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The 1999 Dead Pool: Hope Springs Infernal

There's this cartoon -- I'm sure you've seen it. It's only been running continuously in newspapers for the past 30 years or so. You have Charlie Brown and you have Lucy, and Lucy's got a football. And somehow, through some sort of primordial guile or cunning, Lucy convinces Charlie Brown that today's the day that he's going to kick the football while she holds it perfectly in place.

Now Charlie Brown sees this ruse for what it is: an obvious attempt to humiliate him in front of God, that Little Red-Headed Girl and whoever else might happen to be watching. And yet...

And yet, the little round-headed kid always manages to convince himself otherwise. He suspends that last shard of disbelief and works himself into a fine lather, all to reassure himself that, this time, things will be different. This time, Lucy will not pull the football away. This time, there will be no humiliation. This time, victory.

And I think we can all fill in the storyline from here: Charlie Brown runs toward the ball, Lucy yanks it away, Charlie Brown mutters some variation of "Good grief!" and Lucy makes some arch observation about the frailty of man while Charlie Brown twitches painfully on the ground. End of story, fade to black, you and I have moved on to see what Marmaduke is up to this morning.

Some people look at that little morality play and see a tale of the indomitable spirit of mankind. Sure, Charlie Brown knows that the football will be yanked away, and he'll wind up staring haplessly at the unforgiving heavens. But it doesn't matter. He tries to kick the football anyway. Against all odds, rationale thought and empirical evidence to the contrary, Charlie Brown begins each ill-fated journey with the solemn belief that this is the moment he gives that doubting hag Lucy what-for. What a testament to perseverance, to pluck, to soldiering forth in the face of insurmountable opposition.

Or, if you're like me, you look at this and think, "Man, that Charlie Brown is really thick-headed."

Of course, you could say that about those of us who follow the TV biz for a living, too. Each year about this time, the networks' new fall shows begin rolling into town -- so fresh, so full of promise, so unaware of the trouble that's about to go down. And for a moment, we grizzled TV writers cast aside our cynical, bitter ways and become young again. It's like we're transported back to our first high school dance, and from across the room, we see her -- quite possibly the most beautiful girl in the world. "Could this be the woman of my dreams?" we ask ourselves. "Could this be the one?"

Then, the shows start debuting -- the Maggie Winters and the Costellos and whatever other drek you can think of that premiered around this time last year. And suddenly, those cynical, bitter ways of ours return with a vengeance. We're still back at our first high school dance, only now it's right after the would-be woman of our dreams has harpooned our heart with the heel of her red pumps, and we've fled to some dingy dive to dull the pain by downing shots of scotch or ethyl or ammonia or, really, whatever depressant we can get our hands on.

Hope. Debut episodes. Despair. Cancellation. That's the circle of TV life, baby, and it's about to begin anew.

The folks who've actually seen the first few episodes of the new season sound optimistic, if guardedly so. If nothing else, we're told, this year's crop of rookie shows isn't nowhere near as awful as last year's remedial freshman class. Of course, considering that last year marked Bo Derek's triumphant return to TV, gave us a show where the words Brian Benben were featured in the title, and tried to sell us on the wacky misadventures of Abraham Lincoln's black British butler, that's sort of damning with faint praise. It's like the Civil War-era surgeon telling you that he's managed to keep that gangrene in check, but, man, he hopes you weren't a southpaw.

Instead, this year, we'll apparently be treated to programs where book-learned adults will not have to draw the shades for fear that the neighbors might catch them watching Suddenly Susan or The Pretender. We're talking shows that are, if not necessarily daring, at least can be called different. Good shows? That's debatable. But if it means a fall free of the tyranny of the Olsen twins, hell, we'll take what we can get.

And what exactly will that be? No less than a dozen shows that center around impossibly beautiful young people and their impossibly contrived woes. A pair of shows that try to ape Providence's success with spinning addle-brained fairy tales for careerist women. And, of course, professional wrestling's glorious return to prime time.

Oh God.

Better pass me some of that ammonia. And tell Lucy to tee up the football. I got a feeling a certain round-headed kid is going to be trying to split the uprights.

OK, so this new fall season may turn out to be the big suck-a-roo, just like last year, and just like the year before that. But at least you and I will get to engage in that other great rite of fall -- TeeVee's annual Dead Pool.

As you may well know -- and those of you who don't can go back to reading those horrible fan fiction sites where Mr. Drummond has his way with Arnold and Willis -- each year us Vidiots have ourselves a little contest where we pick the shows we think are the most likely to be canceled first. We have no firsthand knowledge of how good these programs may or may not be. We don't base our picks on anything resembling facts. Just a few lucky guesses in a friendly wager over a lavish prime rib dinner down at the local steakhouse.

For the past two years, we've opened the contest up to you, the home reader. And a lucky few have managed to take home a handful of gaudy trinkets and baubles thanks to their ability to pinpoint which shows are shrouded with the vile stink of death.

And this year shall be no different. Prepare yourself for The 1999 TeeVee Dead Pool, the last Dead Pool of the 20th century. Except for the fact that the 21st century doesn't begin until January of 2001. But who are we to quibble with popular sentiment?

It's the Dead Pool, goddammit. And it's high time you people learn the rules.


Pick through the 38 new shows that ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, the WB and -- yes -- even the poor, dumb UPN will unleash upon an otherwise innocent populace in the next few weeks. Then pick out the three -- in order -- that you think will be the first to be canceled. If you correctly pick the first show, you get three points. Pick the second show, and you get two points. Pick the third show to go, and you get one. If any of the shows you picked gets canceled, but not in the order you picked it, you will be awarded half a point. Include the date you think the first show will be sent back to mama in a pine box: That's what we in the contest biz call our tie-breaker.

To the person with the most points go the spoils. And my, what spoils they are.


OK, so the prizes aren't that great. And yes, it may well be mid-summer by the time we get around to mailing them out. But isn't the honor of winning our stupid little contest enough to tide you people over? Isn't the glory of having your TV savvy proclaimed to the known world prize enough?

No. We didn't think it would be either. So we will send you a T-shirt. And a bumper sticker. And, who knows, maybe even a lock of Boychuk's hair.


Send your entry to teevee@teevee.org by Monday, September 20. Only one entry per person -- not because we're devoted to fairness here, but really, if your life is so empty that you have to flood us with entries, a crapcan T-shirt from us isn't going to make things any better.

You might want to wait until tomorrow, when we post Philip Michaels' comprehensive handicapping of all the debuting series and their chances at being the first one to go. Of if you're real proud-like, you might prefer to do it without any help at all. All you're getting is a lousy t-shirt if you win, in either case.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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