anatomy review coming up, just as soon as the TiVo finishes showing me the finale.

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An Introduction (And NBC's Wacky Schedule)

Hello, this would Be Positive Jon, the same guy that has helped Todd here put together his Very Early TV Schedule Predictions and his Summer Movie Preview (And delayed the final part with my inability to figure out how to predict critical reception). Seeing that he is unfortunately extra busy this week, he has asked to fill in and explain to you all just how the schedules for this fall are for the networks. We start with the flagging NBC, who hopes to reverse their fortunes without relying on Who Wants to be . . . er, Deal or no Deal. The fall schedule (And Sunday's Post-football line-up):

MONDAY
8-9 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
9-10 p.m. "HEROES"
10-11 p.m. "Medium"

TUESDAY
8-9 p.m. "FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS"
9-10 p.m. "KIDNAPPED"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

WEDNESDAY
8-9 p.m. "The Biggest Loser"
9-9:30 p.m. "20 GOOD YEARS"
9:30-10 p.m. "30 ROCK"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order"

THURSDAY
8-8:30 p.m. "My Name Is Earl" (new time)
8:30-9 p.m. "The Office" (new time)
9-10 p.m. "STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP"
10-11 p.m. "ER"/("THE BLACK DONNELLYS" in January 2007)

FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
9-10 p.m. "Las Vegas"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (new day and time)

SATURDAY
8-9 p.m. "Dateline Saturday"
9-11 p.m. Drama Series Encores

SUNDAY (Fall)
7-8 p.m. "FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA"
8-11 p.m. "SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL"

SUNDAY (Midseason)
8-9pm: "AMERICA'S GOT TALENT
9-10pm: The Apprentice (New day and time)
10-11pm: RAINES

My analysis, and predictions for how it'll work out:

Monday: Deal or No Deal was easily the highest rated show in this timeslot this season, so its probably smart to leave it here. And as Todd predicted, the family-targeted Heroes is being placed here to appeal to DonD's audience. Interesting that they also decide to keep Medium here (I guess it can appeal to families that can stand the creepy gore?).
Predictions: Unless DonD collapses by the end of the season (Which would hardly be a surprise), this night has the most potential to stay the same way for the whole season. All three shows should flow VERY well into one another.

Tuesday: NBC appears to be appealing to families in the Family Hour (Smart!), with Friday Night Lights being placed here. It could do well in the fall, but it'll need one hell of a fanbase to combat American Idol come midseason. And a don't think Kidnapped will hold up well up against House all season long. And as NBC's biggest scripted show, SVU stays were it belongs.
Predictions: FNL and Kidnapped should premiere well, but Kidnapped will probably drop off quickly, and as said above, and FNL will need to be something big to compete with AI. One good thing Kidnapped should be able to do though is give SVU a better lead-in then any of this season's sitcoms (Office, Scrubs, Teachers) ever were.

Wednesday: NBC drops Deal or no Deal for The Biggest Loser. The timeslot is pretty much dead Pre-Idol, so anything above 8 million viewers could be considered respectable. And combating Lost and Criminal Minds with comedies is probably the smartest thing NBC could do here (Last fall the networks made the mistake of airing all dramas in that timeslot). And Law and Order stays at 10. Shocker.
Predictions: The Biggest Loser slowly increased through both of its seasons, peaking at 16 million viewers for its second season finale, so unless one of the networks puts something big there, it should win the timeslot. And putting two new sitcoms together in the same timeslot isn't a very smart move, but both shows will probably find an audience made up of those that find psychopathic criminals and stranded castaways too grim. Law and Order will continue to thrive where its been for nearly two decades (Minus the odd move to 9 this season, but nevermind that).

