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Dead Pool 2000: The Vidiots Speak

Where have you gone, Shasta McNasty?

All is forgiven, Wind on Water.

Desmond Pfeiffer, we never appreciated your subtle genius. Not until it was too late.

In all the years we've been doing this Dead Pool nonsense, there's always been one show each year that loomed head and shoulders above its brethren, one program that stood out from among the crowd, one entry that boasted that little extra something. We call that little extra something "The Stink."

Meego had The Stink. The Mike O'Malley Show sported The Stink very distinctively. Jenny, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, Mercy Point -- they all had the kind of The Stink you get after running a marathon and not showering. For three days.

But this season? Remarkably Stink-free.

Oh, don't get me wrong -- many of the new shows aren't very good. Some are quite dreadful, in fact. But it's that creamed-corn sort of dreadful, that awfulness born out of mediocrity and served up with a side of vanilla. And not that the kind of dreadful that permeated, say, Cold Feet.

Mmmmmmm. Cold Feet.

Without any drooling mongrels to pace the field this year, picking the Dead Pool contenders becomes that much harder. Instead of just opening the door and sniffing the air for The Stink, you have to do research. You have to compare time slots, consider lead-ins, examine the fine print on the stars' pay-or-play contracts.

Then, you have to guess.

Maybe these shows aren't the worst ones to make it to the airwaves this season. Maybe they won't be the first three to get cancelled.

But they should be.

Why? Think of it as a blow for taking creative risks, for not serving up another heaping helping of the same old same-old. Consider this a mandate for the TV Powers That Be to swing for the fences or fail spectacularly. But quit trying to play it safe.

Plus, I really could use a free steak dinner.

In descending order, the unlucky winners are:

3. The Trouble With Normal: Four delusional paranoids and their wacky weekly antics with a therapist -- that's not a sitcom premise, that's a Saturday Night Live sketch. And not even a good Saturday Night Live sketch. One that appears right after the musical guest's second number and stars Cheri O'Teri.

Seriously, how do the writers expect to keep this body afloat? Week one: the four paranoids get into a zany scrape on account of their psychosis. Week two: Oh, oh! Someone's paranoid... and in another hilarious misadventure. Week three: You'll never guess whose paranoia results in a kooky case of mistaken identity? Week four... Oh jeez, what are we going to do in week four?

It's a question the cast and crew of The Trouble With Normal won't have to worry too much about.

2. Tucker: You know what TV needs more of? Derivative, copycat shows that ape the premise of their betters without containing any of the wit or charm that made the program special in the first place.

America, meet Tucker. Or as we're calling it around TeeVee headquarters, Tucker in the Middle.

Don't worry, America: you won't have long to get acquainted.

1. Freakylinks: Me and the wife were walking down the streets of Glendale on a recent weekend getaway, on our way back from breakfast. And as we crossed the street, we saw a stack of papers just sitting there in the gutter. Covered in mud and grime, we almost passed them by, until we caught a glance of the title page -- it was the script for episode four of Freakylinks.

Friends, that's better than a whiff of The Stink. That's a sign from on high.

--Philip Michaels

The smell of blood. The stench of fear. The acrid odor of decay and putrefactance. Without a doubt, the new television season is as much an assault on the olfactory nerve as it is good taste and common sense. Networks are no longer programmers but morgue attendants, wheeling bloated stars, rotting writers and diseased concepts in front of a nauseous public, hoping the home viewers can keep from averting their gaze long enough to identify the remains of quality television shows.

This year looks to be an especially bloody one. Sure, there are a few shows, such as NBC's Ed, Fox's Dark Angel, and ABC's Gideon's Crossing that might be still be breathing, perhaps even frisky and full of joie de vivre. But the rest of the new crop looks to be DOA, with some more mangled and misshapen than airplane passengers who crash in the middle of a pit bull farm.

We Vidiots, the cruel bastards who take pleasure in this kind of death and disembowelment, have established the Dead Pool to mock the pain of others, to be the ones reading the eulogy while the patients are still on life support. Without further ado, let the wake begin.

