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The Simpsons, from left: Maggie, Marge, Lisa, Homer and Bart. (AP Photo/Fox)
The Simpsons, from left: Maggie, Marge, Lisa, Homer and Bart. (AP Photo/Fox)

John Doyle: Television

Cancel The Simpsons? That and other TV nonsense Add to ...

The deed is done. The Playboy Club is the first cancelled show of the new TV season.

The much-hyped and mildly controversial drama made its debut a few weeks ago to a disappointing five million viewers in the United States, and the second episode drew only 3.8 million viewers. On Monday night, the third outing attracted 3.2 million viewers.

To put this in context, the Ken Burns documentary series Prohibition, airing on Sunday night on PBS (yes, a freakin’ public broadcaster!), drew 3.9 million viewers, and PBS estimates that at least 7.6 million viewers saw a portion of the two-hour first instalment.

Does this make sense? Not a bit of it. The Playboy brand, the babes in bunny costumes, handsome chaps, mobsters and sixties-era music. On paper it was a can’t-miss concept. And still it slumped. On the surface, a lot of events and proceedings in the TV racket make no sense at all, to yourself and myself, anyway. Here’s a (short) list of things in the TV racket that make no sense

Money. On Tuesday it emerged that The Simpsons may be cancelled because of a dispute about a pay cut. According to reliable reports, if the cast of actors who provide the voices for the animated show refuse to accept a 45-per-cent pay cut, “ The Simpsons will die an abrupt death as a first-run series.” And Fox issued a statement saying this: “We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model. We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the voice cast that allows The Simpsons to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come.”

Excuse me? The Simpsons is a multibillion-dollar cash cow. The actors are well-paid, earning millions a year, but the real money – the billions – is made from syndication and merchandising. A reduction in pay is truly necessary?

Also there’s the matter of money and Fox – Lisa Edelstein left her role as Cuddy on House because she was asked to take a pay cut for this season. She declined and moved on to The Good Wife. Where does all the money go? Who’s making the moolah if the actors are being asked to take pay cuts? I mean, did Terra Nova cost so many tens of millions that everybody on Fox shows has to take a pay cut to make up the difference?

BBC Canada. Week after week people write to me to ask when is this or that BBC series going to turn up here. Often they complain that BBC Canada never airs the new, acclaimed BBC series they’ve read about. This is true. BBC Canada is now the Mike Holmes and Top Gear channel. It has about as much connection with the BBC as The Learning Channel has with the concept of “learning.” And no, I don’t know when The Hour will turn up in Canada.

Poverty. Few U.S. network shows actually deal with poverty, unemployment and the pressures that working people face in a recession. Fair enough, in one sense. Maybe viewers just want escapism. Then along comes a new Muppet on Sesame Street, “a new impoverished puppet named Lily, whose family faces an ongoing struggle with hunger issues.” That’s nice. Teaching rich little brats that some people go hungry. And then it emerges that Lily will first appear on a coming one-hour Sesame Street prime-time special. The special is being sponsored by Wal-Mart.

Seriously. Wal-Mart! The company responsible for driving so many U.S. manufacturers to the wall and importing most of its goods from China, killing American jobs. Does that make sense?

Promises. Last Thursday, Sept. 29, it was widely reported that NBC would not be cancelling any of its new series over the next few weeks, including The Playboy Club. NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt was reported to have said that he “wants to give all freshmen [shows]more time to send a message to the creative community that he will give their shows on NBC every possible chance to succeed.” At the Television Critics Tour in August, Greenblatt said as much to critics – coming from a cable background, he said he believed firmly in allowing series to find an audience. Four days after this past Thursday, he cancelled The Playboy Club. That does make sense in a way – a network exec’s statement is true until it turns out that the show is garbage.

AIRING TONIGHT

Up All Night (NBC, CTV Two, 8 p.m.) is one of the few new series to get a full season commitment. It’s an oddball comedy, being rich in detail and character development, and less about one-liners. A party-hearty professional couple (Christina Applegate and Will Arnett) find themselves with a baby and struggle with their need to continue being party types. Simultaneously wacky and sentimental, this is aimed squarely at young marrieds. The show has changed since the pilot episode and for the better. The mom now works for an Oprah-like TV chat-show host (Maya Rudolph), which affords opportunity to mock television itself.

Check local listings.

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