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for March 21, 2005

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On Auditioning New TV Shows...
By TeeCee

As a confessed and unapologetic heavy TV viewer, I know what spring means, and it has nothing to do with love or baseball steroids - it's premiere time for the very bottom of the barrel of mid-season replacements. This is usually the stuff that either wasn't ready or stunk so bad even to network execs that it couldn't premiere at the normal time in September and couldn't even be thrown together into any desirable shape in time for January. To be fair, not every spring premiere is necessarily the dregs - I'm actually looking forward to American version of "The Office" and have promised to bite my tongue if the words "But it's not as good as the British one" try to pop out.
At each premiere season it's kind of fun to try and predict what shows will make it and what shows won't - especially if you've lost the NCAA grid and Oscar picks to your husband and need something besides who in your family will get divorced and/or knocked up next to bet on as a way to try and save face. I've made a few observations about how each network treats their new shows and how they react if the show doesn't instantly score high ratings.

  • ABC: Advertise it until people are sick of it before it even premieres. Be shocked when ratings are low and assume that means the show needs retooling and advertised some more. Have you seen the ads for John Stamos' new show or that medical intern thing? No? Then can I get directions to the cave you're living in? Before "Jake in Progress" and "Grey's Anatomy" it was an ad flurry for "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." Unfortunately those programs did pretty well so ABC assumes advertising ad nauseum is the way to go. But did you know that "Jake in Progress" started as a comic version of "24" and evolved into "Sex and the City Dudes"? It's enough to make one think that the original premise of "Desperate Housewives" was "chick that was in Superman falls down a lot" and "Lost" was "Jurassic Park meets 'Survivor' in the 'Twilight Zone.'" One of my favorites, "Alias" has had its storyline revamped as many times as Sydney has changed clothes. ABC hasn't quite managed to kill it yet, but they have it down and I'm sure their execs are standing by with baseball bats in case it tries to move again.
  • Fox: Cancel, cancel, cancel. Believe it or not, Fox has had some great ideas for original shows in recent years but they tend to vanish faster than people at a party when the Pictionary set comes out. I can just hear the Fox board meeting now, "Hmm, we tried this teenage-male-oriented show at 9 p.m. on Friday night but the ratings just aren't there. I can't figure it out. We'll give it one try at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and if that doesn't work cancel it." Or maybe I'm being too hard on Fox because I'm still mad at them for canceling "Firefly"...and "A Minute with Stan Hooper"...and "Wonderfalls." Those were all great shows - and all canceled halfway through the third episode and replaced with rip-offs of the other network's reality shows or yet another night of "American Idol."
  • CBS: Cancel, cancel, cancel but... CBS takes a different spin on the cancel, cancel, cancel rule - save all of the location shots from the canceled shows to use for an upcoming version of CSI (i.e., "CSI: Bunch of Trees Somewhere in South Carolina"). Another CBS trick to boost ratings is best described as inbreeding - take the most annoying and controversial people from former shows and put them on current shows. Thus we get "Survivor's" Rob & Amber and some lady from a past "Big Brother" running "The Amazing Race." I'm honestly expecting Dan Rather to show up any day now either on "Survivor," Maxine's thousandth boyfriend on "Judging Amy," or Illinois' new forward in the NCAA men's tournament.
  • NBC: Keep changing what night and time it is on so even the people who star in it and their mothers can't find it to watch it. In NBC's favor, they did this with "Seinfeld" and that basically turned out OK - 12 years ago. The last NBC show I tried to watch was "Whoopi" but it kept going from never on, to twice in the same week, to twice in the same night, to "Who in the hell is Whoopi? We've never heard of her. Here, watch some 'Law & Order' it's a take on the Scott Peterson case - again." Two years ago NBC did borrow Fox's philosophy and cancel "Coupling" midway through the second episode, which by all accounts was a mercy killing that saved millions from unnecessary suffering.
  • WB and UPN: Dude, help me read these ratings. Is three people watching more than zero? Then leave it on, we have a hit! It's fun picking on the new kids...
Of course, while the networks are trying out new shows, so are the news channels. CNN seems particularly concerned about their ratings and is making sweeping changes like ditching the usual Headline News format and running an hour of entertainment news in prime time. From what I've heard that's working out pretty well for them ratings-wise but I think it's just a matter of time before we gets another Oakland Raiders/Heidi moment in the trivia games. "What former news station missed the meteor wiping out life on Earth due to an exclusive J-Lo interview?"
Another change at CNN that I'm not sure is very wise is that now they tend to label major news as a "Developing Story." That's it? On Fox you get an "Alert" and on MSNBC it's "FlashNews" but for CNN it's just "developing" like a kid in puberty or a roll of film at the lab. For an alert or a flash, you cancel your plans for the day and practice saying "Holy crap, look at that!" For a "developing story" you tell them to make a pot of coffee and call you when something really happens. What if they called sports games like that? "It appears we have a developing touchdown. We'll contact three or four other sources then get back to you. But first, our 150th report on what Michael Jackson is wearing today."
So make sure to audition a few of the mid-season replacements. You wouldn't want to be the only one around the watercooler that doesn't get the 2005 equivalent of "Cop Rock" jokes. But be warned, if it's on Fox, don't get too attached. That way lies heartache - and having to spend good money to buy the DVD boxed set to see the unaired episodes of "Wonderfalls."


©2005 TeeCee

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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