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The Wine-Dark Mind of Warren Littlefield

Puckish NBC Programming Chief Warren Littlefield went before TeeVee's dignitaries in New York City last Monday, dropped his pants, wagged his private parts in their general direction, and danced a jig.

Well, maybe he didn't dance. In fact, what Littlefield did was almost as appalling. His two-and-a-half-hour presentation of NBC's Fall line-up) to ad buyers and the press at Lincoln Center was a regular smarmarama: ugly and self-indulgent. But this is nothing unusual for the Peacock Network. Littlefield's real sin was not one of style, but substance.

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
Littlefield is playing Dr. Frankenstein to yet another schedule monstrosity. Of the eight new shows in NBC's fall line-up, there is not a single original idea or interesting premise. Like Frankenstein, it's a series of cadavers sewn together to resemble a creature with a divine spark.

There he stood, stinking drunk with power, boasting of the "stability, maturity and experience" of NBC's "veteran organization," which helps "manage success." "We have seen what has happened to the Number One network when they've played it safe," Littlefield crowed, "and we have been that network."

Have been?

There's not a little irony in NBC's decision to unveil its Fall primetime lineup a week before the premiere of "The Odyssey," the network's last, great TV movie event of the season. At first blush, however, the similarities might appear a bit elusive. One has to do with a proud, powerful man consumed by arrogance who taunts the gods and pays a terrible price. The other is just a fairy tale about some guy who takes a really long boat ride and fights monsters and stuff.

The Greeks have a word for Littlefield's particular affliction: hubris. It is the stuff tragedies are made of.

Only sheer hubris can explain why Littlefield is giving Tony Danza another chance. Danza is a man who has played himself for the last 15 years. He hasn't had a hit in five seasons. And yet he is allowed to have his own show again.

Only hubris could account for the decision to schedule a show about a woman who hawks "marital aids" in the much-coveted post-Seinfeld slot. Rumor has it that Must-See Thursdays will be renamed Thursday Night Voyeur-rama

Only hubris could conceive "Working Women Night," (what some Madison Avenue geniuses are calling "Must-She" TV). The plan is to pit four low-rated, mediocre "gender-oriented" sitcoms against Monday Night Football.

Only hubris could justify why America's Number One Network is extending Jenny McCarthy's fifteen minutes of fame to 24 minutes a week.

Littlefield has long been a burr in the saddle of all right-thinking TeeVee connoisseurs--a top programmer largely by default, reaping the benefits of his competitors' incompetence, a handful of franchise shows, and plain dumb luck. Too arrogant to realize the banality of most of his programming decisions or too stupid to tell the difference, Littlefield has befouled the highway and byways of TeeVee with more toxic waste than a Superfund site. And like many a good sociopath, he will return to kill again.

That is, unless someone takes a stand by building a case against Littlefield, spelling out his transgressions sin by odious sin, using NBC's upcoming fall schedule as a blueprint to map out this mad programmer's crimes against Nature and Nature's God. And since Marcia Clark is busy promoting her new book, "How I Turned An Embarrassing Loss in a Slam Dunk Murder Case Into Fame, Fortune, and Personal Glory," it's up to us to make the case.

The charges in the case of the People vs. Warren Littlefield could well be infinite, but we've narrowed down to just six counts:

FIRST OFFENSE: Giving Shows to Tired Old Retreads

Want to take a stroll down memory lane? Try this: Tony Danza stars in a show about a loveable working-class lunk of a single father named Tony, raising a precocious daughter.

No, it's not 1984 and we're not talking about Who's the Boss? Nor is it 1995, with the advent of the late, unlamented Hudson Street. Rather, NBC is bringing back Danza, TV's bad rash, in yet another sitcom about a loveable working-class lunk of a single parent--the creatively-titled Tony Danza Show. (Wednesdays, 8:00-8:30 p.m.)

This marks the fourth series in which the multi-talented Danza is being asked to stretch his acting abilities to their fullest by playing a palooka named Tony. The twist this time is that, instead of one smart-alecky daughter to raise, Tony is being saddled with two. Or, as they say in the business, we're in for twice the parental hijinks.

All of this begs the question, if Tony Danza is such a huge TV star, why is he so unemployed so much?

The same can be said for the other tried but untrue TV "stars" to whom Littlefield is handing the keys to the Must See store. Kirstie Alley, who since Cheers went off the air has spent most of her time making silly made-for-TeeVee movies and getting fat, returns to Thursday nights as the "Queen of Romance" who retails in "marital aids"--a pleasant way of saying she operates a catalogue peddling sex manuals, aphrodisiacs, and crotchless undergarments. In a case of life imitating art, Alley begins Veronica's Closet) (Thursdays, 9:30-10 p.m.) fresh off her divorce form one-time Hardy Boy Parker Stevenson.

