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Dead Pool '03: Our Picks

Admit it -- you thought you were going to read the word Whoopi here, didn't you?

Yeah, yeah, I know. I've been pretty hard on the Whoopster here lately. I've made untoward comments about her new, terrible show. I've suggested that she's not that much of a performer, since that would imply she has actually performed at some point during the past decade or so instead of just half-heartedly mouthing a few tired one-liners and then to running off to the nearest bank to deposit her paycheck before irritated producers could place a stop-payment on it. I've maligned her and her self-titled sitcom so frequently that I've run out of synonyms for "awful" and have had to resort to making up new, more abusive adjectives.

And just wait until I actually watch the show.

Well, that's not true exactly. While the first couple of episodes of Whoopi sit unwatched on my TiVo -- odious, forbidding and practically glowing with stink -- I have seen enough of the show to form an educated guess as to its overall quality. This summer, the wife and I took a trip to Vegas, where we paid a visit to NBC's audience test-screening theater at the remodeled and therefore vastly overpriced Aladdin Hotel & Casino. Posing as a married couple who do not, in fact, write mean-spirited things about television shows for penny-ante Web sites, we were admitted to what was billed as a screening of NBC's new fall programming. It turned out to be a screening of just one show, and no, it wasn't the one with Alicia Silverstone or that fellow who fled The West Wing while the getting was good or even -- and I take this as another sign of your wrath, O Lord -- Nikki Cox. No, the show my wife and I got to see was Whoopi, and the only nice thing I can say is that, for once, losing copious amounts of my take-home pay at the blackjack tables wasn't the worst thing to happen to me during a Vegas visit.

So I've had one or two or several dozen cruel laughs at the expense of Whoopi Goldberg in recent Dead Pool pieces -- so many that even jaded TeeVee readers think I may be piling it on a bit much. "Whoopi will still be on the air two years from now," writes Brian Jenkins, a long-time TeeVee reader and therefore a man who up until now has shown good judgment. "Anyone supporting Howard Dean can't be all bad."

Brian, my man, I don't care if she's supporting the Jesus-Vishnu ticket and raising money to finance the senatorial campaign of the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha. She's a lousy comic actress on a lousy show, and the sooner it's off the air, the better for everyone -- you, me, Howard Dean -- involved.

Still, Whoopi isn't on my list of Dead Pool picks, not because it doesn't deserve to go quickly and without much of a struggle, but because NBC is laboring under the delusion that it has a hit on its hands. Whoopi debuted early, well before the other new and returning shows, and thus tallied strong ratings for its first episode. Sure, it got those ratings against reruns and infomercials and Spanish-language variety programs, but NBC really isn't in a position to quibble. If you were dumb enough to tune into the first episode of this stinker, the network assumes, you're going to be dumb enough to keep watching, at least for the time being. Oh, how cruel it will be when the cold, unflinching reality hammer comes crashing down on Whoopi, pounding the show's meager dreams into a fine paste. By December at the very latest, viewers will flee Whoopi like the plague it is, and, to fill the gaping maw in its schedule, NBC will have to dust off some more "classic" Friends episodes... and different ones from the reruns it will be showing once it wises up and cancels Happy Family, too.

But that's too late for humanity's sake and -- more important -- it's too late to be included in my top three choices for the Dead Pool. They are, in descending order:

3. Luis -- I can't say this enough: Luis Guzman is a really good actor. He's great in "Traffic," which is a fantastic movie, and he's great in "The Count of Monte Cristo," which is not fantastic no matter how liberally you stretch the definition of the word. If you haven't seen it, I would encourage you to head to your local video store and pick up a copy of "The Limey" -- yes, the movie is really a tour-de-force for Terrance Stamp, but Guzman more than holds his own.

I mention these movies because I would much rather watch any of them -- even the misbegotten "The Count of Monte Cristo" on continuous loop -- than watch the terrible sitcom Luis Guzman has leant his name and his talent to.

And I suspect most of America will feel the same way. Luis leaves the airwaves this week, so that Fox can bring you the baseball playoffs. But once it returns in late October, few viewers will have even noticed it was gone or care that it's returned. And that will be all the impetus Fox needs to turf Luis, airlift Wanda at Large to a new night and time, and cue up The Very Best of Cops, or Classic Joe Millionaire or World's Cheapest Filler Programming or whatever the network does to fill in scheduling holes.

