Dead Pool '99: The Vidiots Speak
Narrowing down the field to just three was tough, but I managed. I don't plan on being correct about any of these shows disappearing, but it doesn't matter. It's better to have a moral victory than a network victory. Besides, the Vidiots have yet to pay up for last year's winner.
The first show which deserves exile into the wilderness and a honey-and-fire-ant sendoff is Then Came You, for perpetuating the notion that it's okay for a woman to hold the money, power, and age cards in the relationship so long as the situation is treated funny and nonthreatening. Meanwhile, fossilized leading men like Chuck Norris and Don Johnson are allowed to squeeze 25-year-old tomatoes without comment.
The second show which should be run out of town on a rail is Snoops, because David E. Kelley has proven once again that not only is he a lightweight idea factory, he's arrogant, micromanaging and immature enough to blast lead actresses in print when they point out, correctly, that his overcommitted schedule and lack of attention has left an as-yet-unaired show directionless. For having hubris of epic proportions and the emotional maturity of a six-year-old, I judge Snoops as deserving of a quick death and a shallow unmarked grave.
The third show in this trio -- the hulking idiot Non to the previous shows' Zod and Ursa -- is Cold Feet. Riding on the heels of the fiendishly popular Providence, the promise of a couples drama in which one half of one couple pitches woo with a rose stuck in an orifice many regard as exit-only was enough to convince NBC to cancel Homicide. Therefore, the show deserves to be sent to Oz for felony-level fraud.
Will these shows stay on the air? Probably. Will Kelley continue to count network coup with yet another babe-heavy lite drama? Given the viewing tastes of the American public, it's entirely possible. Will I lose the Dead Pool? I'm guessing yes.
But the moral victory -- being able to sleep the sleep of the untroubled in front of a dark television screen -- will be sweet indeed.
And it also happens to perfectly sum up the arbitrary nature of TeeVee's Dead Pool contest.
In any given year, you can run down the list of new shows and tick off three, maybe four, that have no business ever making it to air in a universe ruled by a merciful and loving God. And yet, these shows very rarely are the first to be struck down by right-thinking TV executives. Sometimes, they even flourish, against all common sense, creative standards or public sentiment.
Right, Brooke Shields?
So let others pick with their heart. I'm making my Dead Pool picks with my head. The following shows, listed in descending order of cancellation, aren't necessarily the worst to clog up the public airwaves this year. But they certainly face the longest odds of surviving past Columbus Day.
Fair? Hardly. But in the Dead Pool, deserve's got nothing to do with it.
3. Shasta McNasty -- OK, deserve's got something to do with it. We're talking the worst new show on the worst network featuring the worst cast and the single worst idea since someone said, "Hey, Sue Costello's funny enough to carry a sitcom." That ought to count for something.
2. Oh Grow Up -- Last year, ABC rolled out a thoroughly repellent half-hour of comedy called The Secret Lives of Men. I think they've just changed the title and are trying to broadcast the same show all over again, hoping that we won't notice.
1. Love and Money -- Wow. Three picks, three sitcoms. Guess I'm not in a laughing kind of mood this year.
Neither will the cast of Love and Money be, after the cold sting of reality hits them. There's nothing that screams out "Drek!" about this show, save for a premise that seems a wee bit musty. The cast appears to be competent. The producers, to my knowledge, have not wronged God in any way.
Love and Money airs on a Friday night when few people are around to watch formulaic sitcoms. It sticks out like a sore thumb on the CBS schedule, wedged between the too-cute Kids Say The Darndest Things and the too-creepy Now & Again. And it airs on a network with a history of smothering Friday-night sitcoms in the cradle.
Love and Money probably deserves a better fate. But I think, by now, we all know what role deserve plays in this business.
1. Shasta McNasty: There are few things in this world that will get you dumped onto the soggy ash heap of history faster than a bad name. There will never be an action movie hero named "Glen." Caspar Weinberger may have had his moment in the sun, but we were all snickering at him behind his back. And, like the leering shadow of a piano strung precariously overhead, the words Shasta McNasty portend doom.
I mean, if you could pick -- out of the infinite combination of letters available to you -- any name in the world for your television series, how much of your skull would have to be missing before you'd decide on Shasta McNasty? Fifty percent? Seventy-five? All of it? Perhaps you have a bit of larynx sticking out of your neck, sputtering some blood, and people interpreted that as Shasta McNasty.
