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TeeVee Awards '02: Most Unjust Cancellation

Outside of complete indifference or a schadenfreude-induced chorus of joyous hosannas, there are exactly three ways you can react to the news that a television program has been cancelled, seemingly for no good reason at all.

1. You can start hoarding your allowance, cutting back on your tithing, and passing the hat around to like-minded friends and associates to generate enough petty cash to either rent advertising space on a Ventura Freeway billboard or buy a splashy full-page advertisement in Variety, exhorting boneheaded TV executives to rethink their rash decision.

2. You can launch a massive letter-writing campaign, the likes of which haven't been seen outside of the courtroom denouement of "Miracle on 34th Street" -- the original, not the crummy remake -- to flood the inbox of every craven network suit with entreaties to restore your favorite show to its rightful place in the prime-time lineup.

3. You and your no-account Internet pals can concoct some phony-baloney award so that you can fete the doomed show one last time before cheerless network executives stuff the remains into a cardboard box and bury them in a potter's field.

(There is a fourth option, just in case you happen to have a fairly well-received show -- we'll call it Farscape, just for argument's sake -- that has two full seasons left on its contract, and it ends up getting boned anyhow, despite the fact that it may well be the flagship show of its network, other than maybe Dark Shadows reruns. What you do then is, you curl up into the fetal position and realize that you'll never understand this wacky TV business. You also curse a lot.)

Since we're not exactly rolling in cash here at TeeVee, especially after Michaels steadfastly refuses to help out the cause by reallocating the portion of his salary earmarked for hard-core pornography, option number one is right out. As for letter-writing campaigns, while we're sympathetic to the efforts of others, we haven't been able to put our hearts into mass-mailing operations since our ill-fated attempt to convince the producers of Happy Days to do whatever it took to retain the services of Ronnie Howard and Donny Most. One minute, the two of them are trading barbs with Potsie, the next they're shipped off to Greenland, never to be seen again. And there wasn't a thing we could do to stop it. Not happy days. Sad days. Very sad days.

That leaves us with option three, and, frankly, if there's anyone who knows anything about concocting phony-baloney awards, it's us. Inventing another TeeVee Award out of whole cloth doesn't cost us a thing -- hey, it's not like we actually end up presenting these things to anybody, even when the winners are nice enough to write us and ask for their trophy (Um... check's in the mail, Futurama guys!). Giving a well-deserving show a proper Christian burial seems like the least we can do.

Well, the least we can do is to do nothing. But that doesn't seem particularly charitable, now does it?

Besides, for whatever reason, we had more than enough candidates from which to pick for our first-ever Unjust Cancellation crown of thorns. Maybe the events of the past year have left television executives as cranky and out of sorts as the rest of us. Maybe someone forgot to turn on the safety-lock next to the panic button. Or perhaps there's been a rash of instances where show runners have been giving programming executives impertinently funny looks. Whatever the reason, the folks that run the TV networks have spent the last 12 months making like Keanu Reeves at the end of "The Matrix," gunning down show after show in a pornographic hail of bullets until the clip hits empty, reloading, and then firing some more.

Nevertheless, we narrowed it down to four.

Thieves was a much better show than anyone -- particularly those in the employ of The Walt Disney Company -- ever thought it would be. Funny, smart, well-written and well-acted -- in a just world, we would be looking forward to a second season of this modern-day melding of Moonlighting and "To Catch a Thief." But ABC slapped the show in a dead-end Friday night time slot -- usually a pretty good hint not to make any long-term plans -- and then acted surprised when the show didn't set the Nielsen ratings on fire. An unfair end for a damned fine show, certainly, but not terribly surprising.

Besides, the rest of us hear Michaels heap unqualified praise upon the comedic abilities of John Stamos, and we can't help but think that maybe we shouldn't have moved the poor dope's desk next to all those open paint cans.

Excessive exposure to fumes probably doesn't account for the miserable treatment bestowed upon The Tick, a wickedly fun take on superheroes that disappeared from Fox's schedule nearly as soon as it appeared. Then again, it was hard to tell who was more ambivalent about the show's prospects for success -- the network or disdainful fans of the earlier animated incarnation.