1. Tucker. So far, not a single person has had anything good to say about it. Its lead-in is Daddio. Behind it is Deadline, produced by Law and Order mega-producer Dick Wolf, who must already be screaming bloody murder at the network brass who thought those two comedies would be a good lead-in for his drama. Once Tucker instantaneously tanks, thereby dragging Deadline down with it, do you really think NBC will be more loyal to this schlock than the man who brought them the longest running drama in prime time?

2. DAG. Is anyone really crying out for more Delta Burke? Didn't think so.

3. Freakylinks. When a show's creators are calling it a corpse, then you can be pretty sure it's dead.

--Gregg Wrenn

Each of the shows that follow cost millions of dollars to make, and many talented and devoted people worked themselves into nervous breakdowns making them. It's a shame, then, that they're going to tank and drag down the careers of everyone connected with them. And don't think the people involved don't know it. It's perfectly possible to be working as hard as you can and even be doing a great job at, let's say, wardrobe, and know perfectly well that the show you're affiliated with is going to be completely awful. This time of year, there are many support personnel updating their resumes and hoping nobody notices the Harsh Realm in small print at the bottom.

On the other hand, there must be people who have no idea that their project is walking to the gallows. Those people must be awfully surprised when their show, the show that they think will employ them for the next fifteen years, shows up on lists like this.

3. Bette. Is the world ready for a show where Bette Midler plays Bette Midler and makes sport of the scandals in her life? I say "no," since the world as a whole has no idea what those scandals are to begin with. This show sounds suspiciously like Nathan Lane's Encore! Encore! from a couple years ago and just because we've heard of Bette Midler doesn't mean we want her in our houses every week.

Besides, the only way the American public will accept a redhead this brassy is if she's saying "Kiss my grits, Mel."

2. The Michael Richards Show. Oh, this show is doomed. They made one pilot, threw it away, and made a new one, which they haven't shown to anyone. The producers seem to believe that any show with a Seinfeld alumnus will automatically be successful. To which I respond, how come I can only see Duckman at 1:00 am then? The only reason this show will even air once is because Tim Meadows is in it.

1. FreakyLinks. Will FreakyLinks succeed where Harsh Realm failed?


--Monty Ashley

Let us examine the detritus of seasons past. Sure, we can talk about your Wastelands, your Costellos, your South of Sunsets. But let's face it -- those shows were the equivalent of two-headed calves, hideous freaks doomed to die a quick death after turning the stomachs of a small audience.

The real sting of death is the undeserved death. The shows that died too early -- Cupid, My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks -- are the real casualties of the television season. Without beating the livestock metaphor to death, these are the prizes of the schedule, and yet they die with the same alacrity and ignominy as their freakish brethren.

I'm not going to guess which two-headed calf kicks it first this year, because it's no great loss when it goes. No, I'm saving my morbid vigil for the three shows that are likely to die because they're too damn good to stay on the air.

Number one is Gideon's Crossing. It's got a number of strikes against it -- long plot lines, intensive dialogue and Andre Braugher. The combination of interior-driven plot lines and quality acting will be enough to turn America's stomach -- this is, after all, the same nation that's decreed Providence a quality drama -- and Gideon's Crossing will die of intense neglect.

The next show to go will be Ed. America has clutched follicular overachievers Judge Amy and Doctor Syd to their bosom, but that's no guarantee that their male counterpart will fare as well. Tom Cavanugh has terrible hair, and the plot lines and eccentric dialogue will probably make many pomme de chaises feel like they're either missing the joke or supplying the punchline. Ed will be driven off the schedule as the massed Nielsen audience takes out their intellectual insecurities on the show.

The third Dead Pool entrant is Gilmore Girls, because it's a case of right show, wrong network. The premise may be fresh, the leading actresses may be adorable, the show may be all about reviving the idea that you can watch television with your mom again -- but the people who watch the WB network are all busy pretending they don't have parents right now, so the last thing they want is a show that puts forth the idea that parents are people too. If this show were on NBC after Providence, all those baby-boomer viewers still wishing they too could turn back the clock and relive their youth would happily watch Gilmore Girls as proof that they, too, are capable of being hip, youthful and impulsive parents. But Gilmore Girls is on the WB, and thus will die from the silent treatment.