Shasta McNasty sounds like a character from a Highlander parody script. Maybe no one mentioned that truth-in-labeling laws don't apply to entertainment, and they didn't actually have to call the series "nasty" up front. Heck, maybe Teton O'Crap was taken.
And if the lummoxes who -- for whatever reason -- picked Shasta McNasty for their little swill-o-thon can't be trusted with the first two words on the title page of the premiere script, I'm bettin' they won't be very good at operating cameras or not walking into the scenery or living through the first episode either.
2. Shasta McNasty: Seriously. I hate that name. I hate everything about it. I hate the way it sounds, I hate the way it feels on my tongue, I hate the way I keep typing Shasty McNasty by accident. Which -- if possible -- is even worse.
Shasta McNasty smells of market testing and frat-boy focus groups. It carries the stench of let's-be-hip. Forget the damned show: the name itself is an affront to everything that is good and holy and pure. It is a sickness, a disease.
I hate you, Shasta McNasty. I hate your letters, your sound, your stink! You are an incantation to summon the Devil! You are a pox upon the land, boils erupting and spilling pus! You are evil! Eeeeevil! Die, Shasta McNasty! Die!
3. Shasta McNasty: Something must be done. There are children to protect.
Shasta McNasty is going to be cancelled. Even if I have to get a rifle and a bus ticket and do it myself.
Sometimes, you're picking your nose, and way in the back is a booger you just know is going to be particularly juicy. It's the Perfect Booger. But it's just beyond the reach of your questing fingertip. And so you push your finger up your nose harder, and harder, and you push that booger further back, and further, and finally you shove your last shove, and you punch a hole in your sphenoid sinus and jam that booger into your precentral lobes where it kills several million brain cells in charge of keeping you from sticking your finger up your nose again.
This is a metaphor, kids, but too many of my precentral brain cells are missing for me to tell you what for. I suspect it has something to do with picking the shows for this year's Dead Pool.
And you're the booger.
No, wait, here are the boogers:
1. The Strip: Just because everyone keeps picking Shasta McNasty, I'll pick The Strip. It sounds inordinately stupid. But then, so did Remington Steele. And I loved that show.
Then again, I was twelve.
2. Judging Amy: Because shows where the main character has the same first name as the actor portraying them must be eradicated. Do actors have trouble reacting to the other actors unless someone calls out their real name first? Amy -- don't quit your day job.
3. Shasta McNasty: I am miffed because this show is not about an Afro-wearing singing female crime-solving detective. I was looking forward to a cross between Lauryn Hill and Shaft's Big Score!. Other than that, it looks good, but I am loath to second-guess my Vidiot compatriots.
But if they changed the name to Teton O'Crap....
Within days, viewer apathy, crappy writing, mismanaged promotion and killer time slots engulf the herd like a pride of hungry lions, eager to rip the new season to shreds and devour the entrails of Oh Grow Up and Work With Me. While those of us in the television critiquing business sit on the edge of the fray like cowardly hyenas, braying at the carnage and hoping that there will still be chunks of flesh from Family Law or Ladies' Man for us to chew up and spit out.
And in television, just like highly dubious metaphors about television as life on the African plain, there are always a few gazelles that the lions munch on first. Call it survival of the fittest or the curse of Tony Danza, whatever, just a quick glance at the herd will always reveal the sick and the weak, the Wind on Waters and the Costellos, straggling along, reeking of death, just trying to keep up with Suddenly Susan. But the struggle is futile: soon they're nothing more than big cat crap.
The pungent odor of fear, the terrified look in the eyes of a gentle animal scrambling to escape a blood-thristy hunter, the piercing scream of prey being eaten alive and the triumphant, primal howl of a predator raising its gore-streaked snout to the full moon.
This is what the TeeVee Dead Pool is all about. Plus the prizes. Don't forget the prizes.
With the melodrama out of the way, here are three off-the-cuff, no-basis-in-scientific-television-programming-methodology picks for the first shows to end up in the hungry jaws of cancellation. You'll notice that a couple of shows that ought to be the first to die are not included.
