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Dead Pool 2002: Boom or Bust

Talk to professional basketball devotees about the greatest rookie class to ever come along, and you're likely to hear a mouthful about the 1984 NBA draft. That was the year the Houston Rockets picked up Hakeem Olajuwon courtesy of the University of Houston. All he managed to do during his time in the Lone Star State was take home an MVP award or two, win two NBA championships and nearly win a third, were it not for the vast superiority of the '86 Celtics. That same draft saw the Chicago Bulls pick up Michael Jordan, who enjoyed modest success as a hoopster before turning his attention to his two true loves -- minor league baseball and Bugs Bunny movies. Sam Perkins, John Stockton, Charles Barkley -- all three launched all-star careers via the 1984 draft, with only Barkley since retiring to apparently pursue his lifelong dream of getting banned from every all-you-can-eat buffet in America.

Now, mention the worst NBA rookie class ever, and those same professional basketball devotees, once they stop making the lemon faces, will tell all about the 1986 draft. That year, the Boston Celtics used the second overall pick to select Len Bias; he was dead a day later. With the next pick, the Golden State Warriors took Chris Washburn, which would have been great if the Warriors were planning on fielding a squad for the local drug rehab center team. Same draft, the Dallas Mavericks added Roy Tarpley; he would go on to lead the league in suspensions for substance abuse. It was like the NBA held the draft underneath a ladder and handed each draft pick a black cat and a cracked mirror along with a team jersey and baseball cap.

We mention this, not because TeeVee is about to undergo a format change and become your go-to site for snarky National Basketball Association commentary (Coming up tomorrow: Boychuk compares the Bush administration's land management policies to the New Jersey Nets' front court!), but because the same principle that indicates whether your NBA draft has been kissed by the gods or cursed by the gypsies also applies to television seasons. Some years you've got it, some years you don't.

Take 1994, just as a for instance. That fall, NBC rolled out both Friends and ER, two shows prosperous enough for the network to coast off their success ever since. CBS introduced Chicago Hope, which was a very good series until creator David E. Kelley took his usual second season detour into nonsense, and Touched by an Angel, which remains, inexplicably, on the airwaves today. New York Undercover debuted on Fox and enjoyed a healthy run. Even ABC got into the act with My So-Called Life -- yes, a show that lasted barely a year and a half on network TV, but that enjoyed a second life in perpetual reruns on MTV, thus giving the program a deep and devoted fan base, many of whom e-mail us on a regular basis.

And we'd kind of like them to knock it off.

(Of course, even the strongest years have their weak links. In the case of the 1984 NBA draft, that'd be Sam Bowie, the Portland Trailblazers draft pick wedged between Olajuwon and Jordan, who would go on to establish NBA records which still stand today for knee injuries, bone spurs and time spent on the bench staring forlornly into space. As for the 1994 season's Bowie-esque equivalent, you have your choice among Madman of the People, starring Dabney Coleman as an unlikable newspaper columnist, The Martin Short Show, starring Martin Short as an unlikable Canadian, and Hardball, which probably did more to make people hate baseball in 1994 than the cancellation of that year's World Series.)

So to sum up: 1994 -- a good rookie class, a dog show here or there, notwithstanding. A couple of superstars, several all-stars. If it were an NBA season, David Stern would be flashing a big thumbs up with one hand while waving stacks of $100 dollar bills with the other and shouting "It's faaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic!" Though, really, he kind of does that at the drop of a hat.

But you want to talk about bad seasons for new shows? Then, let's talk the fall of 1998. That misbegotten wreck of a season gave the world both Encore Encore and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, providing us with insta-made punch lines ever since. You also had Wind on Water, the story of Bo Derek as a widowed Hawaiian cattle rancher with two extreme-sports-lovin' sons, and yes, four years later, we still giggle uncontrollably at the thought of that premise. Throw in a bushel's worth of one-season-and-out failures -- DiResta, Hyperion Bay, Costello, Mercy Point, Maggie Winters, Jesse, The Secret Lives of Men and the Irish Troika of Banality: To Have and to Hold, Trinity and Legacy -- and you have a rotten season for the rancid ages. All that's missing is a wacky sitcom starring Chris Washburn and Roy Tarpley as a pair of bickering roommates. Who get stoned a lot.

So, given the standards established by those two extremes -- the rarefied air of 1994, the bone-wearying depths of its 1998 counterpart -- what should we expect from the new shows making their debut in these, the opening weeks of the 2002 fall season? Just to beat this NBA draft metaphor into the ground until its widow begs us to stop for decency's sake, think of this year's crop of rookie shows not so much the equal of David Robinson (the number one pick of the 1987 NBA draft), but more like Armon Gilliam (the second overall pick and number-one selection of your Phoenix Suns).

Not especially familiar with the pro career of Armon Gilliam? Exactly. You'll feel the same way about the network's fall 2002 offerings after a couple episodes of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.