--Lisa Schmeiser

Call me a sourpuss, but I'm starting to question why we do this. Is it the public service? Something tells me that anyone fooled into thinking DAG is a nice way to knock thirty minutes off the life clock wouldn't heed our apocalyptic warnings anyway. Is it the fervent and delusional hope that our pointed criticism will breed better programming in the future? Let's see: if I recall correctly, we started this thing a few years back with South of Sunset. Since then we've progressed to... The District. Is it the chance to ridicule and bully some poor fop just trying to make a living? Surely we have better things to do.

No? Okay.

In a righteous world, this year's Dead Pool is easy. We'd all form a reception line on the walk to oblivion and anonymity. We would all applaud politely as Geena Davis made her way down the carpet. Then when she reached the end, we'd kick her in the ass, slam the door behind her, and bid her farewell.

There are many reasons The Geena Davis Show should go first. For one thing, nothing says bad idea like hitching your cart to an overpaid film actress whose last six resume credits read "Stuart Little," "The Long Kiss Goodnight," "Cutthroat Island," "Angie," "Speechless," and "Hero." And that's leaving out a couple of those scintillating AFI tributes for which she played host. Right now, the downhill momentum of Davis' career is matched only by Camryn Manheim on skis.

For another, only on TVs continually looped with Ronco ads could this premise be deemed inspired: single, professional woman Davis juggles a) moving in with Peter Horton and his two kids, with b) her single friends. Let the hijinks begin! If this sounds familiar, perhaps you recall Sara, the ill-fated 1985 sitcom wherein Davis played a single attorney juggling madcap personal and professional lives. If ABC's web site is to believed, Davis's return to episodic television "wasn't a conscious plan to pursue television at this moment. It purely was this material. I saw this pilot and fell in love with the writing and the concept... It was specifically this material that I was attracted to."

And she belongs to Mensa.

But this is not a righteous world. The proof is in the not-so-bright rubenesque nude model who married a 90-year old oil tycoon for a year and threatens to walk away with half a billion dollars. If not Geena first, then who?

1. Freakylinks. It's on Fox. The start date (October 6) is early enough that other refuse -- this means you, Michael Richards (October 24) and John Goodman (November 1) -- can't steal its thunder. The original name, Fearsum, has already changed once. The original executive producer took a hike long ago. And the surest sign of a show in its death throes: Nobody has the first clue if the goddamn thing should be light, dark, or, as is typically the case for confused Fox execs, light and dark. Plus, it bears repeating, the show is on Fox. If a big-name star was in the mix, the network conceivably might give Freakylinks a chance to get its sea legs. But really, does anyone care about Ethan Embry? In a word, no.

2. Yes, Dear. Every year, a struggling comic catches his or her big break and lands a sitcom deal. And every year, caught up in the excitement, the struggling comic loses control of his or her bodily functions, farts at the dinner table, and must be excused. Two years ago, it was Sue Costello who I'm pleased to report has learned a convenient shorthand for Rooty-Tooty Fresh N Fruity. Last year, it was Mike O'Malley, that good-natured young man whose comic appeal escapes the vast North American viewing audience. And this year's winner... Mike O'Malley! Because, yes, the Gods are just that cruel.

Actually, in all fairness to the hapless O'Malley, Yes, Dear is Anthony Clark's vehicle. O'Malley is merely a passenger with a vested interest who will watch helplessly as Clark drives them off a cliff. Or judging by Traylor Howard's Boston Common experience, into a third-rate ABC sitcom about guys and pizza joints.

If history teaches us anything, it is that bland CBS comedies have a way of quickly burning up in the atmosphere, particularly bland comedies trying to catch a flyer on the fall season (October 2). For example, who can forget Work With Me? My point, exactly. Last year's Nancy Travis meteorite was utterly immemorable and, more important for our purposes, canned in four episodes. CBS simply does not tolerate pointless, offensively drab sitcoms. That's what Big Brother is for.