Thursday: Huh. Well, I guess I should first congratulate NBC for taking a risk, something they haven't done in years. Right now though, it doesn't strikes me as the smartest one. Earl and Office are both big enough right now that they could both lead off one hour and be fine. And from the sounds of it, Studio 60 is going to be VERY alienating to regular audiences. Finally moving E.R. at midseason for THE BLACK DONNELLYS (Sure to be enjoyed by all Haggis-loving readers, and if you are one, don't tell Todd) . . . I don't think anyone saw THAT coming.
Predictions: By the end of this season, Earl had lost 40% of its premiere audience and fell below 10M viewers. Office, on the other hand, was level with its season average, and holding over 90% of Earl's Adults 18-49 (the demo NBC craves). If Office can find an audience over the summer, it could end up increasing out of Earl by November, Grey's Anatomy style (Minus the Super Bowl episode). And early test screenings are saying that audiences will find Studio 60 just too weird, so a high premiere and steep dropoff seems at hand. As for E.R. being replaced by The Black Donnellys. . .I'll be nice and let Todd take that one on. Overall, I'll be surprised if the E.R./TBD swap isn't the only change to this line-up come midseason.

Friday: Again, DonD is performing better then anything on Fridays (Though Numb3rs can sometimes do quite well), so no surprise they're keeping it here. Moving L&O:CI here though is very risky. SVU was Friday's biggest hit before it moved to Tuesday, but Trial by Jury died there.
Predictions: Like Mondays, unless DonD crashes before next May, this should stay strong. I think Criminal Intent is big enough to last the season here, but the high cost of the show could lead to its demise.

Saturday: Hey, Dateline! zzzzzzzzzzz
Predictions: Do you really care enough to know?

Sunday (Fall): Wait, Football? Didn't see THAT coming.
Predictions: Monday Night Football was pulling in an average of 16M viewers last season, and on a more Sports-friendly night, it could break 20M viewers, and help NBC top ABC in the fall. . .

Sunday (Midseason): . . .Before squandering it with this mediocre midseason line-up. Putting Apprentice up against DH is pretty much the final nail in the coffin (All together now: Yay!) Also, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition vs. America's Got Talent will be interesting to see, as both are family-aimed Reality shows (C'mon, we all know XM:HE will kill it). As for Jeff Goldblum's I See Dead People Drama. . .eh.
Predictions: Honestly, if any of these shows top 10M viewers, I will be very impressed.

Overall, there's plenty of stuff here that could work, but I don't see any major improvements. As Todd has said before, while NBC is hoping to be ABC in 2004, they'll probably end up being ABC in 2001.

Tomorrow: ABC tries to show that said '04-'05 season wasn't a fluke.

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So long farewell: The West Wing

You've got one more day to vote in the best-of-TV survey. I imagine I'll get the results up over next weekend, so if you send in a late ballot, I won't be upset.

The West Wing was probably always a show that was doomed to flame out spectacularly. And flame out it did (spectacularly), but while it was on, it was one of the finest dramas in TV history.

And after it was done flaming out, it pulled itself together and made itself into something serviceable. Not perfect or even particularly great, but a fine example of political drama.

But let's begin at the very beginning. The West Wing debuted in the fall of 1999 as Aaron Sorkin's new series. His first season of Sports Night had been a fine piece of work (and the second season of that much-lamented show was about to begin). So most critics were anticipating The West Wing (and most of them gave it favorable reviews). But what was most surprising was when the show debuted to surprisingly high ratings (in a tough time slot no less).

The show seemed to speak to a certain need that American television viewers didn't even know they had. They didn't want to be talked down to. They wanted stories about intelligent people, doing interesting and important work. They wanted TV that would engage them, educate them.

What was so great about The West Wing was that it was a dramatized civics lecture when it was on. There wasn't a political topic the show wouldn't tackle. Gerrymandering, filibusters and getting legislation passed were all grist for the mill. And this was stuff Americans hadn't had to think about since high school, so it made people sit up and pay attention. This was a show that not only felt important -- it WAS important.

But there was also a tension within the show. It was realistic, yet deliberately stagy. It wasn't afraid to dramatize the political process in a way that embraced verisimilitude, but it gave its characters impassioned monologues.

