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Dead Pool '99: Bringing Out the Dead

Casual readers of this Web site may get the impression that we have a rather low opinion of network TV executives. While meandering through our archives, readers will stumble across our vicious taunts of Warren Littlefield, our cruel gibes at the expense of Jamie Tarses, our crude puns heaping shame upon the good name of Scott Sasa, and they'll invariably reach the same conclusion: that we think the typical network executive is a two-faced weasel, a glad-handing empty suit with a tin ear for creativity and an aversion to anything that takes the slightest risk, a slack-jawed yes man with a jones for banality who shows the same lousy taste in programming that he does in his neckties.

Which is unfair, really. We've never made fun of their ties.

Besides, network executives are at least trying to set things right. Take this fall. Before one new show had even aired, the suits promised us this year would be different. They swore they learned from their past mistakes. Good ratings or bad, the new programs would have an honest chance at finding their footing, the executives said. No more itchy trigger fingers. No more mass cancellations before the first snowflake hit the ground. No more yanking shows halfway through the premiere episode and replacing them with "World's Funniest Gougings."

It should be noted at this point that TV executives also are spectacular liars. Because if they really learned from their past mistakes, then why on Earth were Nancy Travis and Kevin Pollak given another bite at the apple?

When it comes to TV, Travis and Pollak -- two otherwise perfectly wonderful people who have wronged God in no way -- have racked up a string of abrupt failures. Travis is best known for her stint on the sitcom Almost Perfect, a title full of more hope than truth. After eking out two seasons on CBS, Almost Perfect was banished to the USA Network, the place where short-lived sitcoms are sent to fill out the space between wrestling.

Pollak's tube-based career is no less spotty, the lone highlight being a one-year run as a recurring voice-over on The Drew Carey Show. Other than that, it's a handful of best-forgotten programs like Morton & Hayes, a blink-and-you-missed it sitcom that marked the start of Rob Reiner's descent into madness.

So it would seem that if you're a network executive and your goal is to actually convince viewers to watch your programs, the last two people you should turn to for help would be Nancy Travis and Kevin Pollak. If anything, you're leaving 8-by-10 glossies of the two with security and ordering them to shoot on sight.

But, just as those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, those who green-lighted Meego are likely to make the same mistake twice. So CBS pulled off the ill-advised move of tapping both Nancy Travis and Kevin Pollak to star in the same show. In Work With Me, they would play a married couple who worked in the same office and got into one hilarious situation after another.

We should have spotted this disaster a mile away.

CBS gave the show all of four episodes to find its footing before sending Travis and Pollak off to continue their far more lucrative film careers. In place of Work With Me, get ready for repeats of your favorite CBS comedies, with the network's deepest hope that you won't notice the difference.

Just a day after Work With Me was left on the ash heap of history, Fox pulled off a double execution, axing Ryan Caulfield: Year One and Harsh Realm. After two airings of Ryan Caulfield and three installments of Harsh Realm, Fox apparently decided that both programs had found their audience -- which turned out to be next to nobody.

You may remember that Ryan Caulfield: Boy Policeman started life out as just Ryan Caulfield before changing its name to The Badland and then switching again to the woefully inaccurate Ryan Caulfield: Year One. This may mark the first time in history that a show has had more titles than air dates.

It hasn't been a particularly good autumn 'round Fox, where Action and Family Guy have already been put on hiatus and where ratings on most shows have dwindled to UPN-esque depths. Since he came on board too late to take any blame for OK'ing this train wreck, Fox chief Doug Herzog doesn't have to hire food tasters just yet. But as several out of work Los Angeles Dodger executives can attest, Rupert Murdoch is not widely known for his tolerance of failure.

How bad are things at Fox? The network has managed to pull off the rare, though not unheard of, feat of cancelling a program before a single episode airs. The victim, Manchester Prep, was reportedly a special kind of awful -- over-budget, behind schedule and tawdry enough to shame even the most unabashed libertine.

Think about that for a moment. What kind of swill must you have produced if Rupert Murdoch watches your first episode, looks around the room with a "Who farted?" expression and says, "Pass?"

Before you answer, it bears repeating that Fox is the network that wants to crash a jumbo jet in the middle of the desert as a sweeps month stunt.

