There was a whole lot of schedule shakeup going on last week. The American networks announced their new fall lineups. The honchos in charge threw out some old stuff and bought some shiny new stuff. Then they told lies about how great the new stuff is going to be.
It has always been like that, but this year, the four major networks face a significant dilemma -- to go with reality TV or ignore it. On the surface, the new schedules give the impression old-fashioned dramas and comedies is back in vogue. Few new reality shows were announced.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and that man is Joe Millionaire. The ticking time bomb in the announcements last week is the Fox promise to bring back Joe Millionaire this fall. It's unclear how the format is going to be repeated -- can there really be a bunch of gullible women who didn't hear about the other women being duped into dallying with a phony millionaire on the first edition of the program?
It is also unclear if the format is going to succeed twice with viewers. A more certain success is the Fox network's American Juniors, an American Idol featuring kiddy performers. A first edition will air this summer and Fox is so excited about the early episodes that it's bringing it back this fall.
It's unlikely the American Idol format will be copied with any exactitude. Can you imagine Simon Cowell reducing some cute and peppy eight-year-old to tears with an abrasive putdown? But if American Juniors and the new Joe Millionaire draw vast numbers of viewers, the 2003/2004 TV season is blown wide open. Dramas and comedies will be shunted to the side and a slew of gimmicky reality shows will be back on the air. That's what happened last season and, in the TV business, it's always a matter of aping someone else's success.
So everybody is hedging. Each network has a slate of sitcoms and dramas that, for now, looks like a hot -- okay, tepid -- new prime-time schedule. NBC is relying on old friends to prepare for the departure of Friends -- Rob Lowe, Whoopi Goldberg, Ryan O'Neal, Cheryl Ladd and James Caan star in new shows. Crime shows are big on CBS. ABC is loading up on silly sitcoms starring very perky white people. Fox is promising a drama that is partly set in the world of hard-core porn. The tiny but influential WB network has many sitcoms featuring teenagers who talk like therapists.
Here's a summary of the highlights and low points of the announcements by the four major networks.
Burned by its disastrous attempt to imitate the success of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, ABC is offering a vast array of sitcoms based on really, really tired ideas. Hope and Faith stars Kelly Ripa as a former soap-opera star who moves in with her boring housewife sister, played by Faith Ford. Back to Kansas is about a Jewish writer from New York (Breckin Meyer, star of NBC's forgettable comedy Inside Schwartz) who moves to Kansas to keep his wife happy. I'm With Her is a comedy about a regular guy who is married to a big Hollywood actress. The guy who used to be married to Brooke Shields created it. It stars nobody you've heard of. ABC will also devote four hours to the wedding of Trista from The Bachelorette.
The strutting network brings you a new drama called CIS, which is not to be confused with CSI. (If you watch CIS by mistake when you want to see CSI, don't come complaining to me.) CIS stars Mark Harmon. It's kind of like JAG. Cold Case (be glad it's not called "CC") is a new drama about a blond, female cop (played by Kathryn Morris) who tracks down old, cold cases and faces discrimination because she's a woman. It has no connection with Cold Squad, a Canadian series about a blond, female cop who tracks down old, cold cases and faces discrimination because she's a woman. The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. is the latest drama from David E. Kelley. Having failed to find an audience with a show about three young, glamorous female lawyers in San Francisco, Kelley opts for a show about three lumpy middle-aged brothers in a small town. CBS has only two new comedies. Two and a Half Me is the curiosity -- a sitcom starring Charlie Sheen as a laid-back ladies man whose brother and nephew move in with him. Survivor returns and goes to Panama. Hack is back.
Skin is the buzz show. The pitch from the producers made it a no-brainer -- "It's Romeo and Juliet in the porn industry!" The Romeo guy is the son of the district attorney in L.A. Dad is devoted to shutting down the porn business. Juliet is the daughter of a major player in the porn biz. Their love lives outside the law. A new show called The OC is a soap opera. OC stands for Orange County. The show is some nonsense about a kid from the ghetto moving to a rich neighbourhood. Fox likes it so much that it will start airing it in July or August, hoping that it will have many viewers by the time Friends returns on NBC in the same time slot -- Thursdays at 8 p.m. A Minute With Stan Hooper is yet another sitcom about a slick fella moving to the boonies. Here Norm Macdonald plays the TV star reporter who moves to Wisconsin. Canadian Macdonald will undoubtedly be inspired by the work of his brother, CBC reporter Neil Macdonald. Tru Calling is about a gal with magic powers. It stars Eliza Dushku, who used to have magic powers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or something. Fox has a habit of cancelling one show before it even airs. You pick the likely candidate.
A panicked NBC is frozen in apparent indecision. It has three new dramas weighed with three new comedies. The network is panicky because this is the final season for Friends and ER is on its last legs. That Thursday-night lineup is looking very vulnerable. There's a lot riding on Coupling, touted as the new Friends. A remake of a hit British comedy about six sexy singles, it was originally made for British TV as a copy of the Friends format. Go figure. Rob Lowe may have left The West Wing, but NBC is putting him back on a legal/political drama, Lyon's Den. It's set in Washington. It will air just before The West Wing on Wednesdays. The untitled Whoopi Goldberg show features the unfunny woman as a hotel owner in New York. A show called Las Vegas is, amazingly, about Las Vegas and stars James Caan. Watching Ellie won't be watched by anyone because it's been cancelled.
Fearless predictions: 1) Goldberg will be the Emeril of the new season; 2) Skin won't show much skin; 3) The title of CIS will be changed; 4) Coupling will prove to be no Friends; 5) On Joe Millionaire, it will turn out that the gals think the guy is a penniless construction worker but the twist is that he's a millionaire. The fun and frolics start here.
Martha Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart (NBC, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.) takes the view that Martha Stewart has always been a cold, uncompromising woman with a hair-trigger temper. Now who would have thought that? Cybill Shepherd stars as the adult Stewart. She's good, but then Shepherd also has a reputation for being ruthless. The movie starts with Martha discovering that she's in trouble for selling her stock in a company. She pauses for a moment and then goes back to shouting at her staff on her TV show. From there, it's a flashback to her youth. We see Martha as a ruthless kid who ruined things for other kids. We see Martha as a teenage model who liked to be in charge, control others and destroy competitors. We see the beginnings of Martha's empire when she starts doing home improvements and catering for a living. This is all good fun, and Shepherd is having fun doing it all. But, eventually, you start to admire this character. That's not supposed to happen, is it?