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Race to the Bottom

Television is an ugly business. And producing a star-driven sitcom is probably the ugliest job that business could ever produce. Did you create the characters and the show that transformed an overweight comedienne whose entire comedy routine was based on whinily complaining about your husband into a TV star? Too bad, Matt Williams -- now that Roseanne's got her power, you aren't worth your weight in pennies. And you, Chuck Lorre, you had the gall to create what we considered impossible to create: a genuinely funny, raunchy, and intelligent sitcom that brought Cybill Shepherd back from the world of the has-beens and turned her into the next Murphy Brown. Thanks for playing, Chuck, but you're no longer needed. Because in the age-old struggle between star and creative personality, the star always wins.

Fortunately for everyone involved with Fox's Pauly, they won't have to worry about any of this. There will be no creative differences between Pauly Shore and his show's producers. You see, that would require that there's actually some creativity involved in Pauly. And there is none.

Pauly is, to put it bluntly, to the '90s what Don Adams' supermarket epic Check It Out was to the '80s. It's the nadir of a decade's worth of television, a low point that we can't hope to match for another ten years, not even if The Adam Sandler Show appears on The WB's Fall 1999 schedule.

What more can you say about Pauly? Not one line of dialogue rings true. One character is a high-heeled, big-breasted floozy with a heart of gold; another is a snide-yet-spunky Asian maid; and another is a suited businessman who spouts lines like "Well, honey, I've got to get back to the office so I can buy three luxury hotels!" Oh, and another character is Pauly Shore.

When the man who brought us "Bio-Dome" is one of the more realistic characters in a show, you know you've got trouble.

Okay, I'll admit it: picking on Pauly is easy. It was obviously going to be a terrible show, from the moment it was announced. From the moment it was conceived. Hell, from the moment Pauly Shore himself was conceived.

So is Pauly at fault for this debacle? Of course not. The people at fault are the idiots at Fox, the network that seems to be setting out to prove that it really doesn't belong with the big boys, ten years after Fox launched its attempt to be the Fourth Network, sort of the television equivalent of applying to be the night manager at the Dairy Queen.

Witness the wasteland that is Fox. Its oldest show is the first show it ever aired, Married... With Children, a parody of the sickly-sweet Cosby Show that has become a parody of a parody of a parody of itself. Oh, plus boob jokes.

Two of its most famous dramas, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place prove that you can't kill the likes of Joan Collins and Larry Hagman, not even with a wooden stake. One of its comedies, Living Single, features Tootie from The Facts of Life, for Christ's sake.

As for the good shows on Fox, well, let's consider them accidents. The X Files only made it on the schedule because Fox thought it was a fictionalized Alien Autopsy, The Simpsons thrived because of the "Eat My Shorts!" factor, and the quite funny King of the Hill probably survives because it comes from the man who brought us Beavis and Butt-head, or maybe because an entire episode covered the topic of constipation. In other words, Fox is trying to be bad, but not every show can be Pauly.

In the other corner is the "We're Bad!" network, also annoyingly known as The Dubba-Dubba-WB. This is a network that doesn't even show much evidence of trying anything. This weblet has brought us the video toe jam known as Kirk, a show (Happily Ever After) that managed to make Married... With Children appear almost respectable, and dare I even begin explaining the horror of Savannah?

The "We Blow!" network has suddenly brought us, purely by accident, a show based on a movie starring Luke Perry. A show based on a movie with a terrible title. A show featuring a group of attractive teenagers, set in a high school. One of the stars? Charisma Carpenter, who simply lit up the screen in the wonderful Aaron Spelling video product Malibu Shores.

It's hard to count just how many ways Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be horrendous. And so it's only fair to single its creators and producers out and tell them they've sneaked on one of the most fun shows I've seen this year.

Buffy is a mixture of Clueless and The X Files that manages to be silly and smart at the same time. Sure, it's campy and goofy and not to be taken as serious drama. (But given that Serious Drama these days all too often seems to come wearing the smock of Chicago Hope and its ilk, that's a blessing.) It's -- if this can possibly be true -- smart dumb fun.

Buffy also impresses me on the TV-is-insidious level: Buffy is a smart, tough high school girl who doesn't need to rely on men or boys to take care of things. She's the superhero, and she's accepted that it's her responsibility to kick undead ass. It's a refreshing development.

So three cheers for the "Why Bother!" network, for unwittingly providing TV viewers with something worth watching. But don't let the quality of Buffy get you down, WB: if you keep on trying, maybe you can reach the depths of Fox by the time your tenth anniversary rolls around.


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