"The live-action show isn't nearly as good as the cartoon," they'd say.

"Why not enjoy both shows on their own merits?" we'd suggest.

"They got rid of all the old characters like Die Fledermaus," they'd sniff.

"True, but Nestor Carbonell gives an inspired performance as his replacement, Batmanuel," we'd counter.

"Well, it doesn't matter because Fox yanked the show off the air after only six episodes," they'd sigh.

"Fuck," we'd reply.

But really, who can be surprised by any of this? Fox sat on the finished Tick episodes for nearly a year. It slapped the show in a nearly hopeless time slot, opposite of Friends and Survivor. It didn't even bother premiering the series until November sweeps, when all of its rivals were already going ahead full-steam. These are not the things a network does when it envisions a long and healthy run for your favorite program.

Speaking of favorite programs, we pimped Undeclared like we owned stock in the company. We praised its terrific writing, we nodded approvingly at the stellar comedic work turned in by Seth Rogen, we marveled at how the characters had sex more often in the first season of the program than we had during our entire collegiate experience, graduate school included. Basically, we did everything to try and get you people to watch that show, short of driving to each of your homes Tuesday night, changing the channel to Fox, and hiding the remote. And in the end, it didn't do a dime's worth of good.

Because Judd Apatow is cursed. Has to be the reason. Maybe he broke a mirror five or six years ago. Maybe he lives in a house teeming with black cats and ladders and piles of spilled salt. Maybe he stole that tiki idol that caused the Brady kids all that trouble a few years back. Doesn't matter -- that cat couldn't buy a break if it was on special at Wal-Mart.

So that leaves the one show that wasn't doomed from the moment of conception, imprisoned in an unforgiving time slot on a night nobody was watching TV in the first place, or otherwise victimized of supernatural forces beyond the realm of human understanding -- The Job.

Let's forget for a moment that The Job was a blisteringly funny half-hour of television. Let's overlook the top-flight work from Denis Leary, on-camera as the show's star and off-camera as its co-creator and frequent writer. Let's turn our attention away from the rest of the cast, particularly Lenny Clarke, Diane Farr and Bill Nunn. And let's just gloss over the fact that the producers of The Job apparently labored under the assumption that its audience was bright enough to be interested in flawed characters who didn't always learn important life lessons in tidy 30-minute packages. Let's ignore all of that -- and not just because ABC apparently did.

No, the reason we're declaring The Job's cancellation to be the most unjust in a year of stupefying programming decision has nothing to do with the show's obvious quality. Rather, it all boils down to ABC. Because while The Job's ratings may have been lackluster, while most TV viewers probably couldn't have found the show on the prime-time schedule if you drew them a map, while plenty of programs with better overall numbers have met an equally abrupt fate, what exactly did ABC have waiting in the wings that would do any better?

A whole lot of nothing is what.

Consider: My Wife and Kids, The Drew Carey Show and the blindingly terrible According to Jim will return to prime time this fall. These three stooges are somehow creatively and financially more rewarding for ABC than The Job? Unlikely.

ABC's new half-hour programs for the fall include shows about the trials of an assistant to a pompous TV anchorman, John Ritter as a harried dad raising sad sack teen-agers, and Kathie Lee-like morning show hostess played by Bonnie Hunt, who's giving Judd Apatow a run for his money in the "Out of Favor with the Cruel Gods of TV" department. These are the shows that will succeed where The Job somehow failed? Given ABC's track record for developing hit shows, highly dubious.

ABC has filled The Job's old time-slot with The Bachelor, the inexplicably watched reality series where a fellow so loathsome that, despite his apparent wealth and prospects, must go on national TV to beg a woman to be his bride. Why not just change your slogan to "We've stopped trying?"

So The Job takes the prize, not just because it's a good show stupidly shunted aside, but because ABC could have taken a chance and left The Job alone to maybe build an audience. What -- people weren't going to watch the network any more than they already don't? It's not as if, by giving a solid show a chance to flourish, ABC could do any worse.

But unfortunately for all of us, ABC seems hell-bent on doing exactly that.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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