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Freaky Friday

It's my turn to utter a complaint that's been said many times since the early fifteenth century: What is it with the networks?

Let's say, just for the moment, that I'm a geek. This is just a hypothetical example, you understand. And let's say that there're some shows in the upcoming fall season that, being a geek, I'm interested in watching. Shows like Fox's Freakylinks and Night Visions. Night Visions is sort of like Twilight Zone hosted by Henry Rollins, and I think we can all agree that Twilight Zone would have been better if Rod Serling had been a tattooed weightlifter who split his time between angry alternative rock and edgy stand-up comedy. I'm not sure what Freakylinks is about, except that it has a Web site already. Oh, and it "follows a young Webmaster whose paranormal Web site leads him to his long-deceased twin, who may be very much alive!"

Okay. So we've established the genre of television that I, the science-fiction reading television viewer, like. And lucky me, there's also a pair of shows on UPN: Freedom and Level 9. Freedom is set in a totalitarian postapocalyptic future, and stars, um, nobody. Because this is UPN. But the four main characters are "fighting machines whose razor-edged bodies and defiant spirits are ultimate weapons," and they're waging a guerilla war against the evil feds. I admit that it sounds awful even by UPN standards, but I'm into that sort of thing. Level 9, meanwhile, features noble government workers fighting against the evil tide of hackers. This is presumably to balance out anti-government talk in Freedom. But it still stars characters that sound like they know their way around a Graphical User Interface, so I, the loyal science fiction-reading, web page-surfing, conspiracy theory-collecting geek, am interested in watching it.

Are there any other shows that catch my eye? Of course -- there's ABC's refreshing conspiracy-theory sitcom The Trouble With Normal, unless they've changed its name again. Billed as an "outrageous new comedy," the main characters have become convinced that the government is watching their every move. And the funny part is -- oh, you'll slap your thighs when I tell you -- their neighbor, Jon Cryer, actually is watching them for the government! Wacky government-spook hijinks will, presumably, ensue.

Okay, so we've established that there's a pretty good range of new television shows out there that appeal to my taste for science fiction, conspiracy theories, and awful, awful plots and acting. So what's my beef? Where's the fly in my ointment? Where, in short, is my excuse for wasting your time here? Just this:

All those shows are on the same day. Specifically, Friday.

Why would the networks do that? They know in advance that the target market for these shows is pretty small, and they know that your typical JFK-assassination-movie-watching fanboy is annoyingly fanatical about the random show they pluck out of the herd. Some of these shows wouldn't be successful even if they weren't scheduled against nearly-identical opposition. Freedom probably wouldn't be successful even if it were the only thing on every channel and was constantly beamed directly into the brain of every mammal on Earth with an opposable thumb. But they've done everything they can to make sure that this whole handful of shows has to divide up the tiny subset of viewers, so they'll all fail. If I were the geek lobby (and how do you know I'm not?), I'd start writing the outraged "Keep My Favorite Show On The Air, Network Maggot!" letters now. I figure, why wait for the formality of the cancellation notices?

The networks do this every year -- remember in 1978, when Mork & Mindy was scheduled against Project UFO? Remember 1985, when Knight Rider was scheduled against that awful revival of Twilight Zone? Remember in 1948 when Fashions on Parade was up against Musical Miniatures?

Oh, you do not, you liar. You'd probably believe me if I claimed that Hat Squad and Fish Police were in the same time slot in 1992. Of course, they were actually on the same network. Man, did CBS used to suck or what?

So what's the answer? Why do the networks persist in glomming all similar shows together in one place? Are they just stupid? Is it all a coincidence? Or is it something more sinister?

Beats me. All I know is, the only show with geek appeal that I didn't mention is Dark Angel, which is conveniently scheduled far, far from Friday. It's on Tuesday. Directly opposite the not-at-all similar Angel.

Those wacky networks. I guess they're just setting us up for silly mishaps and misunderstandings, so our antics provide amusement for the alien overlords that watch our every move.


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