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Handicapping Dead Pool '98

(May All Your Failures Be Private Ones)

Back in grade school, I fancied myself quite the little handicapper. I would take bets on anything. Who would get beat up at lunch. Whether we'd have math homework. Whether shirts or skins would take the kickball game at recess. It was a profitable gig, too. I'd win a nickel here, a dime there, sometimes a quarter from the high-rollers. And I'd chortle to myself about how I'd retire to an island somewhere in the South Pacific by the sixth grade.

Back in the fall of 1980, my piggy bank brimming with ill-gotten gains, I thought I found the perfect sucker bet -- the 1980 World Series. And I thought I had found the perfect sucker -- my sweet, trusting sister. The series that year came down to the Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that had somehow managed to finagle the National League pennant away from my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers. So naturally, I was convinced that the evil Phillies couldn't possibly win the World Series. God would simply not allow such a team that had bested the Dodgers to go unpunished.

I bet my baseball-ignorant sister $5 -- a considerable sum, even in the waning days of the Carter administration's play money. I tricked her into backing the sure-to-be-damned Phillies. And I took the Royals, licking my chops at the thought of more easy loot. Until the Phillies took the series in six games, that is, and my sister cleaned my piggy bank out.

Tough business, this handicapping.

You would think that I might have learned my lesson. Stay away from the handicapping, Michaels, the fates seemed to say. Jimmy the Greek, you ain't. For starters, you aren't even Greek.

But no. Last fall, the TeeVee powers-that-be tapped me to forecast the fall season, making educated guesses as to which shows would thrive and which would be the first to fall in the networks' annual death march.

So I threw caution to the wind and cast a slew of what seemed like perfectly reasonable predictions. Brooklyn South? Instant hit. How could it not be? George & Leo? No doubt the rest of America shares my dog-like fealty to Bob Newhart. Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel? Oh yeah, like CBS would ever cancel that. And what's with this Ally McBeal? A show about a self-absorbed Boston lawyer and her quirky little adventures? Those cards at Fox... what nonsense will they think up next?

Let's review, shall we? Brooklyn South? Dead. George & Leo? Double dead. Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel? Dead as Dillinger. And what of that Ally McBeal and the quick demise I foretold of? Must have gotten overshadowed by that Time magazine cover and all the high ratings and all those Emmy nominations.

Tough business, this handicapping.

So I'm back, ready to try my level best again to predict what shows will drop like stones in TeeVee's annual Dead Pool. I like to think that it's because the rest of the Vidiots respect my TV savvy, that they realize in spite of a few notable miscues, my track record as a prognosticator last year was an aberration. I'd like to think that... but really, it's because none of the other fellahs can deal with the humiliation.

My predictions are not in any way based on fact.* I have not seen any of the shows. I have not interviewed Hollywood insiders. I have not scrounged through the dumpsters outside NBC to find out what Warren Littlefield really thinks of Will & Grace. What I have done is thumb through a couple of magazines and made a few guesses -- educated and otherwise. Failing that, I've fallen back on my trusty old Ouija board.

The result? I think I have a pretty good grasp on how the new TV season is going to shake down. A number of shows will bomb. A handful will peter out. And there are one or two programs that I think might grab their share of viewers this season.

Of course, the 1980 Kansas City Royals can tell you all about how helpful it is to have me backing someone.

* Every year, we get angry letters about our Dead Pool -- usually from some devoted fan of an actor or actresses starring in a show we've fingered for a sudden and violent exit. "Why don't you give the show a chance?" they'll screech. "How do you know it's going to canceled so quick?" And that's just the point. We don't know. We're guessing. It's a contest where the outcome is still in doubt.

That being said, do not send us e-mail complaining that we've somehow maligned the good name of, oh let's just say, Tim Curry. Do not post angry messages to alt.fan.tim.curry or rec.movies.hacks demanding that your like-minded compatriots shower us with abusive messages until we apologize for our cruel slander against your hero and, by extension, you.

Because if you do that, after reading this caveat, we will hold you up to a public ridicule so fierce and destructive that it will make a high school locker room seem warm and nurturing by comparison.


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