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A Sharp Stick in the Eye

Last Year: Eye On Bronson! The new prime-time schedule released) Wednesday by CBS can only be described as miraculous. Miraculous in the same way that a cheetah tearing into the belly of a gazelle is miraculous, but miraculous nonetheless.

Quite frankly, I was sort of surprised to find CBS still in business, much less bothering to actually introduce new shows. Sisyphus couldn't feel as completely dejected as Les Moonves must right about now. And yet he gets behind a brand new hopeless burden and starts shouldering it up the rocky slope of complete public indifference. You've gotta admire that kind of plucky, can-do spunk.

Which is good, because you sure as hell won't want to watch the shows. CBS has embarked on yet another attempt to lower the age of its demographic, as it's currently the number one network among dead people who are waiting to have their bodies discovered. Apparently, the Creepy Eye feels that it just doesn't have the indie cred it needs ever since Scott Baio left Diagnosis: Murder.

Besides, given how successful the shows CBS launched last year were -- not a single one made it onto this fall's schedule -- why not try something new?

And so -- as part of the two-year cycle of attack and retreat that CBS has perfected -- the whole of America is again going to be subjected to what rich white men think of as "urban," apparently the magic word to attract the baggy-pants and surly-look set. "The schedule is a lot more urban," Moonves said. "We're making our schedule to be a lot more urban."

"Urban, urban, urban," he added. "Urban! Uuuurban! Oh, and 'edgy.'"

And, yes, there's nothing more urban and edgy than Brain Benben. The Benben Show will apparently not feature the best parts of his HBO series, Dream On -- hundreds of thousands of naked women -- but instead, and I'm just guessing from the title, focus on Benben himself. Anybody who suffered through "Radioland Murders)" knows what Benben is like when not surrounded by C actresses with D cups and, quite frankly, it's not something the youth of America is crying out for.

But at least he's not Faith Ford. When Murphy Brown overstays her welcome by a good half decade, Maggie Winters is the last thing you want to see dropped at your door. Ford is apparently stretching herself from a perky, divorced, former beauty queen whose name ends in "y" by playing a perky, divorced, former beauty queen whose name ends in "ie." Plus, she's got "urban" coming out her ears.

If not "urban," at least Martial Law manages "ethnic." It's an action show starring Sammo Hung -- which sounds an awful lot like a bad Cheers joke -- as a martial artist that joins two American cops to fight crime. One can assume that wacky cross-cultural hijinks will ensue. Teamed with Walker, Texas Anachronism, Martial Law gives CBS a powerful people-getting-kicked-in-the-head two-hour block.

Hopefully one of those people will be Ken Olin. Intended to do for doctors what L.A. Law did for lawyers and L.A. Firefighters did for firefighters -- place their shows in Los Angeles -- his L.A. Docs is about "high-living" doctors who "care." Or, in other words, Chicago Hope's smarmy self-righteousness mixed with pretty much any aspect of Dynasty. Fun!

CBS goes really urban with The King of Queens, an edgy comedy about cross-dressers, set in the heart of San Francisco's Castro Street. Oh, wait -- CBS, not Fox. Right, right. The King of Queens is about a family living in the New York City borough of Queens. (Urban!) The father at the heart of this series is upended when his parents move into his basement. Apparently CBS figured that Long Island-based Everybody Loves Raymond was too pastoral, so they moved the parents from next door to downstairs and put the whole show a few miles closer to downtown New York City. Next year? A show about parents and children sharing a studio apartment in Greenwich Village.

To Have and To Hold, a new hourlong romantic comedy / drama, focuses on two busy young professionals, Annie and Sean, trying to stay in touch. He's a neighborhood cop -- she's a defense attorney. Which means it's actually a romantic comedy / drama / cop show / lawyer show. But Sean's three wild brothers are also on the scene -- two cops and a firefighter! And don't forget Sean's wacky over-the-top Irish mom and his taciturn pop! That makes it a romantic comedy / drama / cop show / lawyer show / firefighter show / family show. Add in a monkey on the run from alien invaders and Annie's sister Heather, a shapely lifeguard, and CBS will have managed to mash every single television genre into one series. An hour just won't do! I say, give To Have and To Hold 75 minutes a week!

And, finally, Buddy Fargo -- and this quote is stolen from the New York Times -- "stars Dennis Farina as a private eye who thought he was one of the Rat Pack, dropped out of sight in 1978 and returns to become a partner of a young Los Angeles private detective." And while this sounds like the most imaginative show CBS has to offer -- despite the fact that it comes from the perplexing combination of a writer from Twin Peaks, a former actor from Hill Street Blues, and Satan himself, Aaron Spelling -- I can't help but think that whole Swingers trend has just about another three or four seconds to live. Joey Bishop? Dead. Dean Martin? Dead. Sammy Davis, Jr.? Dead. Frank Sinatra? Dead. Buddy Fargo? Extrapolate.

And so "miraculous" is really the only word that can be used to describe any of the above. CBS has managed to spend millions of dollars not only on developing new shows but on renewing old ones to produce a complete prime-time schedule that does not have one single minute of television I -- or anybody else, near as I can figure -- would want to watch. America might actually turn the damned box off.

And that would be a miracle.


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