Eventually, these two warring impulses were going to split the show in two.

And they did.

The first two years of The West Wing are well-nigh perfect. There's a dull episode here or there, but Sorkin turned the workplace drama on its ear with vivid characters and gorgeous writing. The story arcs work as well, even if the emotional resolutions can be a bit tidy (Josh seemingly manages to work through his anxiety about being shot thanks to one extended therapy session). All in all, though, this was stellar television.

And it started to erode in season three. Part of this was because the romantic and realistic impulses at the show's heart started to war with each other. And part of this was because Aaron Sorkin began to traffic too heavily in a world of clearcut heroes and villains.

But a lot of it had to do with Sept. 11.

I hate arguments that say that Sept. 11 changed everything for the world of American culture. Because it didn't. Our culture is just as shallow as it ever was. To be sure, there are works of art that attempt to engage that event (and many of them succeed), but the event that was supposed to create the end of irony has seemingly drenched us in even more of it (the whole "earnest is good" movement has essentially netted us Lord of the Rings and Everwood).

So while Sept. 11 didn't change our culture as a whole, it DID change The West Wing. Suddenly, the show had to deal with terrorism to be realistic (one of its goals). But to deal with terrorism realistically, the characters had to stop being romantic idealists. Still, Sorkin continued to write them as romantic idealists. But there's nothing romantic about guerilla warfare (which is what a war on terror ends up being). So the whole show grew darker and darker and. . .

And Sorkin just couldn't keep up anymore. He was exhausting his bag of tricks. So he left (or was fired, depending on who you believe) at the end of season four.

And then the show really fell apart. Season five was its absolute nadir, a season full of writers trying to be Aaron Sorkin (which no one can do) and piling on contrived plot twist after contrived plot twist (though, to be honest, Sorkin had painted the writers into a corner with the fourth season cliffhanger).

For seasons six and seven, the show turned to the one thing that it hadn't yet explored in the world of politics: an election. And it stopped trying to be Sorkin's West Wing, settling instead on being a show very much like Sorkin's West Wing, but not quite to that level. The election storylines restored interest to the show, but it was clear that it could never be what it was.

But that's okay. We got two great years and some other good stuff out of the show. And it proved that romanticism can work on television, that idealism can be a believable philosophical basis for a show.

I just think sometimes of the show that could have been. And that's a show I would have reveled in.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

So long, farewell: Malcolm in the Middle


Life is unfair. So they say.

When I was in college, I tossed a job that could have made me immense amounts of money (selling textbooks in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood) to work in a summer theatre program for something like $2,000 (it hardly even bought me socks to last the summer).

But, somehow, that summer was some of the most sustained fun of my life (even if my acting credits amounted to 11 lines as a thankless character in The Sound of Music). I made friends there that are friends to this day, and some have become important business contacts.

And the parties! Nothing's more fun than a party where no one has any money!

All of this is a roundabout way of getting to the idea that when I first saw Malcolm in the Middle, I didn't think much of it. It was supposed to make me laugh out loud, but very few things ever do (even then). So when a friend of mine (who admitted he just started watching it because They Might Be Giants wrote the theme song) told me that he thought it was the best-written show on television (I was a Buffy patron at the time), picking up where The Simpsons had started to leave off, I thought he was a little nuts.

But then Malcolm plunged into its second season, which was, for me, one of the more finely sustained comedic seasons of recent years. This was the year with the famed bowling episode, which followed two different paths for the same night, and the episode where we flashed back to the births of all of the boys. Creator Linwood Boomer and his writers found a unique comic universe and expanded it easily, making it seem as though we would have years of fun to come.

And then the wheels went off the cart.

I don't know why the show couldn't ever find a season as good as that second one. It was never a perfect show. It was never the show I most wanted to watch. But when it was on, it was pretty darn funny. And its finest episodes stand easily with the finer episodes of some of the very most classic sitcoms.