NBC is billing Alley's show as an "edgy" comedy, which must explain why we're grinding our teeth at the very thought of it.

Littlefield has also thawed out Fred Savage's career from the deep-freeze to star in a creatively titled workplace sitcom called Working). This name was chosen because "Workplace Sitcom" doesn't quite roll off the tongue.

By the way, the Fred Savage returning this Fall on Working is not the tousle-haired, doe-eyed imp who first charmed America as Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years, but rather as thickly-set, pimply-faced punk fresh from a sexual-harassment lawsuit.

Jenny McCarthy has never had a failed network TeeVee show of her own, but the large-breasted MTV vixen his been so relentlessly overexposed that she might as well have. Maybe that's why Littlefield tapped her to star in the once-again creatively titled Jenny, (Sundays, 8:30-9 p.m.) sacrificing the one-time Singled-Out co-host to the cruel bitch-goddess that consumed fellow former MTV luminaries Dan Cortese and Martha Quinn.

Poor, stupid Jenny McCarthy. If only she had never let her manager-boyfriend and the greedheads at MTV convince her she could carry her own show. If only she could have gotten a grip on the ceaseless mugging, the nose-picking, and that disgusting arm-pit sniffing in front of every camera she encountered. If only the fickle American public could have held off the backlash for just a little while longer.

Ah, yes, if only. Because then the fiends in programming would have discovered too late that she was nothing more than a talentless hack with great snoobs. Then her show would have had a comfortable Thursday night position, probably the coveted 9:30 slot, and she could have basked in the undeservedly high ratings enjoyed previously by Lea Thompson and Brooke Shields. Then she could have fulfilled her destiny as "the Lucille Ball of the 1990s." Then she could have had it all.

But once Jenny was exposed (or over-exposed, as it were) for the inept, no-talent fraud that she is, the network's weaselly programming chief was faced with one heavy dilemma: Jenny's snoobs or Kirstie's crotchless panties? We now know the answer. And we can say confidently that, whatever his flaws, Warren Littlefield is a man of sound principle.

SECOND OFFENSE: Insulting Propaganda

Bad enough that Littlefield and his merry band of NBC pranksters have churned out another schedule replete with staid, offensively blasé sitcoms. He then compounds the transgression by releasing boastful, preening press releases about the new fall season through NBC's publicity department, henceforth known as the Ministry of Information.

In another life, Littlefield would have made a dandy Soviet bureaucrat, issuing glowing statements about grain production and tank movements and Yuri Andropov's upper respiratory tract. "The People rejoice in another glorious victory for Mother Russia," Comrade Littlefieldski might have crowed. "Ignorance is Strength."

But instead, Littlefield is an NBC executive, and we have to wade through the pack of lies contained in his Ministry of Information's communiques, like this one for the thrice-damned Tony Danza Show:

"Tony DiMeo (Danza) misses the old days. The days when he could bang out his sports column on a noisy typewriter. The days when athletes were role models, not millionaires. The days when kids always listened to their parents. Well, two out of three."

(We miss the old days, too. You know, when shows were funny.)

"These days, Tony has an assistant, computer-whiz Carmen, to get his column e-mailed successfully to his editor. And sports -- well, it seems no one cares about the game anymore. Plus, Tony's raising moody Tina (16) and hypochondriac Mickey (13) on his own since his wife took the 'job of a lifetime' and moved out of state. It's a challenging life, to say the least."

(Not as challenging as writing this dreck and still mustering the strength to look at yourself in the mirror every morning, one imagines.)

"More often than not, Tony's overwhelmed by all the women in his life - it's hard to be a man's man when he's surrounded by estrogen." (It goes down easier in tablet form.)

"But despite Tina's tantrums, Mickey's illnesses, and Tony's frequent technological breakdowns, the DiMeo family is never short on love. When Tony feels like it's bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and he's at bat with two strikes, he just looks at his DiMeo team in the dugout and knows everything will work out fine."

(Almost everything. If the show lasts six weeks, it will be a miracle. Either that, or Danza must have photos of Littlefield committing unspeakable acts with children or barnyard animals.)

THIRD OFFENSE: Inexplicable Renewals

A good friend of ours--we won't name any names, so as not to affect his upcoming employment with the U.S. Department of Justice--vowed that if Fired Up, the incomprehensibly unwatchable sitcom starring a scenery-chewing Sharon Lawrence, were to return to the airwaves for a second season, he would take to the streets, naked, waving a machete.

