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Great News! Our Show Is Crap!

I haven't actually done all the math, but it's probably safe to say that I've watched a lot more television than is probably good for me. And I can count the number of original things I've seen in the last ten years on one hand: Beavis and Butt-head, World's Deadliest Swarms, a real-life talking dog and, of course, Pimpbot 5000.

That's why I was so shocked yesterday when I happened to catch UPN's new promo for its upcoming series The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. The show, you may recall, is about Abraham Lincoln's black British butler and all the wacky Civil War antics that are bound to ensue.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Another Civil War era comedy? My sides are still splitting from Best of the West."

The UPN ad starts out relatively harmless enough with a picture of a chicken laying some eggs and a very grave, very stentorian announcer proclaiming that "every year, as the new television season begins, networks lay some eggs."

OK, fine. Nothing wrong with a dig at the competition, even if it is coming from the same yahoos that brought you Head Over Heels and Hitz last year. Perhaps, it's even UPN's way of apologizing in advance for the fact they're about to foist Mercy Point on an unsuspecting public.

Come to think of it, that's actually pretty nice of them.

But the promo continues on, and with a dramatic flourish the words "The most offensive show of the new season!" appear, credited to the Miami Herald.

"Hey, wait a minute," I thought. "It's one thing to take generalized pot-shots at your competitors, but specific attacks on actual shows? That's not very nice, is it?"

So I stuck around, trying to see just exactly which of its network brethren UPN was trying to sabotage. Then more critics' blurbs began flashing across the screen -- words like "repulsive," "outrageous" and "the worst new show of the season."

What could this poor, maligned show possibly be? The WB's The Army Show? NBC's fifth night of Dateline? CBS' entire line-up?

That was when the title of the offending program was finally revealed: The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.

That's the same Desmond Pfeiffer which will be debuting Monday. On UPN.

Perhaps this particular advertising tactic isn't quite as jaw-dropping to the rest of you. But part of my job at a local TV station happens to be creating promos for the shows we broadcast. It's not like I think these shows are worth watching, but in the interests of professionalism and for the sake of my paycheck, I manage to dredge up plenty of "positive and proactive" adjectives.

Let's say -- purely hypothetically of course -- that our talk show happens to be hosted by a fossil. Do we create a script urging people to watch the oldest living human being on the face of the planet? Do we dare people to tune in on the off chance that tonight's the night the host may actually keel over on air? No, we simply tell them that this host is "experienced," and we make sure to have a couple of EMTs standing by off-camera.

How about another extremely hypothetical example. Perhaps you have a news show anchored by a straggly-haired moron who shows up 15 minutes before air with a vacant look in his eye and asks, "So what's the show about?" Do you create a promo exhorting this anchor's lack of hair care and complete incomprehension of the issues? Of course not. You whip up an ad lauding his "inquisitiveness" and the fact he's "not just another Barbie-doll news reader."

But the good folks at UPN must have been playing hooky the day this rather obvious concept came up in Advertising 101. Because for the first time in recorded television history, a product is being advertised as utter crap. Somebody at UPN must be taking the whole "truth in advertising" doctrine seriously. And it's about damn time.

Of course, the whole gag of the Desmond promo was the tagline: "The critics hate it. You'll love it!" Apparently, UPN is trying to turn Desmond Pfieffer into a social cause celebre. No longer just an unfunny sitcom, the show is a chance for us regular folks to really stick it to The Man. In this case, The TV Critic Man.

Hated that article in which Mr. Whiny Artsy-Fartsy Critic called Suddenly Susan the show "that makes grown men fall to their knees and beg for the sweet deliverance of death?" Or how about the column that called Over the Top the "most heinous use of Tim Curry yet, and that's really saying something."

Well, now you can watch Desmond Pfeiffer and give those critics what for! You're not going to take their advice! You're going to sit through every interminable half-hour of Desmond Pfieffer just to be different, no matter how bad it makes you itch or want to claw out your eyeballs with a protractor.

That'll show 'em! That'll show 'em all!

Hopefully, UPN will be applying this kind of marketing genius to its other shows as well: "From the bottom-feeding wannabe-network that brought you Hitz comes more of the same crap! Legendary non-talent Andrew Dice Clay and his group of hack writers that couldn't pen a decent greeting card are back again! This time he's even more offensive and less funny! Hard to believe? Then just catch him in his new sitcom, The Fat Guy Who Isn't Funny, premiering this fall on UPN!"

Or how about an ad for Love Boat: The Next Wave that proclaims "Watch The Love Boat. Because We've Officially Run Out Of Ideas."

Maybe they'd even adapt the new Truth-Is-Beauty/Beauty-Is-Truth stratagem to the network as a whole. "UPN -- We've never won and Emmy and we're never going to! We don't even want to be nominated!"

There's always the chance UPN's strategy of owing up to its shows' awfulness will force other networks to do the same. Over at NBC, for instance, they could do one about Caroline in the City:

Tired of watching shows that make you laugh? Sick of all those critics applauding comedies like "Frasier" and "The Simpsons" that feature actual humor, well-written characters and original situations? Yeah, the critics would just love for you to watch quality comedy. But you're no sheep. You do what you want. And that's why you should watch "Caroline in the City," dubbed "the best half-hour bathroom break" in prime-time by several national news organizations.

Watch Caroline in the City. Because The Man wants you to laugh.


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