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

Dead Pool '99: Separating The Chaff From The Extra-Crispy Chaff

Somewhere in Hollywood -- on a unmarked street, down a dimly lit alley, behind a reinforced steel door -- there's this room. Hardly anybody knows it's there. And next to nobody knows what goes on inside.

Except that every summer, the top programmers for all the major broadcast networks -- as well as UPN -- sneak off to that dingy, well-hidden room. And in their arms, they carry a very special payload: stacks and stacks of scripts for the shows that each one plans to air once the new fall season rolls around.

And once they're all there -- all the network executives surrounded by piles of scripts reaching to the ceiling -- that's when they roll out the giant blender.

One by one, each executive starts gingerly placing script after script into the blender, until every last page is accounted for. Then, they all don safety goggles, flip the blender on to "frappe" and stand back to watch the magic take place. The blender whips the scripts into a fine puree, until all that's left is a grayish, homogenous goo that smells vaguely of tuna.

From stuff such as this are fall broadcasting schedules born.

That's what I'd like to think, anyway, after spending the last few days of my life sorting through the 38 new shows that will debut over the next month on each major network -- as well as UPN. I've read the synopses. I've studied the premises. I've put together a series of flash cards outlining each show, its major plot points and its cast and crew.

And I still can't tell the damned things apart.

You want shows that tap into the angst and alienation of adolescence and young adulthood? Fine. You have a dozen to choose from this fall, assuming you can spare a few moments after watching returnees like Felicity, Party of Five and Dawson's Creek.

Can't wait for that new show about a '90s woman trying to make it in the oft-cruel world of jurisprudence? Fine -- but you'd better figure out whether it's Family Law or Judging Amy that you can't wait to see.

Think David Kelley doesn't have enough on his plate? Then you'll be pleased to hear that Kelley has two new shows on the fall schedule, giving the quirky, Catholic-hating TV wunderkind a total of four-and-a-half hours to assault our senses with his overrated programming.

Shows about single guys raging against the onset of adulthood more your bag? Then good things come in threes for you, friend, with two of the shows baring titles so similar -- Grown Ups and Oh Grow Up -- that it's nearly impossible to keep them straight.

(Here's my trick: Just remember that one airs on a major broadcast network and that the other airs on UPN.)

But that only scratches the surface of new shows with titles that sound a bit familiar. The WB changed the name of its animated series about dimwitted teenyboppers to Mission Hill after it found out the original moniker of Downtown was the exact same title MTV was using on its animated series about dimwitted teenyboppers. ABC and CBS will air two shows with such similar-sounding names -- Once & Again and Now & Again -- that I can't help but suspect that it's actually the same program but with different opening credits. And somewhere, intellectual property lawyers dance and frolic well into the night.

Four ostensibly new shows are, in fact, spin-offs from existing programs. One of them recycles a character from Homicide; thankfully, it's not Jon Seda. And another -- Fox's wafer-thin version of Ally McBeal -- is little more than a bald-faced repackaging of found footage.

You can't find primate houses where this much aping goes on.

Simple probability suggests that not all of these shows will be bad. In fact, some of them may be quite good. But simple common sense also tells us that more than a handful of shows -- and we're looking your way, Shasta McNasty -- will just be the TV watching equivalent of the Bataan death march.

So how do we veteran Dead Pool handicappers separate the frogs from the princes? By following a clear, if thoroughly unfair, rule of thumb: All shows are presumed guilty of suckiness until proven innocent. Arbitrary, yes. But we gave Nathan Lane the benefit of the doubt last year with Encore Encore, and how did the little creep repay us? By stinking up the joint is how.

To save you similar embarrassment, our TeeVee scientists have devised two new indicators to help you with this year's Dead Pool picks. TV Math takes the complex process of crafting a network TV show and breaks it down into a simple mathematical equation to help you distinguish one bland pile of goo from another. And The Pfeiffer Index compares current programs to last year's undisputed king of bilge -- The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer -- by ranking on a scale of 1 to 10 how closely a show comes to matching Pfeiffer's utter creative ineptitude.

Oh, and one other thing: Our picks are based on pure conjecture and raw speculation. We're guessing as to which shows will be canceled first; hence, the fun and unpredictability of our dumb little contest. What I'm trying to say is, don't write us impassioned letters in defense of Safe Harbor or lengthy admonitions to "give Shasta McNasty a fair break."

Because all we're going to wind up doing is mocking you publicly if you do that. And frankly, we have to store up all our energy to get our licks in on Shasta McNasty before it goes off into the great beyond.

Start with Monday's new shows...


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *