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Dead Pool '98: Jason Snell

I think the pressure is getting to me.

A couple years ago, I managed to repeat as the winner of our annual Dead Pool. (Yes, it's true -- the Dead Pool actually predates the TeeVee Web site itself by many years.) My good fortune and bloodhound-like ability to sniff out a stinker of a new TV show ended up winning several fine dinners for both myself and my lovely bride, all courtesy of the other Vidiots.

But last year, when it came time to pick from the crop of losers, I froze up. Couldn't track down a lead anywhere. I might as well have chosen by tossing darts at TV Guide's quick-reference guide to the prime-time schedule. In fact, I might have done better with the darts. No prime rib dinners for me.

This year I'm starting to get a whiff of the scent. Perhaps next year will be a better year. But I've got to admit I yearn for the days of three networks, network programmers whose behavior was shockingly predictable, and shows that were clear stinkers. These days, we're trapped in a quagmire of five-day Datelines, of fourth and fifth networks with ratings so low that it's impossible to envision how low a show would have to be rated in order to net it a quick cancellation. A world where a show once easily sniffed out as a grade-A loser (The Single Guy) can actually stick on the schedule for two years. And, worst of all, a world where the networks own shares in so many of their shows, obscure entertainment accounting practices have as much to do with what makes a show cancelable as their cold, hard Neilsen ratings.

Not to mention that all the shows these days are so bad, it's hard to differentiate between a three-week stinker and a two-month stinker.

That's my way of building an excuse for when the following three shows aren't among the first canceled, when I've hung my head in shame as I hear the news that DiResta was the first show canceled, by those shifty bastards at UPN, and pay up to whichever Vidiot has bested me on the (Little)field of battle.

(And one final parenthetical plug before the carnage begins: In addition to my traditional research tool, the Fall TV Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly, this year I took advantage of another great research tool: Barnhart's Unauthorized TV '98. This self-published book by my pal Aaron Barnhart, TV critic for the Kansas City Star and publisher of the online newsletter Late Show News is an exhaustive look at every new and returning TV series on the air this season, written in the entertaining style that readers of Late Show News have come to expect from Aaron Barnhart. You can buy your own copy on the Internet at www.lateshownews.com). No money was exchanged in return for this plug. This ain't www.teevee.com!)

3. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, UPN. This show doesn't debut until early October, but its buzz is already so bad that you've got to wonder how long UPN's going to stick with it. The critics hate it, the black community is up in arms about the sheer audacity of a sitcom featuring a black servant set during a time when slavery was legal. (Would the ADL protest Hogan's Heroes if it was on today? Oh, probably. Werner Klemperer, cancel your appearance in Boca Raton.)

Given its oddball premise (wacky jokes about Abe Lincoln!), its rough-and-tumble time slot (opposite Everybody Loves Raymond, Ally McBeal, and Monday Night Football), and all the negative publicity it's generating, I've got to pick Desmond Pfeiffer on the off chance that it lasts a week before getting the axe. That said, let's at least give Desmond Pfeiffer credit for trying something different, for pete's sake.

2. The Army Show, The WB. Sometimes when you're picking cancelled TV shows, it helps to know just how many back-up shows a network has in the wings. The WB has a bunch. And there's no more likely candidate for a quick trip to the gas chamber than this winner, an already-premiered stinker buried on a Sunday night amid tough competition. If Desmond Pfeiffer is the second coming of Hogan's Heroes, this is the return of Sgt. Bilko. Again, we ask the question: For the love of God, why?

How long will The Army Show make it? About as long as one of the extras in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. And that's if it's lucky.

1. Holding The Baby, Fox. Being the first show to premiere in a season may be some sort of honor, but it also means you've just increased your chances of being the first show to be cancelled. This Fox family crap-com has tough competition on Sunday night and forms the bridge between Fox's football-led-in World's Funniest! and its valuable veteran, The Simpsons. So if The Simpsons underperforms in the ratings, who's gonna get blamed? James Brown and his cheap-to-produce reality series? I don't think so. It's Holding The Baby.

Fox's commitment to this series is also evident in how much it's promoted Holding the Baby compared with another series that premiered later the same night, That '70s Show. While That '70s Show has been the subject of a gigantic ad campaign, Holding The Baby premiered almost in secret.

And most important of all, let's not forget that if Fox wants to yank Holding the Baby, all they have to do is give James Brown another half-hour to fill with videos of grooms vomiting on their wedding cake, dogs pissing in kiddie pools, and infants impaling themselves on kitchen utensils.

So there you go, kids. My Visa card is ready. Where do I pay for that prime rib?


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