I think, ultimately, Malcolm was pitched at a level that just couldn't be sustained. It was, in essence, a live-action cartoon. The humorous cutaways showed the heavy influence of The Simpsons on the scripts' structures. But the characters behaved at the level of cartoons as well. They tended to have a single, set objective (like how Bugs Bunny lived to make mischief, Reese lived to cause trouble), and that objective rarely varied. Because of this, the show never felt real, never felt lived in. It's hard to care about the emotional lives of such cartoon characters, ultimately.

Obviously (as evidenced by the flashback episode), Boomer and the writers were planning to deepen the characters on an emotional level, but Boomer got busy with other things, and that never happened. It's really too bad.

Still, the show was one of the most quietly innovative in the history of television. A growing majority of sitcoms on television are directly influenced by the surrealism and filming style of this show. Starting with Scrubs and continuing on to Arrested Development, the big, hip shows of today have family trees that have their roots in Malcolm in the Middle.

Even in its last episode, weak though it was, Malcolm was good for a few chuckles. It's just too bad that the show never made the fullest usage of its wonderful actors (particularly Frankie Muniz, Jane Kaczmarek and the criminally underused Bryan Cranston).

It's also too bad that the show, because of its slump, will never be remembered as being as influential as it ultimately was. It's STILL the most successful modern single-camera sitcom in the ratings. But its influence hasn't been recognized.

That's what a delayed sophomore slump will do to you.

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South Dakota New

Please welcome Positive Jon to the fold (better known as the "my friend Jon" I've frequently referenced in the past).

Many of you have written to me telling me that sometimes I talk about things you don't quite understand, since you don't know the business behind it. Hence, Jon's going to come on board and start putting up a little TV and entertainment news.

We'll see exactly what format he comes up with, but he'll be the one reporting the new fall lineups this week, since I'll be at work.

Please say hello in the comments section!

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Fall upfronts preview

The TV networks announce their fall schedules tomorrow. Recently, I virtually sat down with Jace from Televisionary and my friend Jon (who comes in at the VERY end) to discuss what's what.

Todd: First, let's see what I thought might happen a couple of months ago.

ABC
CBS
The CW
Fox
NBC

Obviously, a lot has changed. Vanished and Primary, two shows I wrote off for Fox, have both gotten pickups. Many of the things I THOUGHT might happen are moving closer to being realities (moving Grey's and ER, etc.). And the networks are REALLY going out of their way to pick stuff up early.

But let's stay away from the questions everyone is asking (Will Grey's move to Mondays?) and look at some bigger issues. I think I've found five that are going to be interesting to consider.

Now, what the hell is ABC going to do with Lost? It's clear this show has a solid fanbase still (which could probably get back up in the 18 million range), but the American Idol competition and the reruns (sigh) are hurting it as well. I thought they would try to develop a big hit to run as a companion with it this season to allow it to run straight through in season four, but they appear to be trying to fix the problem right away.

Three suggestions have been floated. a.) Run the show in three big chunks of eight episodes each, offering up big cliffhangers at every break. b.) Run the show in TWO big chunks, allowing a reality show or something (Masters of Science Fiction?) to run in the ten weeks or so in between. c.) Run the show straight through, either at the beginning or end of the TV season (the end makes more sense, since at the beginning, they would run in to Christmas). I'm guessing solution b. is what ends up happening, but it's really anybody's call.

Jace: I'd have to agree with you, Todd. I think that ABC has learned that reruns never bode well for a serialized drama like Lost and they might take a page out of FOX's playbook and schedule the series more or less like FOX does with 24. However, I can't see them holding onto one of their cash cows until January, so I'd have to predict that they split the show into two more or less equal parts, running the first half beginning in September/October (or even, God forbid, August) and then the second half in February in time for sweeps.

Of course, they could also take Lost out of American Idol's line of fire and push it back to its original Wednesdays at 8 pm timeslot, a move which might infuriate the show's slightly older audience. 8 was always a little too early for this series (I feel the same way about CBS' Amazing Race, which to me was always a 9 pm show).

