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Eye on Bronson

The eye blinked. I saw it. It happened while CBS Entertainment President Les Moonves was announcing his network's new fall schedule. Moonves had just declared that the Friday 8:30 p.m. slot would be filled by Meego, a sitcom starring Bronson Pinchot as an alien who crashes his spaceship and takes up with Joe America. Boom! Just like that, the parachute-sized CBS eye hanging on the wall did an open and shut. Even inanimate objects can't believe Bronson Pinchot has a TV show again.

NBC: The Wine-Dark Mind of Warren Littlefield
Fox: Crazy Like a Rupert
ABC: Tarses and Feathered
CBS: Eye on Bronson
UPN and WB: New Kids on the Schlock
Poor dumb Les Moonves. CBS announced its fall 1997 primetime schedule Thursday, and when all the free butter rolls were gone, one question stuck in everyone's mind: "Did I hear right? Judd Hirsch is returning as Delvecchio?" Alas, no. America's favorite Jew is returning, all right, but with Bob Newhart in a sitcom titled George & Leo; Danny Aiello assumes the role of Delvecchio, though this time around, they're calling him Dellaventura. Sadly, the news about Bronson Pinchot was not similarly confused.

Here, for those of you with more important useless information to retain, is a brief recap of the whole, ugly Pinchot rap sheet: The future Pepsi pitchman first appeared in "Risky Business" (or as others call it, "The High Point of My Career: The Rebecca DeMornay Story") as Barry, Tom Cruise's useless codpiece of a friend. Shortly thereafter, The Man Called Bronson made a small splash in "Beverly Hills Cop" as Serge, the espresso-fetching manservant with the thick accent. Thus began a career built around kooky voices. Next, he of the jarring proboscis starred in Perfect Strangers, a sitcom that not only marked the first of many successful sorties for the evil Miller-Boyett production group, but also the source from which Family Matters would eventually spin off. Yes, that's right: we have Bronson Pinchot to thank for eight, going on nine, years of that confounded Urkel. Bronnie then followed Perfect Strangers with the utterly forgettable "Beverly Hills Cop 3," a turn in "True Romance" as a coke-sniffing movie lackey, and the short-lived sitcom The Trouble With Larry. You remember Larry: Pinchot played a fun-loving layabout thought to be dead who moves in with his one-time fiancé and her new beau. CBS aired three episodes before blasting all traces of the production into outer space so future generations would have no idea what we had done. Then last year, some turkey exhumed Pinchot's rotting career, plunked him in the insipid Step By Step as yet another eightball with a goofy accent, and now we have Meego to look forward to. People have died for fewer crimes.

I know what you're thinking: aren't I being just a wee bit harsh on poor Balki Bartokomous and his little sitcom? How bad can it be?

You tell me.

From the same creative cysts who brought us Full House, Family Matters, and Step By Step, Meego co-stars bespectacled, spiky-haired urchin Jonathan Lipnicki of "Jerry Maguire" fame as Pinchot's comedic foil (did we learn nothing from the Macauley Caulkin experiment?); and Mr. Planet himself, Ed Begley Jr., as the single father-slash-voice of reason. And here's CBS's pitch: "Intending to stay only until his spaceship can be repaired, Meego becomes emotionally attached to the kids, moves in and reveals an out-of-this-world knack for child-rearing on the Planet Earth." Maybe it's me, but this show seems to take "alien nanny" to a whole new level.

Still, in all fairness, not all is wrong in the land of air conditioners. To its credit, CBS's 1997 schedule includes two intriguing new entries--which, for those of you keeping score at home, is two more than the three other major networks managed to muster, combined. Brooklyn South, from producer Steven Bochco, zeroes in on the lives of Brooklyn patrol cops. The show breaks no new ground (it's Hill Street Blues with a city or NYPD Blue: Downstairs), but the fact is, when the cops ain't singing, nobody knows the police drama better than Steven Bochco. True, Bochco's last two efforts, the moronic Public Morals and the tedious Murder One, spun horribly out of control. But this time he's crawling back to the gals who brung him. NYPD Blue executive producer David Milch also produces here, and the cast includes NYPD Blue alums Michael DeLuise, Titus Welliver, and Yancy Butler; Hill Street Blues alum James B. Sikking; and Jon Tenney, whom Teri Hatcher stalkers know as her lesser half. Bochco's taunting the gods by including a "Congo" link (Dylan Walsh), but all in all, this is TV's best bet for next season's breakthrough hit.

The second interesting new entry also comes with an NYPD Blue tie. David Caruso stars in Michael Hayes as an "idealistic" ex-cop turned federal prosecutor. Caruso has a lot to make up for (among other things, "Jade" which violated three different U.N. agreements), but he's still the best thing NYPD Blue had going for it, and--provided we don't have to see his pasty, white ass--he's a delight to watch. Even more interesting is the production team. It includes Caruso and Nicholas Pileggi, the author behind "Goodfellas" and "Casino."

