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Bill TV

Programming a television network with canceled favorites? Dream! Come!True!



Last month, obscure cable-channel Trio invited (sorry, “commissioned”) Time columnist Joel Stein to program the network for a week. Apparently, this was important television.

“We’re taking our pop culture mission one step further by hiring the icons and arbiters of pop culture to program Trio for a week at a time,” said Trio president Lauren Zalaznick in a press release taped to network’s break-room refrigerator (no one saw a point in actually sending it out). “Trio will be obsessed with whatever cultural artifacts our curators are obsessed with.”

Which meant that from July 20-27, Trio bought into Stein’s “obsession” with a set of old TV series worthy of a channel-surfing hipster’s attention, including Battle of the Network Stars (1976-83), Pink Lady & Jeff (1980) and My Mother the Car (1965-66). The floppy-haired humor writer also included the short-lived MTV game show Idiot Savants (1996-97), on which he appeared as a contestant, and an ’80s episode of Late Night With David Letterman (Dave’s NBC original that runs daily on Trio, anyway) wherein the host read a letter from then-young Stein in the Viewer Mail segment.

All which got me to thinkin’ about me—even more so than usual. I’m a floppy-haired humor writer (so I’ve been told, but more about the hair than the humor) who’s considered an icon/arbiter in the pages of a major publication (OK, not on scale with Time, but at least as many readers as Trio has viewers), and I had a letter read by Dave on Late Night in the ’80s, too! Stands to reason I should eventually be granted a personal My Trio Week. Sometime between October’s scheduled Quentin Tarantino installment and 2005’s That Guy Who Played Gunther on Friends sit-in, the channel will be mine.

With my obvious choices already enjoying post-cancellation afterlives on cable and/or slowly making their way to DVD, I’d probably want to skew toward under-appreciated pop-cultural blips with little hope of ever being dug up. Or run 168 consecutive hours of Rush Limbaugh’s 1992-96 TV show, just because I could. Plenty of time to decide between that course of action or going with some of these equally excellent choices:

Beggars & Choosers (Showtime, 1999-2001): Arguably the best Showtime series ever, set behind the backstabbing scenes of a tanking TV network. Mitigating factor: Charlotte Ross does more nudity now on NYPD Blue than she ever did on Showtime.

CPO Sharkey (NBC, 1976-78): Don Rickles as a Chief Petty Officer commanding a multi-ethnic Navy recruitment center? Comedy freakin’ gold! Plus, the only known sitcom appearance of ’70s punk-rock band The Dickies, typecast as a punk-rock band.

Richie Brockelman: Private Eye (NBC, 1978): Six-episode spin-off from The Rockford Files, starring Dennis Dugan as a skinny teen detective. Amazingly, “The thing of it is” never caught on as a TV catchphrase.

Cursed/Weber Show (NBC, 2000-01): Actually hysterical in the original network pilot only connected TV writers (ahem) have seen, NBC unwisely changed Cursed from being about a guy (Steven Weber) with a bad-luck voodoo curse on him to The Weber Show, which was just Friends with hotter actresses and Chris Elliott. That still should have been enough, damn it!

Ark II (CBS, 1976-79): Sci-fi series about 25th-century scientists/hippies driving the titular RV around in a world ravaged by pollution and polyester disco space suits. Paved the way for a more realistic eco-liberal, cartoon Captain Planet.

Mann & Machine (NBC, 1992): Future-cheese cop show with Det. Mann (David Andrews) teamed with a gorgeous “female” robot (Yancy Butler), kind of a less top-heavy Seven of Nine model. Paved the way for Butler’s eventual rehab.

Grosse Pointe (The WB, 2000-01): Wicked Darren Star satire of teen soaps, set behind the fictional 90210/Melrose scenes of a series called Grosse Pointe. The funniest half-hour The WB ever produced—yeah, not saying much.

Quark (NBC, 1977-78): Wacky Star Trek parody created by Buck Henry, about an interstellar garbage scow helmed by Commander Quark (Richard Benjamin). Is there no place on the Sci-Fi Channel’s schedule for a show with a character named Otto Palindrome? C’mon!

The War Next Door (USA, 2000): Over-the-top, bizarre comedy centered on a government spy who retires to the suburbs, only to have his evil arch-nemesis (goatee and all) move in next door. Weekly mortal combat ensues, with one or the other getting killed dead in each episode à la South Park’s Kenny or Spy vs. Spy. And yet, still more believable than USA’s new Peacemakers.