3. The Geena Davis Show. Does anyone else find it creepy that Peter Horton bears a passing resemblance to Renny Harlin, the insane Finnish director and Davis' ex-husband? Davis divorced Harlin not long after he directed her and "Cutthroat Island" co-star Matthew Modine to hop in a large vat of shit. Seriously. Curiously enough, it appears Harlin -- who has moved on to directing films with animatronic, jumping sharks -- still exercises some control over Davis' career.

--Peter Ko

It's a man's game, the Dead Pool. You don't win the goods by following the crowd. You take risks, you live on the edge, you engage in a certain amount of derring-do. You, in a phrase, blaze your own path.

And you get stomped as a result, largely because you are an idiot. You don't know what the hell you're doing. You pick three shows, shows different from what everybody else has picked, on the theory that you'll only have to hit one to win. But you never manage that one. Two weeks in, you're left with nothing but the bitter taste of copper in your mouth and the unrelenting deluge of crap that continues to pour out of your television, despite logic and common decency and the will of a vengeful and angry god. Why hasn't Shasta McNasty triggered some sort of safety valve and been routed out to sea?

And so this year: screw it. I'm going with the crowd. If somebody else has picked it, then I'm picking it, too. The masses may be asses -- and if our mail is any indication, the TeeVee readership is crowded with masses -- but there's a certain Jeffersonian wisdom in the common man. Consider these the ratings of the damned. The public has spoken, and like a network executive, I'm willing to abandon any personal conviction I may or may not have ever had to follow obediently along.

1. Freakylinks. Hands down, Freakylinks has won the Jury Award for a Quiet Euthanasia. If this show lives beyond the first commercial break, then we might want to reconsider this whole democracy thing we've got going, because you people have no idea what you're talking about.

2. The Trouble with Normal. I don't have any idea what The Trouble with Normal is about, who it stars, when it airs or what network it's on. I don't care. You hate it, so I do, too. Also: classical music, telemarketers, and that damned punk with the car, you know, the one who's dating that slut from down the street.

3. Tucker. While I didn't think the movie was as bad as many of the critical pans it received, there just wasn't enough material there for a weekly series. A visionary and his car company doesn't have the -- Wait. What?

--Greg Knauss

It's that time of year again. What time of year is that? No, no, I'm really asking. I was told I'm supposed to start out this essay with the sentence "It's that time of year again," and that I have to work into it these three show titles, but that's all I know. I'm at a complete loss -- what time of year is it, again? Back to school? No, you won't get me back to school, not since I took Calc III twice. Football season? The World Series? I don't know anything about sports. Fall premieres on TV? Can't be -- that was supposed to happen a month ago.

I have no clue. But it's that time of year again.

One of the show titles I'm supposed to mention is Tucker. It's about this guy, played by Jeff Bridges... Hang on, is this an obvious joke? Okay, scratch that.

Another title I have to get in here is FreakyLinks. It's BiCapitalized. It will dRive copyEditors insane. That's reason enough to keep it around, but I think the TV Guide will effectively cancel it by refusing to run listings for it after they lose two editors trying to look up the Official FreakyLinks Website to check on the proper capitalIzation.

Finally, I was asked to get The Michael Richards Show in here. How can this show go wrong? It stars Michael Richards, and William Devane, and Tim Meadows. Oh, right, that's how. They tell me this show will be dead as of Halloween.

Now the voices say I'm supposed to talk to you about steel-lined coffins. They say they're very bad because they're so hard to dig out of....

--Chris Rywalt

Among my favorite episodes of the old Rod Serling Twilight Zone series was the one about the soldier who could tell if one of his comrades was going to die by looking at his face. If his mug glowed, the poor dogface was a goner in the next scene.

