We watch... so you don't have to.

Dead Pool '98: Peter Ko

Every year it's the same thing. I rush to the bookstore, gather the relevant literature, and draw my elaborate charts. I input the numbers into the Commodore 64, shake up the magic-8 ball, and pow wow with the psychics -- all to figure out which new TV show will be the first to suffer the Holy Battleaxe of Awfulness.

And for what? I'm usually wrong. Oh sure, every now and again Warren or Jamie will toss in a gimme, a show so awful with a premise so lousy, stars so stale, and advance word so stinky -- Tim Curry's Over the Top, say -- that you'd have to be employed by the program or dumber than lox not to see the fifty-two car pile-up looming on the horizon.

But those are exceptions that prove the rule. The fact of the matter is that network executives are odd little ducks, and their decision-making processes cannot be anticipated with rational thought. For every Total Security, Meego, or The Trouble With Larry that's rightly carted off to the Superfund site to be buried under fifty feet of reinforced concrete and left for future generations to worry about, there's a Veronica's Closet or Profiler that not only escapes cancellation, but manages to last long enough for the creative forces behind it to announce that they're taking the show in a new direction because, to paraphrase the great Ally Walker, "I didn't expect it to be so violent."

Walker, you will recall, signed on to play a woman who chases serial killers.

So this year I'm doing things differently. Want to know what shows will suffer first a quick, bloody death? Go talk to my li'l TeeVee buddies. Better yet, pick three shows at random from UPN. I promise you'll get at least two of them right. Me, I'm picking on principle: not which shows will get canceled first, but which shows should get canceled first. And make no mistake, I'm doing this not only because I'm fed up with being wrong. I'm also doing this because recent current events involving certain world leaders have convinced me that we can use a little more principle with our Rice Krispies.

Hear that, Tony Blair?

To the question at hand then: which shows should get canceled first. I suppose the best way to go about this is to note first the shows that for whatever reason -- because the people behind them have done good things in the past, because the concept is promising, because the leading lady wins my seal of approval -- should not be canceled off the bat no matter how silly they seem. Trinity, for instance. There is no truth to the rumor that this show about an Irish priest, an Irish cop, and an Irish alcoholic also features an Asian houseboy named Ping who speaks in short, halting phrases and bows his head a lot. Nonetheless, this show deserves a shot simply because it hails from John Wells, the creator of ER and a man capable of decent drama when given the chance.

Or Cupid. Frankly, I don't understand what kind of mind dreams up an hour-long romantic comedy about a guy who may or may not be off his rocks and the psychiatrist who loves him. Still, ABC would do well to leave this show around longer than, say, Timecop since it stars Paula Marshall. Marshall -- who has made a career out of ducking in and out of awful sitcoms like Wild Oats, middling sitcoms like Chicago Sons, and okay sitcoms like Spin City -- has the kind of comic timing that long ago should've landed her, and not some freakishly tall ex-supermodel or a loudmouth Boston-bred "comic," on the cover of TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly or, yes, even People. It also doesn't hurt that she's babelicious or that her co-star is Ellen's Jeremy Piven. You may remember him: he was one of the funny people.

So where does that leave us? In order:

1. Wind On Water (NBC) -- When you're talking about a show with a conceit so ridiculous that it kicks in the door on bad, hurdles right over awful, and lands itself in that rare air occupied only by the likes of E.A.R.T.H. Force and Nightingales, it's pretty clear you're talking about Wind On Water, NBC's fiesta of fun about a Hawaiian rancher (Bo Derek) and her extreme sport-lovin' tykes. And did I mention it also stars Matt Houston his own bad self, Lee Horsley, and Jacinda, one of those twits from MTV's The Real World?

How stupid is the premise? Before he kicked the bucket, John Derek reportedly advised ex-wife Bo that this project is beneath her.

Mr. Derek, you will recall, directed "Ghosts Can't Do It."

Alas, my compelling reasoning aside, Wind On Water will not be the first new show canceled this year. Why? Because in a move worthy of a diabolical programming genius, Wind On Water will not debut until October 17.

Or as the date is known in industry circles: "In mid-season when everybody is watching something else and UPN and FOX already have canceled half their schedules and nobody gives a damn about a really crappy new show, let alone a crappy show on Saturday night, allowing this disaster-in-waiting to shuffle into the night without ridicule and preserving the generally held notion that I, Warren Littlefield, am the greatest network executive in all the land!"

2. L.A. Doctors (CBS) -- If rumor and innuendo are to be believed, Ken Olin's new series likely will lead to mass killings... because, as the saying goes, nothing says homicidal impulse like tepid CBS dramas featuring preachy physicians bitching incessantly about HMOs.

I have nothing against Ken Olin, per se. Yes, there was that thirtysomething fiasco for which he should be strung up by his shoelaces and forced to listen to Elliott whining about his prostate. And yes, there's that unctuous smirk perpetually on his face. A two-by-four would do a nice job of wiping that off. And yes, I cannot stomach the way that he -- indirectly, of course -- brought about the fall of the Roman Empire.

But like I said, I have nothing against Ken Olin, per se.

No, my beef with this raucous hour of entertainment lies elsewhere. Along the same line of argument that asks how you can trust a man who wears a belt and suspenders when he can't even trust his own pants, I ask this: how much faith can you put in a TV show when its title may as well be This Is The Entire Premise Behind Our Show: Doctors... In L.A. Let's face it: this would never happen with a quality show like ER--... hmm. Well, how about Homicide? Homicide would never be so vapi--... er, gee.

Okay, maybe it is Ken Olin.

3. Vengeance Unlimited (ABC) -- I don't know who got it in their head to cast Michael Madsen as a sick fuck vigilante, but it seems to me this is a horrible piece of miscasting. I mean, we're talking about that kindhearted man from "Free Willy." Surely, he could never harm others.

If there is a problem with Vengeance Unlimited -- besides the silly title, the questionable desire of the vast North American viewing audience to see Madsen playing a role he's played many, many, many times before, and the very real likelihood that Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and (dare I say it) Jeff Speakman will tie this program up in litigation for the next century for stealing the working title of their next projects -- it lies with the premise. For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the assigned reading, the vigilante-with-a-heart-of-gold has been done before: in The Equalizer, an okay show starring a great actor; in Stingray, an obscure show starring an obscure actor; in The Pretender, a silly show starring a complete stiff; and in Dellaventura, a show which, thankfully, was beaten into submission before it incited an international incident.

And yet, here we go again with Madsen playing Mr. Chapel, a squinty-eyed, low-voiced mumbler who will look crossly at you if you call him tubby. Well, dadgumit Verna, set the Vee-Cee-Ar, here's sumthin' we ain't seen bee-fore.

Part of the problem, I think, lies in the total divorce of fiction and reality: vigilantes just ain't noble and the public -- dumb as we are -- knows it. Take Bernhard Goetz, for example, a genuine, bona fide vigilante if there ever was one, but roundly dismissed by a cynical populace as a creepy, four-eyed geek. Suffice it to say, this not a fella that busty damsels in distress call when they're in a pickle.

But that is neither here nor there. The purpose of this venture is not to test a tenuous sociological thesis, but to pick three crappy shows and condemn them to purgatory without ever having watched a minute. I think you'll agree I've been more than fair in my analysis. Now, on with the cancellations!


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