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The 1997 Fall Season Dead Pool: Ben Boychuk

Picking this season's prospects for early cancellation is like mopping up the floor of an abattoir. It's a gruesome business, enough to make you retch. Before long, you can't tell your tripe from your Total Security.

It's pretty nasty, anyway.

Whoever said we're living in a "Second Golden Age" of television is probably swallowing his own tongue right about now, and it's a good thing, too. Closer to the truth, I think, is the anonymous television exec quoted in the September 18 edition of Rolling Stone: "The television business today is a cesspool. A fuckin' cesspool." Amen, brother. All the audience at home can do is hold its nose and hope.

But hope for what?

My first inclination is to hope for justice. But in a just world, shows like Veronica's Closet, Dharma and Greg, and Nothing Sacred wouldn't survive past the pitch, much less make it to the pilot stage.

So it's better to abandon all hope. Because there is no justice in television. There's only economics. Okay, economics and a little luck. Well, economics, a little a luck, and plenty of sexual favors.

Used to be I could trust my instincts. Not with TV, though. Not anymore. I was certain that The Pretender would disappear early last year. This year, it returns to kick off NBC's inexplicably popular "Saturday Night Thrillogy." I knew that Fox's Monday night lineup of Party Girl and Lush Life was doomed from the start. For contest purposes, I was only half right--Lush Life was cancelled, but Party Girl was placed on hiatus (indefinitely, as it turned out). I was certain, too, that Bochco's Public Morals would fail early. But not certain enough to pick it. Turns out, I was right the first time.

We all complain about how much more difficult the selection process has become in the last two or three years. There's a simple reason for this: quality network programming has become an increasingly rare commodity. It's not that television on the whole has declined--there's plenty of good stuff to be found on cable. No, the big downturn is with the networks, which evidently have been taken over by a coterie of high school dropouts, illiterate ex-cons and an assortment of mental defectives unable to cobble together anything other than imbecilic programs with derivative plots and banal, two-dimensional characters.

So the especially obvious losers are lost in a sea of garden-variety losers. Now picking the first to go is practically a crapshoot. But at least with craps you can play the odds.

Actually, there is a twisted kind of logic to pinning down the likely losers. First, look for the obvious: Who are the stars of the show? When does it premiere? What time is it on?

More difficult to assess, but equally important, are certain subjective factors: Is the show's premise sound? What is the early buzz? Are there reports of trouble on the set? How did the show do with test audiences? Was it reworked much after the pilot?

Lastly, what network is the show on? This cannot be underestimated. Here's a tip: no matter how awful the idea, no matter who's the star, no matter how much the show was tinkered with since the pilot, and no matter what the competition, NBC will not cancel one of its shows first. Tony Danza may be a hack, Jenny McCarthy may be a talentless bimbo, and Players may be idiotic with or without Ice-T. It doesn't matter. Their shows will last--until December at least, and probably longer. Don't believe me? I give you Mr. Rhodes. I give you Something So Right. I give you the thrice-damned Single Guy.

Fact is, Warren Littlefield is too drunk with power to blink early. But the other network execs cannot afford to be so magnanimous. CBS President Les Moonves is notorious for his two-fisted, no-nonsense management. And God help any man or woman who crosses Fox's Peter Roth.

As for Jamie Tarses at ABC--well, you know what they say about trapped animals.

The stench of fear around Tarses and her third-ranked network is almost overpowering. That's why I say the smart money for cancellations in 1997 is on ABC. Sure, the other networks have some real stinkers--look at Union Square, Between Brothers, and Meego. And if it weren't on NBC, The Tony Danza Show would be a prime candidate for early sacrifice.

But ABC, with its insulting "TV is Good" campaign (hate the yellow) and its desperate need to win back the hearts and minds of the American Viewing Public, has too much on the line to coddle the weak. That's why ABC wins the cancellation trifecta.

Here are the first three to go:

1) C-16: I was sorely tempted to pick Total Security first, for several good reasons. It's the last of Steven Bochco's contractual obligations to ABC. It's exiled to Saturday nights, when the 10 people in America who are actually home divide their viewing attention between NBC's "Thrillogy" juggernaut and the inexplicably popular (by Saturday standards, at least) Early Edition. And it stars Jim Belushi. But it's up against Sleepwalkers on NBC, a new show which could conceivably suck even worse. No, C-16 gets the nod. It stars Eric Roberts, Julia's less talented, unstable brother. More important, though, it's on Saturdays at 8:00, when everyone else is watching Dr. Quinn. Forget it. Total Security may be a loser, but C-16 draws the shortest straw. Hello, America's Funniest Chainsaw Accidents.

2)Over the Top: This has all the ingredients of a TV crap cocktail. Take an especially moronic premise (hack actor moves back in with ex-wife and much wackiness ensues), add a dash of behind the scenes intrigue (producer Robert Morton was until recently schtupping Jamie Tarses), cast Tim Curry in the lead, and watch the audience share plummet before your very eyes. Especially foreboding is news that ABC decided to move the show's premiere back to October 21--right in the middle of the World Series. Expect Top to be over quick.

3) You Wish: It's a show about a genie. And Barbara Eden's not in it. So it's good as gone.

My only wish is that it gets cancelled after Over the Top.


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