Todd: Or they may cross their fingers and hope American Idol DOES move to Wednesdays and Thursdays. One would assume if AI's performance show were on Wednesdays, it would lead in to Bones, which would be much easier competition than the mothership itself.

The only problem with running the show in two separate chunks (which I agree would probably be the best way to do it) is that they have NOTHING to put in there in between. Still, Masters of Science Fiction would probably attract a similar audience, without having the detriment of featuring over-arching mythology. And I really think ABC's promo department is the best working right now. They should have ample opportunity to tease its return. And the big break worked (on a much more limited scale) for Prison Break. I don't see why TV's biggest pure-serial hit couldn't have a similar reception.

But IS Fox going to move American Idol?

House can credibly stand on its own. So Tuesdays may not NEED AI anymore. And the show is almost certainly going to see a slide in ratings in season six. So why not move it to Wednesday/Thursday, where more advertising revenue would be had anyway. PLUS, they can blame the slide in viewership on being on a more competitive night (Thursday), which would work out well for them. But it's still quite risky.

Jace: I don't see Fox doing something quite as daring as moving AI off of Tuesdays. This is, after all, the same network that is bringing back The O.C., despite critical and viewer backlash this season (and I have a feeling it will remain on Thursdays regardless) (since Jace wrote these words, Fox did, indeed, bring back The O.C.--TV). AI gives Fox stability on Tuesday (although, yes, House does seem to be standing on its own) and Wednesdays as well, with its results show. Moving AI now would be way too risky when they've seen that they have the competition on the run two nights already, even if viewing figures dip a little next season. As I said earlier, I think The O.C. will remain on Thursdays rather than risk running it into the ground even further... AI, I think, will stay put.

Todd: I agree The O.C. will be back. It shouldn't be, but if they get one more full season out of it, they'll have just over 90 episodes (thanks to the super-long first season), which should be enough for syndication and cable rerun dollars.

And I'm less sure Fox will move AI than I was back in March. They'll always hold it out there as a threat, but they'll probably just leave it where it is. And eventually, some brave network will take it on and figure out a way to beat it.

But for now, the singers stay put.

Speaking of things that are ridiculously popular (awkward segue), is CBS eventually just going to build a schedule so strong that they won't need to develop pilots?

Because, honestly, it's hard to find holes. And they're going to get to a place where a 9-10 million performer like How I Met Your Mother is going to be seen as something worth canceling. They've got exactly TWO weak spots (that lead-off hole on Wednesdays and the Sunday night movie). On the other hand, if next year is the year when crime procedurals slip in popularity, CBS is screwed (and we're seeing slight signs of that starting to happen).

Jace: I don't think CBS, or any network, can ever afford to stop developing pilots. Yes, How I Met Your Mother and (to a lesser extent) The Unit and Old Christine have performed well this season, but for every success story, there's a Courting Alex or Out of Practice as well. CBS has already announced that they are jettisoning the Sunday night movie, which frees up that night as well. While police procedurals might dip a little in popularity (hopefully), I think they are not going away quite yet, though all of them are starting to show signs of their age.

While CBS won't ever stop making or developing pilots, I do think we'll start to see them developing projects that could fly at either CBS or sister network the CW... as they are doing with comic book adaptation Ultra, which insiders say is being retooled for consideration at the CW. It's smart business. I think that CBS needs to be able to take some risks while redesigning their overall network image, which seems to be the network of police procedurals, some comedies, and Amazing Race and Survivor. It's time to really strive to develop a HOT, buzzed about drama that isn't your standard missing persons/forensics show.

Todd: I was (mostly) kidding about the pilot-free season. And I've been predicting fatigue with CBS-style crime shows for the last two years without seeing it truly, truly happen. For example, I really thought Criminal Minds would fail, but it attracted an audience, and that surprised me. And it looks as though they're not relying on crime drama pilots for next year, which is also smart (Jericho really looks interesting -- I have a great interest in apocalyptic scenarios).