Without getting into the moral and psychological complexities of all this, let it suffice to say that the soldier was doubly cursed. Not only did he know if one of his buddies was going to die, he knew that his own number was coming up when he saw his glowing reflection in a shattered mirror.

Mind you, I have no desire to experience that soldier's fate. But I think a power similar to his may be manifesting itself in me. I can tell what new television shows are going to be cancelled first just by looking at the faces on the cover of TV Guide's Fall Preview issue.

Four faces. Three of them glow.

Trick of lighting, you say? Maybe. But when you consider that the three faces are Geena Davis, John Goodman, and Bette Midler, might you not give second thoughts to this Sixth Sense mumbo-jumbo? No? Well, to hell with you then.

I say The Geena Davis Show is the first series to go. Just look at her, with that hideous death-grimace and that appalling gown.

Oh, you mean she's smiling?

Poor Geena Davis. She used to be in the movies, a few of which -- the ones without Jeff Goldblum, anyway -- were actually good. She even won an Oscar for something -- "Hero," I think, or maybe "A League of Their Own." Doesn't matter. Anyway, she married some herring-eater who fancied himself a director and made her dress up in pirate outfits and do silly stunts. Now she's doing a bad family sitcom. On ABC.

Expect a short peck on the cheek from Miss Davis, around October 25.

The second show to fall in the Fall will be Bette Midler's eponymous Bette! I don't know why. I just have a weird feeling about it. Well, it is on CBS. And it's up against Regis and Malcolm. And it stars Bette Midler as herself.

I used to think that if a show was cancelled in an evil place, the souls of its stars wouldn't go to Heaven. But now....

Finally, John Goodman's gay romp on Fox, Normal, Ohio, will be the third show to go the way of the unicorn this year. I read about how the Fall 2000 season is supposed to be the true coming out of Gay Hollywood, but I am not so sure. This show has had the standard problems that signal an early demise -- massive script retooling, big cast shake-up, pilot re-shoot.

Ah, you say, hasn't Michael Richards' show experienced similar difficulties? Indeed, it has. The Michael Richards Show is an excellent candidate for early cancellation. But Richards has the look of a survivor. Goodman's glowing alabaster cheeks on the cover of TV Guide tell me everything I need to know.

--Ben Boychuk

It's been a long time since I won the Dead Pool. So long that I can't remember how I did it. I'm washed up, a has-been. I have no choice but to make a bold move, to choose shows nobody else would dare choose. So while I'd love to pick FreakyLinks, Tucker, and DAG, I will instead pick from the oddball bin.

And so, forthwith, my contrarian picks for the year 2000.

1. Titans. Who doesn't love a so-bad-it's-funny Dynasty-style soap opera romp brought to us by Aaron Spelling? Everybody doesn't love it. How can any show hope to outdo the self-conscious over-the-top parody of Melrose Place? And did the failure of Central Park West not teach us anything? Titans is a show with no audience, and NBC will kill it quickly rather than continue to spend a fortune to produce it.

2. Cursed. Wedged in the Thursday night NBC hammock between Friends and Will and Grace -- that's going to take some getting used to -- this series will be a certified dud. Given that this year will mark the beginning of the end for NBC's once rock-solid Thursday night dominance, the network is bound to panic quickly and give Cursed the axe before it has a chance to pull Thursday down even more.

3. Madigan Men. God bless the Irish, because the networks certainly don't. Instead, they bring out Irish-themed junk like this Gabriel Byrne vehicle, yet another series from someone who was part of this year's favorite flavor, Sex and the City. My prediction? ABC's recasting of T.G.I.F. as a place for adult comedies instead of kiddie fare will crash and burn, and this show -- as well as its companion new series, The Trouble With Normal (which I can't pick, because others did) -- will be on the chopping block before Thanksgiving.

Of course, I'm wrong. But at least my picks are unique. It may not be worth a steak dinner, but it's worth something.

--Jason Snell

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels, Lisa Schmeiser, Gregg Wrenn, Greg Knauss, Monty Ashley, Peter Ko, Ben Boychuk, Chris Rywalt, Jason Snell.


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