2. Married to the Kellys -- For the fifth consecutive year, ABC is trying to revive its TGIF franchise of family-friendly programming. (Memo to the Mouse Network: Urkel was TGIF. Trying to revive TGIF without Urkel is like staging "Hamlet" without Hamlet's nerdy, hyper-kinetic next-door neighbor. Please desist at all Urkel-free attempts to catch TGIF lightning in a bottle again.) Next year, it will be six consecutive years, after this fall's TGIF lineup of George Lopez, Married to the Kellys, Hope & Faith and Life with Bonnie goes down in flames.

Ah, but who will be the fall-guy that ABC blames for this scheduling disaster? George Lopez's and Bonnie Hunt's shows are returning programs and, therefore, off limits for us Dead Pool players. America does not seem to share the same irrational fear of Kelly Ripa that causes me to bolt awake screaming at night, so Hope & Faith will likely dodge the cancellation bullet. That leaves Married to the Kellys, which not only has an idiotic premise -- urbane sophisticate moves to the Midwest and is forced to live among yokels -- but also stars Breckin Meyer as the urbane sophisticate. That's Breckin Meyer, of The Jackie Thomas Show and Inside Schwartz fame.

Or, as we'll know him after Married to the Kellys takes the pipe, Three-Time Loser.

1. Threat Matrix -- Every time beady-eyed fathead Tom Ridge comes on my TV to tell me that terrorists are about to blow something to kingdom come and that there's nothing he can do about, my palms get sweaty and my mouth gets dry. I go hide in the pantry and, if my wife is unsuccessful in talks to lure me back into going about my business, I'll spend up to a week in there, living off of canned food and soda crackers, and cursing Tom Ridge and his infernal Department of Homeland Security for scarring the bejesus out of me.

That's how I react, at any rate. ABC sees beady-eyed fathead Tom Ridge warning people that terrorists are about to blow something to kingdom come and thinks, "Heeeeeey... that sounds like a great idea for a TV show."

Not that ABC thinks it's that great of an idea. It's schedule Threat Matrix against Friends and Survivor, which is sort of like a football coach tapping the shoulder of the scrawny walk-on quarterback during the tail-end of a 49-0 blowout and saying, "Your turn, kid. Just try and keep from embarrassing yourself out there."

The good news for Threat Matrix? It won't have all that long to embarrass itself.

1. Threat Matrix -- Both of the early losers from 2002 were hour long dramas on ABC -- now in its third straight year of abject panic! -- and I see no reason to believe this year will be any different. Any show sent out to do battle with Survivor and the final season of Friends has basically been thrown to the lions, and Threat Matrix is such a phenomenally horrible idea for a show that I suspect ABC put it in this time slot on purpose in order to ensure that no one sees it before they have a chance to euthanize it. In its second week, Threat Matrix's Nielsen share is already down to 4.7. I'm going to charitably give it one more episode, then it's toast.

2. 10-8 -- See reasoning for item 1.

3. Luis -- I firmly believe that there is a fundamental balance to the universe, and that at any given time the net evil in this earthly plane must be offset by a roughly equivalent amount of good. But there ain't no amount of good that cancel out the combined malevolence of Luis and Whoopi. Both of them must go soon, or we risk tearing a ragged gash in the fabric of reality. However, NBC has shown a much greater tolerance for allowing this sort of abomination to continue to exist than Fox.

Honorable mentions:

Jake 2.0 -- UPN iced exactly one show before March, and it was their expensive to produce but basically unwatched drama, Haunted. I suspect that Jake, matched up as it is against The West Wing and The Bachelor, is this year's Haunted. But that didn't go until November.

The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire -- I actually didn't think this was that bad, but I only watched it because I was hoping that it would be. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to draw viewers to this show. The title sucks, the actors are mostly fat and old and generally unappealing, and all that one gathers from the preview is that the plot is about a bunch of losers living out their loser lives in a loser town. The only thing that could save this klunker from cancellation would be an influx of viewers from the Free State Project. But I have it on good authority that the bet Les Moonves lost to David E. Kelley isn't paid off until the show has aired for a month, so I think it will be around for a few more weeks.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels, Steve Lutz.


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