I think it's a mistake to move Without a Trace. I know it could stand on its own, but it's not a show that's going to suddenly burst out into an even bigger hit like Grey's could do. It would make them competitive on Sundays, but at what cost?

And that's a damn good idea with The CW. Ultra always sounded like it might be more up that network's alley anyway.

Now, on to the two networks with bigger problems. ABC and NBC.

First, just what is ABC going to renew anyway?

Outside of their big six (Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Boston Legal, Dancing with the Stars, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), ABC is surprisingly weak. They're sort of in the position CBS was in a few years ago, when that network could see No. 1 was within reach, even though they had just come off a year when none of their shows clicked (Wolf Lake? though that show has fan fiction, I kid you not). CBS, of course, buckled down and found good companions for hits like CSI and Everybody Loves Raymond and made it all work. And I suspect, with the incredibly strong development slate it has, that ABC might do the same.

That said, they can't just renew six shows (one of which runs seasonally). They need to bring some middling stuff back so people have familiar faces to latch on to (this is why, awful ratings aside, I'll refuse to believe Commander-in-Chief is dead until it's dead).

They can go two directions, I think: critically acclaimed shows or shows that have all right ratings (and are close to syndication).

If they go with the former, they probably bring back some combination of Invasion (which has managed to move out in front of C-i-C simply by virtue of not losing ALL of its viewers), Sons & Daughters (which strikes me as being roughly similar to The Office -- a show that no one knew what to do with which could garner a cult following in a second season), What About Brian (to, I dunno, capitalize on the middling reviews for the pilot and keep J.J. Abrams happy) and Commander-in-Chief (which could still find its creative footing and bring back viewers -- I mean, it's got GEENA DAVIS). You could probably throw Crumbs in there somewhere too if you really wanted to.

If they go with shows that have middling ratings and/or are close to syndication, they'll re-up According to Jim, Hope & Faith and American Inventor (to pair with DwtS, I suppose).

I say they'll split the difference and take two from each category, which would leave plenty of room for their truly AWESOME slate of pilots, while not giving the impression that they're a network in chaos.

I'm sure you'll disagree.

Jace: I think that ABC has got to take a strong look at their current schedule but I agree that yes, they'll be bringing back some stuff that's middling rather than just chucking the lot. That said, I think that Commander in Chief and Sons & Daughters are going the way of all flesh and won't be back next season (sorry, Todd). Putting aside the huge ratings slide of Commander and the fact that the network has pulled the series from their May sweep sked -- instead burning off the remaining episodes next month -- I think that the behind-the-scenes shenanigans and regime changes that the series has faced in just its first season alone makes the show less than desirable for ABC. It definitely started out strong enough but has been hemorrhaging viewers from week to week. I can't see them bringing this back unless they shunt it over to Saturday nights, where they'll have a convenient excuse as to why viewership figures are so low.

As for Sons & Daughters, I really don't think it ever found an audience, even as a "cult" comedy. Add to that the fact that the show's consulting producer Wil Calhoun signed "a two-year, seven-figure overall deal with NBC Universal Television" yesterday to work on other shows... which leads me to believe that is a goner.

I do see ABC bringing back American Inventor and Invasion, though; both seem to have gained some notice from (limited) viewers, making it a good call to renew these over other choices. What About Brian? Unless ABC wants to be nice to sister unit Touchtone, I can't see them renewing this middle-off-the-road series, even to make nice to J.J. Abrams. Unless, of course, they shunt this over to a random night of the week. Saturday, anyone?

As for According to Jim and Hope and Faith? I foresee them returning... though not Less than Perfect. Which could be a description of ABC's schedule as a whole...