Shasta McNasty was a popular pick by most Vidiots. And yes, if any so-called creative effort ever deserved to be eviscerated it is Shasta McNasty. But Shasta has two things going for it. It's on UPN, so what would replace it? Mercy Point reruns? Plus, it's target audience is teenage boys. And as everyone over the age of 21 can tell you, if there's one demographic stupider than teenage girls, it's boys 12-18. Adolescent girls gave us the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and 98 Degrees. Teenage boys will make Shasta McNasty a cornerstone of popular culture.
And that's when the Almighty will unleash the locusts.
1. The Mike O' Malley Show: This is the guy who stars in those ESPN commercials. Not the good SportsCenter ones, but the ones featuring The Rick. What's next, a sitcom featuring the Old Navy Lady? Judging from advance reviews, this could give Shasta McNasty a run for worst show of the season.
2. Love and Money: Robin Leach is doing promos for this show. I thought he was dead. Former syndicated television stars that most of the public thinks is dead do not do promos for programming that any living creature would want to watch.
3. Get Real: If there was such a thing as poetic justice, the last episode of this show, which features characters talking directly to the camera and referencing other TV shows, would showcase the little boy on his hands and knees, begging and pleading Fox to not cancel them. Followed by the disembodied voice of Rupert Murdoch declaring, "Oh my God, I'm killing Kenny!"
Second, a confession: My three favorite new network shows of Fall 1998 were the following, in order of preference: Vengeance Unlimited, Fantasy Island, and Cupid. In other words, there is no accounting for taste. Or ratings, obviously.
Third, the usual caveats and excuses: Tough year to call; impossible to apply any rational standard; so many stinkers, only three picks; nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public; the government is drugging my tap water; my mother's cat is trying to kill me.
Finally, my picks:
1. Shasta McNasty. It's whack, but in the negative sense of the word. Gone by Oct. 15 latest. Word.
2. The West Wing. Critics hail this as one of the best shows of the new season, but the critics hail a lot of things that suck. Americans are nice people, but they know what they hate. Specifically, they hate two things: the media and politics. To that list, I predict they will soon add a hybrid third: sanctimonious network dramas about politics. And writer/producer Aaron Sorkin has got sanctimony in spades. The promo NBC aired last month had White House staffers leaping into action after "POTUS" (President of the United States to those of us who speak jargon-free English) falls off his bike or something. That's drama? If that isn't nauseating enough, how about Rob Lowe? Expect West Wing to be impeached and removed in short order.
3. Manchester Prep. Lord knows Fox has taken prurience to new and awe-inspiring depths. But this one is not to be. The kultur will not tolerate it. For one thing, you don't have to read Daily Variety to know that "Cruel Intentions" -- the film upon which Fox's latest excursion into soft-core porn is ostensibly based -- never captured the hearts, minds or dollars of moviegoers. More important, it is a bad time to be a deviant. Americans, in this post-Columbine era, want to see teenagers who are happy, wholesome, and passive -- not snotty, slutty, and spiteful. Producers were already pressured to cut a "shocking masturbation scene" (in the words of my friends at the Parents' Television Council). Premieres sometime in the Fall. Expelled from the airwaves not long after.
At least, that's what the other Vidiots tell me. But this year, I'll prove them wrong. I'll prove them all wrong. I'm back, baby! This year, the magic touch will return. This year, I'll pick shows that actually go off the air, not shows that turn into major hits. This year, I'll finally reclaim the glory that should be mine each and every year. In fact, I shall even predict the means of death and the replacements that will fill in for the departed. For such is my confidence.
Either that, or I'll just cry bitter tears and watch Once and Again. That Sela Ward sure is purty.
3. Ladies' Man. The Scenario: CBS freaks out when the godawful ratings of this Alfred Molina comedic debacle start sucking the life out of two of its sacred cows, King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond. The result? A quick death. Bring on the Raymond repeats!
2. Manchester Prep. The Scenario: A troubled production, an unhappy network, and terrible ratings up against other Thursday-night fare mean this series is destined for the crapper. In its place? Some reruns of Fox cartoons and perhaps the midseason return of Eddie Murphy's The PJ's.
1. Cold Feet. The Scenario: This attempt to cash in on Providence will backfire on NBC, scoring low ratings and punishing the Peacock for killing Homicide in order to replace it with this sentimental claptrap. In its place, NBC will relocate Law & Order: SVU, thereby pleasing Dick Wolf with a 10 p.m. time slot and returning Richard Belzer's John Munch to his god-given home: Fridays at 10.
So it has written. So it shall be done!
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