We watch... so you don't have to.

New Kids on the Schlock

Here at TeeVee, we've been wading hip-deep in mail about our recent Fall TV preview which alerted you to the war, famine, pestilence and death that will be galloping their way to an idiot box near you this September, courtesy the guys and gals at ABC, CBS, NBC and the multiply-damned Fox.

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
(Actually, we've gotten precious little mail, certainly not enough to wade hip-deep in, unless, of course, our hips were only a few centimeters off the ground... But our therapist suggests it would be could for our self-confidence to pretend we're body-surfing in a sea of mail, and who are we to argue?)

And, to a man, every single one of you that's written to us has demanded, "Hey, TeeVee guys, what gives? Why go through all the trouble of writing a side-splitting but informative Fall preview if you're going to turn your back on The WB and UPN? What, are you too good to watch those channels?"

Well, frankly, yes we are. We have many interesting hobbies and several good books we've been meaning to get to and enough self-respect still remaining to avoid The WB and UPN like the bastard stepchildren networks that they are.

But one man without shame is our own TeeVee junior intern Stephane Miller, who volunteered to crawl on her belly through miles of muck to the netherworld of The WB and UPN so that she might bring us back precious morsels of infotainment.

So we let her. Better Stephane than us, after all.

I'm not ashamed to admit it. The few seconds of Moesha and Goode Behavior that I've accidentally watched since The WB and UPN burst forth upon the TeeVee firmament added plenty to my enjoyment of life. I had to know more. After all, if that sassy Moesha could light up my life -- even for the briefest of nanoseconds -- so, too, might the new offerings from these two pint-sized networks.

Lord, how I was wrong...

That devil-spawn and hellish freak brother of entertainment -- the UPN sitcom -- sets its fearsome sites upon hapless American viewers again this Fall in four new variants. First up is Good News, produced by one-time bastion of quality, MTM Productions. You've come a long way, Mary.

This new series offers "gospel music with a spunky R&B flair," bringing to mind childhood nightmares of Nell Carter cavorting in a tent-size choir robe. Sadly, the ample star of Gimme a Break does not lend her rotund charm to this series, which stars no one you've ever heard of -- or indeed, anyone you'd want to hear of -- unless you paid rapt attention to the end credits of the Wayans Brothers opus "Don't be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the 'Hood." Apparently, without Bob Newhart or even the sainted Mary Tyler Moore to plop in a sitcom, the MTM empire is in danger of becoming another Miller-Boyett, those beloved sitcom barons who spawned Urkel.

And with Good News joining the ranks of Soul Man, Seventh Heaven and numerous other programs focusing on the clergy, let us pray on behalf of the whole TeeVee congregation that the era of the preacher-com will soon pass. One remake of Amen is more than enough.

Also on UPN's schedule is big brother ABC's sitcom hand-me-downs -- a TeeVee remake of the popular film Clueless. The program will still feature teenage debs run amok in madcap merriment -- but without the main ingredient of the film, luscious actress Alicia Silverstone of Aerosmith video fame.

We'll see if this series lasts longer than it did on ABC now that it's swimming in the decidedly less demanding waters of the programming-hungry UPN, increasingly desperate to become something other than the All Star Trek-All The Time network.

Amidst this backwater of has-beens and never-wases lies the career revival of Andrew Dice Clay in the new series Hitz, where he plays a tough record-company mogul, the boss of two sitcom-land nobodies. Perhaps UPN is interested in starting a residential 12-step program for recovering hacks. (Hey, now _there's_ a sitcom idea.)

In its press release touting Hitz, UPN suggests that if we'd like to see the impressive body of work that led the Diceman to UPN, we should consult the fine film "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane" -- perhaps Wayne Newton's finest big screen appearance. Of course, a more telling sign of Clay's ability to carry a sitcom can be found watching the remnants of his first foray into sitcom land, CBS' detestable Bless this House. That is, if CBS hasn't already destroyed the evidence.

The final brand spankin' new UPN sitcom is Head Over Heels, the story of "two quarrelsome young brothers" who run a video dating service. Could someone please call the sitcom idea machine repairman? I think someone turned the 'wacky premise' dial up too high.

In mid-season replacement news, the grotesquely overexposed Whoopi Goldberg will star as the voice of an animatronic puppet in the upcoming show Ruby. Is it too late to equip that V-chip with a C-chip that filters out crap?

Lest you think the UPN has some sort of monopoly on sitcoms featuring talentless hacks, The WB presents The Tom Show, featuring America's favorite hanger-on, Tom Arnold. The plot of Arnold's third attempt at prime time sans Roseanne concerns a father trying to restart his career after a divorce from his talk-show hostess wife. In either a case of life imitating art or a desperate plea for help, Roseanne will soon be returning to TV... with her own talk show. Hmm.

The other new additions to The WB aren't nearly as interesting. And when Tom Arnold's the most interesting thing on your schedule...

Ocean Drive features an ensemble cast doing something, I neither know nor care what. Dawson's Creek is billed as a "coming of age drama" set near Boston. As a Bostonian, I doubt that it will be at all realistic. The idea of watching teenaged boys with thick New Englander accents spit and discuss sports for a whole hour, even with commercials, is probably too much for Middle America to bear. And Three, a new series from MTV Productions (the fiends who brought you Jenny McCarthy) aims to provide a poor man's "Sneakers" for WB viewers.

That's it for the fall lineups. No moments of levity courtesy Goode News, Star Trek: Mrs. Columbo or even the aforementioned Moesha. Just a lot of blood, sweat, toil and tears. I myself plan to avoid them like the plague. Come fall, I'll be in my student hovel snacking on King Dons and Mountain Dew as I watch reruns of Barney Miller, Cannon and Matlock. Thank God for syndication.


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