Todd: I'm sorry I left the impression I really liked C-i-C (I thought it was pretty mediocre). Sons & Daughters, of course, is dear to my heart, but I'm completely aware there's about an 80% chance it won't be back (what with Gillian Vigman signing on to My Ex-Life and the Calhoun deal and. . .). I do agree that Invasion will be back, thanks to the "lucky break" that it lost all of its viewers early on, rather than later, like C-i-C did. And you're probably right about Jim and Hope. Though, oddly enough, I could see Hope coming back and not Jim. It's close enough to syndication that another season would probably push it up over the hill (one of the things ABC used to do is renew shows with low ratings but high episode counts for limited seasons to get them to syndication -- Hangin' With Mr. Cooper is a good example).

Your comments about Saturday are interesting. Somebody's going to try to develop that night sometime in the next few years. I'm wondering who it will be? ABC does seem like a good bet.

And they don't need Brian to appease J.J. They can always pick up Six Degrees, which looks rather likely.

(A few days after we had this discussion, ABC picked up According to Jim, What About Brian and The George Lopez Show. They got rid of Sons & Daughters, and it seemed they were ditching Invasion too, though Warner Brothers, the studio that produces Invasion, was trying to work out a last minute deal. -- TV)

Finally, NBC. Just how many stupid moves will they make?

Will they turn Deal or No Deal into a nightly show? Will they continue to stick with The Apprentice? Will they somehow squander the great, built-in audience they have from football? Or are they truly ready to shake things up? The Thursday comedies move was a good one, but will Jeff Zucker let Kevin Reilly do the crazy stuff NBC needs to do to keep from slipping even farther? And where will Scrubs end up? NBC or ABC?

Jace: Of course, NBC will continue to make any number of idiotic moves as we move into next season! That's their modus operandi. (And, yes, I foresee a scary proliferation of Deal or No Deal on the schedule as the fill in any slots with this inane game show.) NBC needs to take some serious risks and shake up their entire schedule. (Which in picking up Crossing Jordan, ER, Las Vegas, all three Law & Orders, Medium, Earl, The Office doesn't leave much room.) I think that the pilots they've ordered this far have at least been a step in the right direction.

Vanished has the potential to become a must-see serialized drama and Studio 60 has the pedigree of Aaron Sorkin and a top-flight cast. I also see them ordering Heroes for next season in an attempt to find their own Lost. Yes, The Apprentice will be back next season with an LA-based cycle... which will probably sound the death knell for the once-mighty franchise. I think that NBC will probably move My Name is Earl and The Office to Thursdays at 8 with Scrubs at 9 and then either the Untitled Tina Fey Project or Andy Barker P.I. at 9:30, in an attempt to regain traction on Thursdays and reestablish the night as a must-see comedy block on NBC. Will it be successful? Will it be enough? Only time will tell...

Todd: I've had this Thursday schedule penciled in for NBC since Andy Barker was announced: The Office/Scrubs/Earl/Andy Barker/Studio 60. Until it doesn't happen, I'll believe in it.

I think NBC thinks Heroes will be their Lost, but I don't see a place for them to put it where it could break out. More likely, it will be their Alias: A critically acclaimed cult hit that never quite gets to breakout hit status.

The signing of Jason Katims to be the showrunner for Friday Night Lights gives me hope for that show (I thought the movie was one of the most underrated American films in recent years).

But they've renewed too much damn stuff. They should have ditched Apprentice and at least one L&O and probably Crossing Jordan. They're going to end up in the same situation next year that they were in this year, and they'll over-expose Deal or No Deal to compensate.

Ah well. Such is life under Zucker.

(After this discussion, NBC picked up Andy Barker for a six-episode midseason run. In addition, it picked up Friday Night Lights and Heroes, as well as Tina Fey. -- TV)

One other issue: Which of these four will make The CW: Everwood, One Tree Hill, Supernatural or Veronica Mars?

Jace: For the love of God, I really hope that Veronica Mars makes into onto the CW's schedule. I have a feeling it will, given its cult status and ethnically-diverse cast, which is a prerequisite handed down by CW prez Dawn Ostroff. I have a feeling that we'll be back in Neptune next season...

