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Be Careful What You Wish For

I've been reading the recent analyses of the upcoming fall network lineups with considerable bemusement. The common criticism seems to be that the shows of the "new" fall season look an awful lot like the refried pablum that made up the old fall season. Evidently, the programming powers-that-be believe that their brain-damaged audiences are incapable of concentrating long enough to follow an original premise. I think the articles also mentioned something about Regis Philbin. I don't know, I wasn't paying that much attention.

Well, count your blessings, gang, because I've come to remind you that it could be worse. And I can make that statement with authority, because it has been worse. The kind of worse that makes you want to claw your eyeballs out, then stuff them in your ears to drown out the miserable dialogue.

For there was once a time when original premises were a dime a dozen. And oh, God and baby Jesus, did they ever fucking suck.

Mind you, I don't blame Philip Michaels or the rest of the Vidiots for forgetting how bad things once were. The human brain has a remarkable capability for blocking out traumatic events. The intervening years that Phil spent concentrating and inhaling 3M Scotchgard probably didn't help, either.

In fact, I had forgotten those terrible days myself until a few weeks ago. I was thumbing through my friend Dave's extensive library of Porkin' Porkers magazine (from the esteemed publishers of Stuck Pig and All-Anal Adipose) when I ran across his dirty little secret: a cache of old TV Guide Special Fall Preview issues. Against my better judgment, I picked one up and began to skim through it.

And then it suddenly came rushing back to me. The absurd premises. The hateful, mismatched ensemble casts. The monkey crap. I'm not making some sort of ham-fisted analogy to bad programming here, either. I'm talking about real monkey crap!

It is said that those who forget history are doomed to watch repeats of it. Therefore, in order to prevent such evils from befalling us again, I consider it my solemn, painful duty to remind you of the horror that was. So brace yourself. Make little Billy leave the room. This is going to hurt.

I present to you. The New Fall Season. Of 1983.

The curtain opens on the surviving programs of '82. Prime time is awash with tired sitcoms that have worn out their welcomes, Dallas and its innumerable bastard children, and more cop shows than you can shake a nightstick at.

Representing the sitcoms, Diff'rent Strokes, Happy Days, Three's Company, Alice, The Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time all limp along as gimpy shadows of their former glory. Square Pegs and Too Close For Comfort have been axed, and Joanie evidently no longer Loves Chachi, yet Mama's damnable Family inexplicably still resides at NBC's 8:30 time slot.

The two lone bright spots are Family Ties and Cheers, which will be joined a year from now by The Cosby Show and Night Court. These four shows will soon become known as the Best Thursday Night Lineup in Television History. Until then, though, we're stuck watching Nell Carter waddle around the set of Gimme a Break! Sometimes she sings, causing at least one impressionable eleven year old Southern California boy to crumple into the fetal position and weep bitterly.

Meanwhile, you can't throw a rock without hitting a Carrington, or a Ewing, or a Channing, or a Colby. And, given that sleazy primetime soaps will continue to stink up the airwaves for over another decade, somebody should be throwing lots and lots of rocks.

On the adventure and cop show front, T.J. Hooker's William Shatner and The Fall Guy's Lee Majors are locked in an epic battle for the title of Most Washed Up. Pube-headed detectives Matt Houston and Magnum P.I., on the other hand, just look like they need to wash up. And thinking back on the number of hours I wasted on tripe like The Dukes of Hazzard, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat makes me feel like washing up. Sadly, some stains just never come out.

Then, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, here come the new shows! We'll start with those programs that dare to rise above total mediocrity. This should take about thirty seconds.

Hardcastle and McCormick has a cool theme song and a main character with the nickname "Skidmark."

I pity da foo' that don't watch The A-Team, since aforementioned foo' will miss out on a great cast, fun and snappy dialogue, and ridiculously contrived yet hugely entertaining plotlines.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King benefits from great chemistry between its two stars, and the chicks sure seem to dig that dude from "Tron."

Finally, Hotel, which is Swedish for "Love Boat on land," is a show about stuff that happens in a hotel. It comes on after my bedtime and it sounds kind of boring, so I will never watch an episode, but it will stick around for several seasons, so I'm guessing it has some redeeming qualities.

So in a year when The Good consists primarily of a large black man with a Mohawk and 400 pounds of gold around his neck shouting, "You ain't gettin' me on no plane, Hannibal," what do The Bad and The Ugly look like?

