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TeeVee Dead Pool 2001: The Five-Year Itch

TeeVee turns five years old this month, an astonishing turn of events to those of us who've been here from day one. If you would have sat us down back in 1996 and told us that, five circuits of the earth around the sun later, we'd still be cranking out articles about television in all its maddening glory, that would have amazed us. If you would have gone on to tell us that people would actually read the nonsense we write, that would have astounded us. And if you would have pointed out that we'd be churning out all this content for free, well, we probably would have ourselves a good cry.

I feel myself tearing up right now, just thinking about the money.

Maybe it's a triumph of inertia over talent, but it's something of an accomplishment that five years after being born out of a drunken and ill-considered bar bet, TeeVee is still alive, kicking and taking up residence at the same inappropriate .org address. Think about everything that's changed in the last five years. Back then, the New York Yankees were just another ballclub, not the four-championships-in-five-years monstrosity that strikes terror into the hearts of rival teams today. The boy band craze of the late '90s was still just a gleam in Lou Pearlman's eye. Bob Dole was a candidate to become the most powerful man in the western world. These days, he's pitching Viagra and ogling Britney Spears in Pepsi commercials -- which would have been even creepier back in 1996, if you think about it.

Then again, some things are exactly the same as they were five years ago -- especially when it comes to television. The most-watched drama back then? ER. The top comedy? Friends. Tony Danza? Working our last nerve. Just like today.

But the most depressing thing to remain unchanged about television in the last five years -- other than TeeVee's ongoing estrangement from profitability -- is the continuing blandness and sameness that marks network television's prime-time offerings. Seasons come and go, governments will crumble and rise anew, hairstyles change from one moment to the next. But each fall, you can count on the networks trotting out three dozen new shows, give or take a sitcom or two. A handful will be good. One or two others will be decent. Many more will be terrible. But the mass of shows that premiere on network TV each fall lead lives of quiet mediocrity, scuffling about in their time slot until May when they're unceremoniously canceled -- or worse, renewed to dull the audience into a stupor for another season.

Which would all be perfectly acceptable if the networks didn't keep pushing the same shows year after year. Five years of doing these fall previews, and all the shows have started running together. It's a show about a single-father cop raising a brood of a precocious kids in a wacky workplace comedy about doctors who solve crimes in a gritty urban setting haunted by the undead. If we've seen it once, we saw it last Wednesday on Fox.

Sounds a little harsh? Seems to you like we're battling a first-degree case of the grumps? Looks as if the bug that crawled up our collective ass invited a bunch of his friends over for a party? Probably -- but it's not as if we don't have our reasons.

Consider the following, excerpts from TeeVee's fall previews, dating back to the days when the only people who read this Web site were us, Knauss' mom, Snell's wife, Boychuk's imaginary friend -- maybe -- and the occasional passerby who surfed over to our corner of cyberspace looking for porno.

1996: "How bad is the new Fall Season? Bad with a capital B, which rhymes with P, which stands for The Pretender -- one of the three new series NBC is foisting on us Saturday night and just another reason to join a bowling league that evening."

1997: "Another cop show? Ho-hum. More family sitcoms? Gee, that's nice. Tony Danza, Kirstie Alley and Danny Aiello returning to the small screen? Now, where'd I put that library card? I saw it around here somewhere..."

1998: "It'd be different, I suppose, if all of the shows didn't sound as if they all came from the same industrial factory where network TV shows are processed to remove any last hint of originality."

1999: "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."

2000: "Like Big Brother, the new shows will arrive with a lot of hype and a ton of fanfare. Like Big Brother, they'll try to capture some of the buzz surrounding their predecessors. Like Big Brother, most of the new shows will turn out to be hastily assembled, poorly produced and resoundingly amateurish. And like Big Brother, the vast majority of the new shows that debut in the next few weeks will be well nigh unwatchable."

Face it -- if I had gone in and erased the dates, blacked out any mention of specific shows and thrown those excerpts up without any identifiers whatsoever, you'd be hard pressed to match up the right year with the appropriate damning commentary. Hell, for all you would know, I could have just written those five paragraphs a couple of minutes ago with nothing more to guide me than the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. Network TV was bland and predictable when we started doing this five years ago, it's bland and predictable today, and five years from now it has a slight chance of improving from bland and predictable to nondescript and obvious. But that's only if TV producers step up their game.

(Then again, those five excerpts from fall previews past could be so stunningly similar because I'm the one who's bland and predictable. If that's the case, I blame five years of having to watch NBC sitcoms.)

