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The 1997 Fall Season Dead Pool: Jason Snell

Every year, it gets harder. It's not easy being the reigning (two years running) king of TV Dead Pool prognostication. Because the more you win -- the more Charlie Graces and Lush Lifes you identify, the more you want to continue the string. And the harder you stare at the shows, the worse they look, until it's completely impossible to decide what three shows you can pick from the little handbag o' crap that contains a dozen potential candidates for Dr. Kevorkian's scythe.

In the end, you end up taking a shot in the dark and hoping that you're right. And the last two years, I've had dumb luck (tempered with a few useful rules) on my side.

The first rule is, hesitate before picking a drama as your top pick. One of the legacies of Brandon Tartikoff is that networks are now terrified that by quickly cancelling a drama series, they're kissing off the next Hill Street Blues. Just last year, Dark Skies and Relativity were among the smell-of-death shows (and I loved Relativity, despite that smell) to make it through the entire year before being cancelled. Too many dramas end up with a fate worse than cancellation -- the "not on the network's announced fall schedule" fate.

The second rule is, if a show's so bad that even the network knows it's a load of crap, all bets are off. Witness Charlie Grace, the Mark Harmon stinker than won me a free prime rib dinner two years ago, courtesy of several of my TeeVee compatriots. And we should always remember the Kancellation Kings, Gil Gerard's E.A.R.T.H. Force (1 episode) and Glenn Frey's South of Sunset (2 episodes) -- both hourlong wastes of videotape.

The other important rule is this: mind the time slot. If a show's a stinker without any competition, its numbers may be decent enough for the network to accept its existence for a while. But if it's a stinker in a terrible time slot, not only will nobody watch, but the network obviously thought so little of that show that it placed it in a suicide slot in the first place.

Some shows were just born to die. It's that simple. And some die sooner than others.

And with that, to my idle speculations. Given my luck, they'll all run for 10 years like a previous pick of mine, that atrocious Alan Thicke show with Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold. I'd mention the name, but they conditioned it out of me during the shock therapy.

3. Cracker

I'm going out on a limb with my choice of Cracker, which might warm American hearts as much as the original warmed the hearts of thousands of Britons.

But I'm not going out on a limb when I suggest that nobody's going to want to watch a show featuring Robert Pastorelli -- yup, that'd be wacky housepainter Elden from the methusalan Murphy Brown -- as a chain-smoking, womanizing, foul-mouthed policeman.

Cracker is a downbeat drama with an unlikeable lead, and to top it all off, it's a fuckin' copy. In the old days, an American network could copy a British TV series and make it a hit (All in the Family, Three's Company). But in the heady 50-channel universe in which we live, people who want to watch Cracker can just flip to A&E and see the real thing, complete with a guy who doesn't give people Candace Bergen flashbacks and actually has a cool British accent.

It's also on Thursday nights at 9, up against Seinfeld. Jerry want a Cracker?

2. Total Security

In Total Security, no-talent slob Jim Belushi stars as a no-talent slob who ends up in a high-tech security firm.

The show's producer, Steven Bochco, generated this show in order to finish off his contract with ABC, so he could move to CBS. Plus, it's a show with more humor than drama -- and we've seen just how hideous Bochco's light touch can be (Bay City Blues, Beverly Hills Buntz, Public Morals).

Add to that just how unsure ABC is about this show, having ensconced it on Saturday night, a dead night of TV that belongs to the boneheaded Walker, Texas Ranger and its ilk.

The final tally? Total Security has neither its producer nor its network behind it. Say goodnight, Jim.

1. Teen Angel

In this zany replacement for Urkel in ABC's T.G.I.F. line-up, a kid eats a hamburger contaminated with E. Coli and dies. It's a bacterial knee-slapper!

Then, of course, the dead kid comes back to haunt his best pal, and wacky Angel-inspired events ensue. Maybe they go to an Angels game together? Maybe they watch Touched By an Angel together?

Jamie Tarses and company will be sending a few bags of Burger King's best over to the Teen Angel set in short order. And that's that.

Of course, I could be wrong.


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