Or to put this in starker, more foreboding terms, here are just a few of the bitter fruits the six broadcast networks are expecting you to sample this fall:

  • Not one, but two shows in which sad-sack adults travel back in time to their high

    school years to set things right;

  • Not one, but two shows about unconventional San Francisco physicians battling

    the powers-that-be, with both programs airing at the exact same time;

  • Yet another lawyer show from David E. Kelley in which soon-to-be-emaciated

    barristers argue fanciful points of law, not three months after we finally rid ourselves of the tedium of Ally McBeal;

  • A Joss Whedon spaceship series that has already undergone massive Fox-mandated

    changes to its premiere episode while finding itself in a Friday night time-slot that has been an Indian burial ground for other sci-fi programs;

  • A sitcom about a harried father of mouthy children that furthers ABC's objective

    of one day offering a prime-time lineup comprised entirely of the same show by shoehorning John Ritter into the role played so forgettably by Jim Belushi, George Lopez and Damon Wayans elsewhere on the schedule.

  • A shameless carbon copy of CSI, CBS's incomprehensibly popular crime

    drama, that, in this age of timidity and imitation, will doubtlessly be the hit new show of the season.

And those are just the new shows -- there's little cheer to be found among the returning programs, as well. Futurama, the best series on Fox's all-comedy Sunday night schedule, has, in effect, already been canceled, since all the animated episodes are already in the can and Rupert Murdoch and Company have no apparent plans to order up any more. Friends, ER and Frasier -- NBC's most successful shows for most of the last decade -- find themselves shorter of breath and one day closer to death. The West Wing, which continues to milk its critically acclaimed first season and a half to fool folks into thinking it's still a good show, tries to rebound from a subpar third season with by adding more scenes with Mary Louise Parker to the mix -- not exactly a cure for what ails you. And since we keep gobbling down the reality programming like sweet, sweet candy, the networks are sure to funnel more of that tripe our way. In fact, this fall, The Bachelor returns to ABC's prime-time lineup, which means the vomitoriums, bread and circuses and rampaging Visigoth hordes can't be that far behind. It's almost enough to make a person try and set the land-speed record for dialing up his local cable operator and seeing if he can get hooked up with HBO before the next Sopranos episode.

Of course, there's always TeeVee's Dead Pool to offer relief from the unrelenting awfulness of a TV season that's shaping up to make the 1986 NBA draft class look like a basketball dream team.

The Dead Pool, for those of you new to the site who haven't already been put off by the cursing, is something we've been doing 'round these parts long before we had an Internet readership that totaled in the dozens. Back in our carefree undergraduate days, a bunch of us future Vidiots would get together and pick the shows we thought were most likely to feel the Reaper's scythe. To the lucky fellow who successfully picked the first cancellation of the season went a lovely steak dinner and bragging rights until the networks wheeled out their wares next fall.

And since we're all about making our readers feel like part of our happy TeeVee family -- the mocking letters and disdainful interactions should have been your first indication -- we've opened the contest up to you, the readers of TeeVee. Now, just like us, you can compete for... well, not a lovely steak dinner, but something much, much less valuable.

What, you think we've got enough money lying around to afford steak? Get real.


It's all very simple -- sift through the detritus the broadcast networks are sending your way this fall, and then e-mail us a list of the three shows you think will be canceled in the order you think they'll be sent to corn field. Also, include the date you think the first cancellation of the fall will take place -- in the event of a tie, that will determine our winner.

Correctly pick the first show to get canceled, and you get three points. Pick the second one to go, and you get two points. Bag the third, and you get one point. If any one of your selections is canceled, but not in the order you picked, you will be the proud recipient of a half-point. On such technicalities have entire kingdoms been won and lost.

Incidentally, Webster's Dictionary defines a canceled show as one that's yanked off the air never to be seen again. OK -- Webster's doesn't define a canceled show that way at all. That's how we define it, and since it's our contest, Noah Webster and his kin can go pound sand. A show that gets pulled from the schedule only to resurface at a later time is merely on hiatus, which does not count as a cancellation for the purposes of our silly little contest.

And if you having a hard time telling one show where the hapless hero travels back in time to his high school years to set things right from the other, fret not. We'll have a full preview of every single new show -- even the dreck on UPN -- just as soon as I can get off my dead ass and write it.


A fabulous TeeVee t-shirt or a less fabulous bumper sticker or perhaps even a cheese product of some sort can be yours, if you capture the Dead Pool crown. And who knows? Maybe this year, a Vidiot will appear at your home to deliver the prize personally. Unless you, like, don't live within driving distance of us. Or you reside someplace we don't want to visit. Or you're from Canada.


Didn't we cover this earlier? Send your entry to teevee@teevee.org before Monday, September 30. Please don't send us attached files, unless it's porn. Entries from members of the cursed 1986 NBA draft class will not be considered -- we know when not to mess with karma.


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