(All that aside, we here at TeeVee have a special interest in getting our hands on the two completed, unaired Manchester Prep episodes. Why? Because television this awful must be seen to be believed. It's like "The Day the Clown Cried," that movie that Jerry Lewis starred in years and years ago about the Nazi Holocaust; you don't want to watch, but you dare not look away. So to all our unnamed readers out there with inside Hollywood connections -- your secret is safe with us, Dennis Boutsikaris! -- we beg you: Send us the Manchester Prep tape. A free T-shirt, an assortment of snacks and a kind thought from the likes of us will be your reward. Tapes of particularly filthy porno movies with the words Manchester Prep scrawled in magic marker also will be cheerfully accepted.)

Now those of you who picked Manchester Prep in our annual Dead Pool, you must be feeling pretty smug right now. Yes, the show you tabbed as roadkill did, in fact, give up the ghost. And yes, you should be congratulated for your TV savvy, your programming moxie, your skillful avoidance of the Shasta McNasty trap.

But wipe that grin off your face, Buster! Why? For starters, Shasta McNasty is still on the air, and that should be enough to put a hearty dose of The Fear into any right-thinking person. More important, though, the cancellation of Manchester Prep doesn't count for TeeVee Dead Pool purposes.

We refer you to the precedent-setting case of Scott Baio and his unlamented sitcom Rewind. Fox OK'd it in May, yanked it off the schedule in August and shot the last remaining copy of the pilot into space by October -- all without a single episode ever airing.

Did Rewind count in that year's Dead Pool? No. Nor did the similarly canned Hollyweird count last year. Nor will Manchester Prep count this year. Why? Because shows that never make it to the airwaves don't count in our crappy little contest.

Sorry, folks. We don't make the rules. Well, that's not true at all, actually. We do make the rules. But we're not the addle-brained network who rained on your parade by throwing in the towel on Manchester Prep before the opening bell, are we? Your beef's with Fox, not us.

Maybe Doug Herzog should hire those food tasters after all.

So in the end, the Dead Pool went down like this:

FIRST TO GO: The Mike O' Malley Show
SECOND TO GO: Work With Me
THIRD TO GO: (tie) Ryan Caulfield: Year One and Harsh Realm

Readers Juliana Duffy and Shawn MacFarlane jumped out to an early lead by correctly identifying Mike O'Malley as the season's first casualty. As for the rest... well, they whiffed. Neither Julia nor Shawn identified any of the other shows to get the axe. Still, their foresight in identifying Mike O'Malley's doomed opus was enough to hold off a furious challenge by reader David MacDonald, who finished in second.

So that means the vaunted TeeVee Dead Pool title would come down to a tiebreaker: the date that the first show would be sent out to pasture.

Only Julia didn't submit a tiebreaker with her entry. And Shawn didn't either.

OK, so Julia and Shawn couldn't be bothered to read our rules. Fine. Then they surely won't be bothered when we don't give the prize to either of them. We're sticklers for propriety at TeeVee, and we could do a lot worse than declare that David MacDonald had won the Dead Pool by correctly identifying Work With Me as the second show to get canceled while also including Mike O'Malley in his top three picks.

The problem is, David didn't include the tiebreaker date, either.

Let's go back in time for a second, to the article where we outlined the rules for the Dead Pool. Pay specific attention to the part that says:

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.

Which leads us to ask a simple question: What is so goddamn difficult to comprehend about that sentence? Is it the colon that's throwing you off, the monosyllabic words, the light and breezy writing style? Really -- do you people actually read our site? Or do you just sort of skim along, mouthing out the important words until you've gotten the gist of it?

Pat Buchanan is right: This country's landed right in the crapper. People can't run a simple Internet contest without it looking more crooked than a Mike Tyson fight. Our schools are churning out progressively stupider kids who listen to increasingly awful music. Women's fashions are appalling, and you can't get a good cup of coffee any more for under a buck. And it's all the fault of the pinkos. The pinkos and the Canadians and the Freemasons who subvert the rule of law and tear at the thin fabric of decency that keeps us from devolving into chaos.

Goddamn you people! Goddamn you all!

Hmmm? Oh, the contest! Right. Um, Juliana Duffy, Shawn MacFarlane and David MacDonald: You all win T-shirts. Congratulations. You deserve it.



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