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Death Becomes Them: The 1997 Fall Season Dead Pool

There's a seminal moment in "Stand By Me" -- one of the good movies Rob Reiner made before he went off his nuts and started churning out drek like "The American President" and "North" -- where the late River Phoenix gathers together with his pals Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman and the fat kid whose name I can't recall right now. And River, framed by a tight close-up on his still youthful mug, looks them all right in the eye and utters a line that has stayed with me to this day.

"Hey," River says. "You wanna go see a dead body?"

And thus begins a pretty solid coming-of-age movie where life's lessons are learned, heart-strings are tugged, and numerous 1950s rock songs are played. The fact that the movie centers around a group of impressionable youngsters going to gawk at a corpse is of little moral consequence. Hell, if you or I found ourselves tagging along with River and Wil and Corey and the fat kid, we'd be joining along in an a cappella rendition of the Chordettes' "Lollipop Man" too, as happy as a bunch of clams.

And I think that brings up an important point -- we're a culture that gets a kick out of the dead.

There's something about the stink of death that attracts us all -- the more sudden and unexpected the demise, the better. Elvis, Jim Morrison, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe. All icons of various degrees of talent. All dead before their times. My good friend Pete Ko, who lived three years just down the street from the Murder Scene of the Century, couldn't walk a block without being accosted by some passerby demanding to know the directions to where O.J. Simpson eviscerated his wife and a total stranger. And who among us doesn't slow down whenever we pass a roadside collision... even when the collision's on the other side of the road and we have to crane our necks to see? It's the same blood lust that those "Red Asphalt" movies back in driver's training class failed to sate.

The more introspective of us may reflect on how there but for the grace of God go we. Others are just hoping to catch a glimpse of the chalk outlines. But the point remains, we like big, bloody, Dukakis-sized demises.

So it is with TV.

Each fall for the past several years, a group of us have gathered to pick the new fall TV shows we believe will be the first to buried up to their necks in sand by vengeful network executives and left behind to die in the unforgiving desert of our pop culture memories. The walkways of the boneyard are littered with the tattered remains of past victims... E.A.R.T.H. Force, South of Sunset and last year's runt of the litter Lush Life. And now, with the four major networks set to unveil nearly 30 new shows in the coming weeks, it's a safe bet that the ranks of the quickly forgotten TV shows are about to swell. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in "Fistful of Dollars," you'd better get some more coffins ready...

It may seem cruel to the uninitiated, this gathering together to heap scorn and abuse on the labor of others, especially when they're going to be getting those pink slips in the mail within a few months anyhow. After all, Gil Gerard probably poured his love and dedication into both of those episodes of E.A.R.T.H. Force that CBS saw fit to air before yanking the life support system cord out of its socket. And South of Sunset may have been Glenn Frey's last shot at showing Don Henley just who the must talented Eagle was. And Lori Petty... well, she could have one or two good qualities as well that makes it wrong for us to piss on the rapidly cooling corpse of Lush Life.

But we don't think so.

After all, only a handful of shows -- Cheers, M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues -- ever come along to hold a steady and meaningful place in our cultural firmament, and only a handful more are enjoyable enough to give viewers a warm feeling inside. The mass of shows lead lives of quiet mediocrity -- Wings, say -- teetering creatively adrift from birth to death until they slip the surly bonds of Earth unlamented and unmissed.

But every now and again, a true stinker comes along that remains in our minds, if not necessarily on our TV sets, because of its indisputable awfulness, its affront to the sensibilities of all right thinking men. South of Sunset didn't just fail... it was personally canceled by then-CBS owner Larry Tisch the moment the end credits of the series premiere faded from the screen. Dudley Moore may have stopped being of interest to anyone shortly after "Micki & Maude" was released in the early '80s, but few of us will forget the sight of him falling all over himself in the short-lived Daddy's Girls. And when Charlie Grace was put to sleep a few years ago, there was also much rejoicing... until we realized that the cancellation didn't also apply to Mark Harmon's career.

These show are all bad -- memorably so. And if you're going to be bad, why not be the best at what you do?

Fine, you may be saying to yourself as you make a mental note to remove this page from your bookmarks, but how does this apply to me? You all get to make your little picks of which shows are going to be canceled and have your little fun. But me... I just get to sit here like a doof, while you have all the yuks.

Which is why, dear reader, this year the contest is being opened up to you.

That's right! You'll be able to enter the TeeVee dead pool, picking the three shows you believe are going to feel the unflinching grasp of death in short order. And if you're right, you'll be showered with valuable cash prizes!

Or at least prizes of some sort. We aren't all Rockefellers around here.

The Rules

Pick the first three shows you think are going to get canceled, ranking them in that order. E-mail them to us at teevee@teevee.org,teevee@teevee.org. And keep tuning into to TeeVee for Cancellation Updates!

If you correctly pick the first show to be canceled, you get three points. Pick the second show correctly, you receive two points. And if your third place show goes third, you get one point. If one of your three shows is among the first canceled but not in the order you picked, you get half a point.

A cancellation is when a show is removed from a network's schedule, never to be seen by beast or man again. This should not be confused with a show being put on hiatus, when it is yanked by network executives to be aired at a later date. A hiatus is not a cancellation -- you will receive no points for picking a show that's placed on hiatus.

Only shows from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are open game.

Members of the casts and crew of any of the new shows, network employees and Warren Littlefield are ineligible. (We know you're out there, Warren, reading this and stroking your beard and plotting your revenge. Oh, we're on to your little game, Mr. Littlefield...)

The Prizes

The top three winners will have their choice of the following prizes: An autographed picture of Warren Littlefield! A Hickory Farms sausage and cheese gift pack! A stylish TeeVee t-shirt! Or a dream dinner date with one of the TeeVee guys, where we'll pay for half of the tab! (Offer valid to winners only in cities where the TeeVee guys live. No creepy people or revenge-minded actresses like Lori Petty, please...)


All entries must be received by Saturday, September 13, 1997. One entry per person. This broadcast may not be repeated without the express written consent of Major League Baseball or the Office of the Commissioner.


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