All we can say is, if you see a naked, machete-wielding federal prosecutor running past your house, let us know. He owes us money.

That's because Fired Up did make the fall schedule--cobbled together with the insipid Caroline in the City, the well-meaning but ultimately tepid Naked Truth, and the simply abominable Suddenly Susan. The four lackluster sitcoms have been merged into one night to lure female viewers away from Monday Night Football and CBS' Big Comedy Monday--Littlefield's theory apparently being that women like crap.

Men Behaving Badly, The Pretender, Profiler--these are more bad shows that star bad people who do bad things. Yet they all return in spite of the fact that authorities have yet to track down a single person who has actually watched them.

To his credit, Littlefield euthanized some very mangy mutts: Something So Right, Mr. Rhodes, Boston Common, Chicago Sons, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, the ill-starred Dark Skies, and that most rabid of curs, The Single Guy.

Some of Warren's defenders may argue that such decisions mitigate his crimes -- that he deserves a little mercy. Unfortunately, mercy is a virtue we are sorely lacking. Indeed, since it was Littlefield's bright idea to put all of this offal on the air in the first place, all that cancelling these shows qualifies him for is a crunchy beating.

FOURTH OFFENSE: Scheduling Musical Chairs

Looking for NewsRadio? It's on Wednesdays right now, moving to Tuesdays in the fall--the show's fourth time-slot in three seasons. Hoping to catch the new episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun? Seek help. But if you manage to make it to a TV on Sunday's at 8:00 p.m., you're going to be disappointed. John Lithgow's ceaseless mugging is moving to Wednesdays.


Littlefield and his sniveling crew of yes-men believe that the way to America's heart is through its funny bone--which apparently is located somewhere in the region of the genitals. NBC is lousy with comedies next fall--18 in all. Of the eight "new" shows, six are said to be comedies, each more detestable--and derivative--than the last.

Besides the aforementioned Danza, Alley, Savage, and McCarthy vehicles, NBC will inflict us with the ironically-named Built to Last, (Wednesdays, 8:30-9 p.m.) an uplifting ethnic comedy starring Royale Watkins, a stand-up comic unknown to most Americans, as an Ivy-league grad who gives up a potentially lucrative career in Corporate America to take over the family business after his old man has a heart attack; and Union Square), (Thursdays, 8:30-9 p.m.) a Cheers rip-off set in a Manhattan diner starring Mel Gorham as a would-be actress ("a Latina Lucille Ball" according to the Ministry of Information--shudder) and a supporting cast of wacky characters who get into wacky scrapes week after tedious week.

If these shows don't sound bad enough, recent history bodes badly for them. NBC hasn't had a truly hit sitcom in the two years since 3rd Rock premiered. Everything else has either sucked, bit, or blown. We have little reason to believe these will be any different.

This is about as bad as it gets.


Or almost as bad. When we took a look at the two new dramas on the schedule, all we could do was shake our heads. In our wildest comedic flights, we could not conceive such farces.

Players) (Fridays, 8:00-9 p.m.) is The Mod Squad for the hip-hop set starring Ice-T of "Cop Killer" fame as... well, a cop. Actually, he's an ex-con turned special agent for the FBI in what the NBC publicity flacks call a "laugh-out-loud action-adventure."

Week in and week out, "Ice" and his "crew" take "the unusual cases, ones that buttoned-down Bureau agents just can't handle. But their authority goes only so far: If they don't follow orders, they've got one-way tickets back to jail." More like a one-way ticked to cancellation. And the sooner the better.

Dark Skies died so that Sleepwalkers) (Saturdays, 9-10 p.m.) might live. This show tries to answer the burning question, where do you go when you sleep? The scientists of the "Morpheus Institute" know. They have found a way to jump in and out of people's dreams. "This journey into the dream world combines the action and suspense of never knowing when reality ends and begins, and provides viewers a thrilling assault on all senses." Yeah, sure, whatever. Call it Dreamscape: The Series. We won't lose any sleep when this one goes the way of its predecessor, though we invite the producers to convince us otherwise.

All told, it's not a pretty picture for America's Number One Network or the man who programs it. It's been a long time since a network has made such a diminutive offering. And we cannot help but tremble for NBC when we reflect that the TeeVee gods are just, and their justice cannot sleep forever. Two-thousand years ago, Homer wondered what could be "so tedious as a twice-told tale"? What, indeed, Mr. Littlefield? What, indeed.

Additional contributions to this article by: Ben Boychuk, Philip Michaels.


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