Well, I think they look a lot like The Rousters, "an action-adventure comedy about a carnival based in Los Angeles." If that scenario doesn't thrill you to your very core, maybe the wacky cast of characters, headed up by the likes of Hoyt Axton and Jim Varney, will. More likely, though, this show will just remind you of why people usually walk through the freak show very, very quickly.

While we're on the subject of freaks, I would be amiss not to mention Webster, which brings us the wholly original tale of a teeny-tiny black boy who is adopted by an upscale white family. See, it's different from that other tiny-black-adoptee show, because this little guy has a squeaky little voice instead of talent. I don't think there's a doubt in anybody's mind that Gary Coleman could eat Emmanuel Lewis alive. He couldn't convert him into urine, but he could eat him alive.

Too bad he never did. Webster, Ma'am, and George will continue to plague us with their cloying, family-approved storylines for the next four years.

New to Tuesday is NBC's Bay City Blues, Steven Bochco's next gig after Hill Street Blues ("Look, this one has "Blues" in the title, too! It must be good!"). It follows the misadventures of a rag-tag minor league baseball team, the Bay City Bluebirds, whose players include Bernie Casey, Dennis Franz, and Ken Olin.

Despite the fact that the Bay City Blues promo picture in the TV Guide Preview Edition features a gal with huge hooters, this turkey will last a marathon four episodes, and Bochco will later use this debacle as a source of comfort when Cop Rock folds after six. Hey, at least we didn't have to see Franz's acne-pitted ass-cheeks this time 'round.

Many viewers probably feel as if last year's departure of the long-running favorite, M*A*S*H, left a little hole in their heart. If you're one of these viewers, perhaps CBS's Monday night offering, After M*A*S*H will help to fill that void. I strongly doubt it, though, since the only thing the two shows have in common are Klinger, Colonel Potter, and Father Mulcahy, the three least appealing characters in the show's history. Within half a season, they will produce something that they managed to avoid through eleven years of the three-year Korean War: a massive bomb.

Moving from bombs to bombshells (insert rim shot here), We've Got it Made could easily be called Two Guys and a Blonde with Big Titties. As you may have guessed, it's about two guys that hire a blonde with big titties to clean their house. It's all very modern.

Perhaps the show could be forgiven its misogyny if it weren't for the fact that one of the two guys is Tom Villard. In case you're not familiar with his work, Villard is a Howie Mandel-alike (as if the world really needed two) whom you've seen in numerous small movie roles. And, trust me on this, you've hated him in every damn one.

At least he's not in Just Our Luck, a tepidly offensive sitcom about an unsuccessful TV weatherman who inherits a genie named Shabu, in the form of T.K. Carter. The show itself is not nearly as interesting as what the pre-PC TV Guide has to say about it: "What's more, Shabu is black. That's just what Keith needs in 1983 -- a slave." I suppose we can be glad the show disappeared from the face of the planet before Shabu got a chance to whip up a batch of magical genie-style collard greens 'n' chitlins.

Coming Fridays to NBC is Mr. Smith, a show about a super-intelligent talking orangutan who works as a special consultant to the U.S. government. Sort of like if Janet Reno had her own sitcom. Fortunately for those of us with multiple functioning synapses, Mr. Smith will be axed after less than half a season. I attribute its death to the fact that none of the early episodes included a scene in which Mr. Smith chucks a steaming handful of poo at Ted Kennedy.

The loss of Mr. Smith will leave many of us asking, "Can a primate carry a prime time television show?" We will have to wait until next season's introduction of Who's the Boss? to find out the answer. Which is, in fact, "Good God, no!" Lucky for Tony Danza his young co-star Alyssa Milano will begin developing breasts midway through season one, causing toilet paper usage to nearly triple over the next four years in homes containing teenage boys.

Okay, this doesn't really fall under the heading of prime time, but I have to bring up this new show that comes on right after the news at 11:30. It stars seven vertical bars of varying colors. They stand side by side without moving for five and a half hours. The soundtrack is an incredibly grating high-pitched tone that plays on and on until you want to jam two sharpened pencils through your eardrums. It's not a great show, but it beats the other option, which is a painfully unfunny comedy talk show called Thicke of the Night. I mean, I've got my standards.

There are many more aborted programming fetuses I could mention, but I think you've suffered just about enough. Still, lest you continue to harbor the idea that an original premise is the answer to all of today's TV woes, allow me to remind you of one final program. It's about this guy. He fights crime. He turns into animals. He's called Manimal. He will survive for eight episodes, then go down in history as possibly the worst show ever to grace the airwaves.

And you guys have the gall to bitch about a season full of half-assed Friends rehashes?

You should be ashamed.


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