Stupid Like a Fox
Such are the vagaries of the TV business. And a year from now, in late May of 1999, we'll all sit back and laugh at the collection of new programs that Fox thought would take the world by storm in the fall of '98. Granted, it was a small collection -- of all the networks, Fox seems to have become the most stable, adding only a few new series and only moving one of its current hits, King of the Hill, to a new night. But through the 20-20 hindsight of a year from now, we'll see just how wrong our first impressions were.
We'll be clucking our tongues in May '99 when we look back on our preview of Holding the Baby), a show about a workaholic dad whose wife runs off and leaves him alone to take care of his child, with only a saucy graduate student as a guide. Sure, it was easy for us to predict an early death for this series, considering that its lackluster premise has a 5-episode expiration date stamped on the side. But we were wrong to point to that as the cause for its early demise. After all, we ignored the fact that it's been put in the 7:30 pm Sunday time slot. What are the chances that fans of The Simpsons and of Fox's Sunday NFL football coverage are hungering to see a wacky broken-family sitcom about child abandonment, workaholics, and -- most horrific of all -- graduate students? It don't look good, cap'n.
Will we be celebrating the zany success of Feelin' All Right) next May, or wincing at the very mention of a series that couldn't last more than a handful of episodes before the plug was pulled? Our magic 8-ball says, "Reply Hazy -- Ask Again Later." But it seems unlikely that this coming-of-age sitcom set in a Wisconsin suburb in the '70s will ever succeed. It's Happy Days set in the '70s, a large serving of nostalgia for a nation that's desperate to revisit bell-bottoms and 8-tracks. How many hoary '70s jokes will the creators of Roseanne, The Cosby Show, and 3rd Rock From The Sun be able to pack into this series before our heads explode? Sit on it, Potsie!
The Vidiots of May '99, flush with cash from their sale of www.teevee.org to Microsoft for several million bucks, will have a good chuckle when they're reminded of Costello), the hot new sitcom about the life of Lou Costello. Oh, I'm sorry -- apparently the lack of oxygen to my brain caused me to hallucinate for a second there. This Costello is named after is yet another person we've never heard of -- in this case, actress Sue Costello. In a mixture of Cheers and Roseanne, Costello is about a blue-collar working woman who's a bartender in a Boston bar. By this time next year, Costello will be forgotten, and we'll be too busy mocking three new Fox sitcoms: Johnson, Silverman! and The Beckenbauer Show.
As we look back in time and read our mention of Living in Captivity), the Fox sitcom from the producers of the recently-departed Murphy Brown, one thought will jump to mind: "My God! Was Murphy Brown only cancelled a year ago?"
After that, we'll simply pause to marvel at how perceptive we were in declaring Living in Captivity the quintissential Fox sitcom. The two main characters, Curtis and Tamara Cooke, are upwardly-mobile black professionals designed to pull in the same urban audience who tuned to former Fox stalwarts as Martin, Living Single, and the current Getting Personal. Next-door neighbors Carmine and Lisa Santucci are grainy Xeroxes of Al and Peg Bundy. And neighbors Will and Becca Marek are -- take your pick -- either Steve and Marcy Rhodes from the early Married... With Children or the Peter Scolari and Julia Duffy characters from Newhart.
Of course, the Fox press release would have you believe that Living in Captivity is an amazing piece of art. "A brash, edgy look at one neighborhood's warped pursuit of the American Dream... Carmine has all the makings of Fox's new Al Bundy... An outrageous comedy that presents an uncompromising, contemporary take on suburbia, where the American Dream quite often turns out to be a nightmare. "
Translation: Like most other Fox sitcoms since the network was launched with Married... With Children, Living in Captivity will feature a cavalcade of jokes about breasts, farting, bathrooms, impotency, and racial stereotypes. Its Murphy Brown connection guarantees that it'll be preachy. It will be an embarrassment to TV viewers everywhere, and a show proudly promoted by Fox. It will also probably stay on the air a zillion years, like Married... With Children, and Murphy Brown, and Martin.
Chances are good that a year from now, we'll be more readily be able to tell Fox's two new drama series apart. But right now, just on the basis of one-paragraph summaries, it's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. And they both sound a lot like Millennium, the morose Fox series that managed to get renewed for a third season, probably only because series producer Chris Carter knows where all the bodies are buried.
First, there's Brimstone), a show about a New York City detective who dies and goes to Hell -- Hell looking an awful lot like Tuesdays at 9 p.m. apparently. The detective is played by Peter Horton, thus satiating the rabid desire of all Americans to see former members of the cast of thirtysomething consigned to the flames of the Infernal World for their sins against humanity.
There's been a jail break in Hell, you see, with 113 of the most foul demons making a run for the world of the living, presumably to seek out jobs in television. So the Devil enlists the services of Peter Horton to head off after the demons and bring 'em back alive. Think of it as Ghostbusters, only with a wacky Satanist bent and no theme music from Ray Parker Jr.
In a year's time -- when success has spoiled the Vidiots so much that we're only speaking to each other through our attorneys -- will we look back on Brimstone as an innovative and darkly entertaining series in the vein of X-Files? Or will the show give us a new found appreciation for the late, unlamented Mantis?
Only time will tell the tale.
Then, there's Hollyweird), the brainchild of horror king Wes Craven and Hardy Boy Shaun Cassidy. Three Midwest teens have a local cable access show that they take to Hollywood in order to chronicle the many unsolved murders for which Tinsel Town if famous. With the help of their hippie friend, Shaggy, and a pup named Scooby Doo, these far-out kids tool around town in a psychedellic van...
Whoops. Strike that.
By the time the earth completes one more rotation around the sun, Fox's programming moves may seem bold, breath-taking, visionary. Or they could be inept, ham-fisted and puerile. Tomorrow is known to no man.
But one thing I can say about the season ahead for Fox, without fear of contradiction. At some point, James Brown will host a reality-based special with lots of videotape footage of comical groin injuries.
And that's enough to make any man fret about what tomorrow holds.
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