Todd: After last night's finale, if Veronica Mars doesn't come back, I will bite my pillow. It deserves a third season where it runs when it's supposed to run without sports preemptions after a show that's a better lead-in (Gilmore is perfect). If it's still doing poorly after that, I will completely understand if it's canceled. But this show is just breathtaking right now, and I can't wait to see what they do in a college setting.

Paradoxically, I think it's the most likely of the four I listed to be renewed, even though it's the lowest-rated of the four. And Everwood, the highest-rated of the four, is probably in the most trouble (the fact that it's not a WB or Paramount production AND the fact that it must be pretty expensive to shoot in Utah are dooming it, I think). Really, though, all I want to see is the cancellation of One Tree Hill. I've never understood that show's appeal.

After a few days, we had this addendum discussion.

Todd: What "type" of show is going to be the next breakout hit? I say traditional sitcom or lawyer drama. I'm sure some of you will disagree.

Jon: Single Camera sitcoms I think will go over the edge this fall. I think Earl has at least given people the appetite for them, and they do the best among 18-49ers.

Todd: I'm. . .skeptical, to say the least, but you already know that. Still, it could happen. I'm keeping an eye on 20 Good Years, a deliberately classicist show with actors people know and writers who've been in the comedy game for a long time. It will probably suck.

Which pilots intrigue you most? Which do you have absolutely no interest in?

Jon:
The Andy Richter pilot sounds very promising, so I can't wait to see that. And the final result of Studio 60 will be intriguing to see. Otherwise, not too much has sparked major interest.

As for my thoughts, you guys have covered a lot of ground, though there IS the matter of what ABC does about DWTS. The current rumor is that it starts up in Sept. 13 (Thats a Wednesday) and then goes back to Thursday/Friday. It was a major success on both nights, but it didn't leave much of a mark afterwards. Yeah, Survivor is at a series low, but that has hardly helped the night. And everyone has forgotten about Crumbs and In Justice. Obviously they need something that appeals to old folks and the whole family (Something neither of those two shows did). What pilots do they have right now that can do that?

Todd: I think Ted Danson could do that. Or maybe the pregnant couple show.

And a few days after that, I tried to come up with a plausible new schedule for NBC, using what we know now.

Todd: Sunday:
7:00 p.m. EDT/6:00 p.m. CDT: Football Night America (I can't remember the name)
8/9: Football

On the West Coast, a variety of Law & Order reruns will be shown after the game.

Monday:
8: Deal or No Deal
9: Heroes
10: The Black Donnellys

A solid night of television all around. Deal or No Deal's family audience should flow nicely into Heroes, and the parents can stick around for Black Donnellys.

Tuesday:
8: Scrubs
8:30: The Singles Table
9: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
10: Law & Order: SVU

A solid line-up. Should appeal to young comedy fans for the first two hours..

Wednesday:
8: Deal or No Deal
9: Kidnapped
10: Law & Order

They say they're not going to run Deal three nights a week next year, but I don't believe them. This being NBC, they'll also try to combat a serial hit (Lost) with another serial. Dumb.

Thursday:
8: My Name Is Earl
8:30: 20 Good Years
9: The Office
9:30: Untitled Tina Fey Project
10: ER

Not moving ER is dumb. But that lineup otherwise is super solid, provided they don't just KEEP calling it the Untitled Tina Fey Project.

Friday:
8: Deal or No Deal
9: Las Vegas
10: Medium

Again, pretty solid.

Raines holds for an opening at midseaon. Friday Night Lights, L&O: Criminal Intent and Crossing Jordan hold for the Sunday night midseason lineup. Andy Barker: PI slips in to the Thursday night lineup at midseason somewhere. NBC picks up at least two more comedies for midseason (Community Service, I would bet). The Apprentice returns at midseason as well (probably stepping in for one of the Deal or No Deals).

Of course, this CAN'T be real because I haven't put Dateline in anywhere yet, and you KNOW that'll be back.

Deal or No Deal overexposure aside, this would be the best NBC schedule in years.

(And since I wrote this, NBC looked likely to move Friday Night Lights to fall.)

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