But if you're looking for fun and games, that's where the party ends. The past few years have left CBS a lot to atone for (need I dredge up Central Park West? Can't Hurry Love? Bless This House?), and frankly, Les and the Kids aren't much in the way of grovelers. Oh sure, CBS is the number two network, and despite Warren Littlefield's communiques to the contrary, it's making a serious run at number one. But what does that mean? Take a look around. NBC, which last year still funded The John Larroquette Show, just renewed all four of this year's horrific new Thursday night shows and, in a Foxworthy-esque bit of programming savvy, now plans to place them all on the same night to boot. Last Monday, ABC purchased a sitcom starring Kevin Nealon, the stiff who single-handedly almost brought down a 20-year programming empire. And Fox -- Fox has a show starring Chachi! Finishing first among TV networks is like Motley Crue selling more records than Winger.

Where, pray tell, has CBS gone wrong? Start with the precocious moppets. Not since curly-haired popsicle Ashley Johnson went from Growing Pains to Phenom to All-American Girl to the Marie Osmond revival project Maybe This Time has TV seen such an invasion of whippersnappers. First there's Lipnicki. Then there's the lagging Cosby, which plans to increase its cast by one. Apparently the theory is, if an unbearably cute tyke with a hyphenated name (Raven-Symone) can juice the ratings once, then, damn it, an unbearably cute tyke oughta be able to juice 'em again. No word on who will play the five-year- old yin to Bill Cosby's yang, but may I suggest that devilish "Smart Guy"? Last we have The Gregory Hines Show, airing Fridays at 9 p.m. Hines is Ben Stevenson, a widower raising a 12-year old son on his own while trying "to resume a social life." Remarkably, Hines finds that he has as much to learn about women as his son . . . . Aw hell, I don't have the energy. Plug in your own cliches and figure it out. Family Matters and Step By Step, both hijacked from ABC's TGIF roster, round out the new Friday lineup, before CBS closes with that child-oriented hootenanny, Nash Bridges.

Or how about some bizarre scheduling maneuvers? Suppose you're a programming executive (I know, I know, you don't have the ties; play along anyway). Against all odds, you have a hit show called The Nanny that leads off Wednesday nights and a new newsmagazine starring a journalist, Bryant Gumbel, whom you just paid obscene amounts of money to lure to your network. You also have two other shows--Murphy Brown, Chicago Hope--that, as we speak, are wheezing towards the finish line, dehydrated, blistered, delusional (Hope is so loony that it thinks repeated, snide references to ER are cute). Do you (a) keep the first two shows far away from the second two, to avoid dragging the entire night into a sticky bog; (b) schedule all four together and, as a bonus, contemplate tossing in a laugh-out-loud storyline where Candice Bergin's Murphy Brown deals with... breast cancer! Whoo hoo! What a kneeslapper!; or (c) resign, since anybody who renews Murphy Brown and Chicago Hope should be selling shoes, not programming networks? The correct answer is (c), but we'll accept (a). If you answered (b), well... Hi, Les!

Or maybe you just like to be confused. If so, you've come to the right place. With George & Leo, CBS has perhaps the single-most convoluted sitcom premise in the history of time. See if you can follow along (there will be a test at the end): Judd Hirsch is Leo, "small-time hoodlum." Recently Leo "fled Vegas with some of the mob's money." Big mistake. Bob Newhart is George, just plain George. He has a son (no name) who's about to marry Leo's daughter (also no name). George's son wants to do something nice for Leo's daughter, so he brings long-lost Leo (that's Hirsch) back into the family. Of course, with Leo on the lam from organized crime, "it's a major problem for the future wife." And how. Somehow it's "a problem for George, too," with the result that, out of this mess, George (Newhart) and Leo (Hirsch) become George & Leo, "an incredibly mismatched pair of in-laws." Now here's the test: who plays Lou?

The return of TV's Delvecchio should not be confused with the debut of TV's Dellaventura. In the former, Judd Hirsch (George... er, Leo) played LAPD Detective Dominick Delvecchio, a stubborn, dogged investigator who fought crime with the help of his able assistant, Shonski. Delvecchio has nothing to do with Dellaventura, in which big Italian lug Danny Aiello plays Anthony Dellaventura, veteran police detective turned private investigator. Like the decidedly non-Italian Ice-T in NBC's Players, Aiello's Dellaventura -- "aided by his team of renegade former cops and con artists" -- takes "the kinds of cases the police can't or won't handle." (In the legal biz, these are known as "cases that have no merit.") CBS refused comment on why it revived The Equalizer as an Italian, but according to rumor, it has something to do with Mario Puzo's "The Last Don."

Then again, maybe it has something to do with Bronson Pinchot. Frankly, I think the Pinchot fiasco threw the entire network for a loop. After that, the suits were just scrambling to keep up, plugging every open timeslot with whatever was available before someone like Willie Aames ended up on the fall schedule. Does it matter? Probably not. Good TV shows are few and far between, and every year only a couple new shows, at most, make the grade. The rest are just claptrap designed to suck in what viewers they can. If you're smart, you know how to sidestep these land mines. Me, I once stepped on Walker, Texas Ranger. Ouch, what pain.


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