And don't expect the networks to break out the originality pants this fall, either. Between now and November 7, thirty-five shows will debut on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the WB and UPN. Four of the new shows are about lovelorn single guys. Two more will address our nation's critical shortage of TV programs about lawyers. There are three new reality series, joining the likes of The Mole 2, Temptation Island 2 and, yes, Survivor III. Three more shows are about the CIA -- and that doesn't include Thieves, in which John Stamos and Melissa George play federal agents stealing on behalf of the government, and UC: Undercover, in which Jon Seda plays a federal agent who steals our souls. For those of you who think C.S.I. drops the ball on the crime-solving coroner genre, NBC gives us Crossing Jordan. Dick Wolf scores a hat trick with his third Law & Order-themed series. And fresh off awarding star-vehicle sitcoms to the likes of Michael Richards, John Goodman, Geena Davis and Bette Midler last years only to watch the shows collapse upon themselves like a black hole, the networks begin the 2001-2002 campaign by building sitcoms around Jason Alexander, Ellen DeGeneres, Daniel Stern and -- holy Frugal Gourmet! -- Emeril Lagasse, presumably because all four are more famous than you and me.

Guess that clears up any confusion about what happens to those who fail to learn from history.

It would all be terribly depressing -- the prospect of a new fall season in which the networks promise us a feast of new programming but wind up serving us last Wednesday's meat loaf. But then, let's remember why six graduates of a second-tier public university decided to spend their free time writing about television in the first place: the cushy Internet dollars. And since that's proven to be a washout, let's focus on reason number two: to ruthlessly mock the creative endeavors of others. Sure, a season that marks the triumphant return of Bob Saget to the small-screen is tough on you viewers, but it's manna from heaven for mean-spirited jerks like us. The sight of a bare-chested Jim Belushi shimmying about in front of Courtney Thorne-Smith in ads for According to Jim may put you off your food. It put us on our knees, offering thanksgivings to a higher power for His generous gift of fodder in this, our time of need. And while the thought of spending another lonely Friday night choosing between watching the aforementioned Thieves, the sure-to-be-goofy prime time soap Pasadena or Reba McEntire hamming it up on her self-titled sitcom probably depresses the tar out of you, for us, it's like... um... well, it's really more of a... gee...

OK, it depresses us, too. We're not made of stone here.

But at least, when times are tough, we have the Dead Pool to put a smile on our face and a song in our black, cold hearts. If you've been reading TeeVee since back in the days when we didn't bother to spellcheck anything (last Thursday), you're probably aware that the Dead Pool is a game us Vidiots have been playing long before scientists in Sandusky, Ohio, had even conceived of the Internet. The rules are fairly simple: comb through the list of new fall shows and pick the one you think is likely to get canceled first. Pick correctly and you get a cash prize of... well, we usually forget to hand out the cash prize. And I'll be hard-pressed to name whoever won the thing last year. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Ko, what on account of him being dead and all, and I know it wasn't me. But while the winning Vidiot, whoever it was last year, may not be assured of getting cash or a trophy or a lovely steak dinner, he or she can bask in the admiration and respect of his or her fellow Vidiots.

Unless it was Boychuk who won last year. Because admiring and respecting him is just too tall of an order.

Lest you think we're anything but open and inclusive here at TeeVee, we allow you -- our beloved readers -- to join in on the Dead Pool fun. And unlike the winning Vidiot, who more often than not winds up getting stiffed, we can actually promise you a valuable cash prize -- so long as the term "valuable cash prize" is defined as a T-shirt or a bumper sticker of a couple of shares of worthless TeeVee common stock.

Now is the time our lawyers advise us to explain the contest rules. Just by suggesting that we type that, they get to charge us $300 an hour. Vultures.


Of the 35 new shows airing on the alphabet soup of broadcast networks -- and we'll be posting our own fall preview in the next couple of days or so -- send us an e-mail listing the three shows you think will be canceled first in the order you think they'll be axed. Include the date you think the first cancellation of the fall will take place. We use that to break any ties that crop up.

Correctly pick the first show to get canceled and you get three points. Pick the second one to go, and you get two points. Nail the third one and you get a point. And, if one of the shows you picked gets canceled -- though not in the order you picked it -- you get a completely meaningless but nevertheless satisfying half-point. As in all major sporting contests with the exception of golf, he who amasses the most points wins.

See? The rules are so simple, even a network executive could play. (NOTE: NETWORK EXECUTIVES NOT ELIGIBLE FOR ENTRY.)

And just so that there's no confusion, we consider a show canceled when it's yanked unceremoniously from the schedule and never shown again, not even at cocktail parties as a cruel reminder of how fickle the creative muse can be. A show that gets put on hiatus to give the producers time to fire the entire cast, the writing staff and themselves before launching the show under a completely different name is not considered canceled.

OK, that probably didn't alleviate any confusion at all. But you can't say we didn't try.


If you're expecting anything more than a T-shirt from us, you've been drinking Drano. At most, we'll spring for a Hillshire Farms gift basket, but that's only if we're feeling generous. Five years of this shit hasn't exactly turned us into eccentric millionaires, you know.


Send your entry to teevee@teevee.org by Friday, September 21. Erotic photos of entrants are not required, though not necessarily discouraged either. Only one entry per person, but it's not like we'd go to the trouble of hiring private investigators to check. Then again, you'd have to lead a pretty desperate life to try and scam a no-account Web site out of a T-shirt you could probably buy for a couple of bucks or a bottle of cheap booze.

And believe us, after five years of working on TeeVee, we know all about desperate lives.


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