Wouldn’t it be great if you could just replace certain people in your cast, er, personal circle? You’re going about your business one episode, uh, day, and all of the lame characters, er, coworkers and friends who’ve been dragging your script, uh, life down have been suddenly supplanted by prettier and more talented folks—how cool would that be?
Yes, watching hours and hours of television and writing columns and columns about it can warp your sense of reality … and I don’t mind at all.
Networks retool pilots before their fall premieres all the time, adding and subtracting actors and characters until the producers find just the right creative mix to ensure a show that’ll be canceled after six weeks, as opposed to three—the “success” bar is getting lower all the time. NBC knows full well that the “Must See” days are over, and potential new hits from either ABC or CBS (expertly profiled in weeks 1 and 2 of the Only TV Column That Matters™ fall preview) could finally knock ’em from the top of the ratings roost.
With so much riding on the fall ’01 season, it’s no wonder NBC has gone in and worked over Emeril (debuts Tuesday, Sept. 18), the rightly-insider-maligned sitcom based on celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, the “Bam!” guy of Emeril Live. No, he can’t act, what’s your point? Since the original preview tape—which I would rather eat than ever watch again—was cooked up months ago, measures have been taken to make Emeril suck less, like adding Robert Urich (Spenser: For Hire) as his manager and booting Robin Riker (Get a Life!) as Mrs. Emeril. Problem is, the rest of the overloud, woman-heavy cast is still around, as are hack exec-producers Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who are just reheating their Designing Women with a chick-friendly cable-celeb centerpiece. What’s next, a sitcom with Ty from Trading Spaces?
Huge revamps were made on UC: Undercover (debuts Sunday, Sept. 30), namely the extraction of ex-Melrose Place dreamboat Grant Show in favor of more-dreamboat-ish Mummy star Oded Fehr. This means the entire Utter Crapola pilot, about an elite undercover Justice Department crime unit with a dreamboat captain, will have to be reshot, and I have a technical tip: Hold the damned camera still this time! Between the monkey-cam effects and MTV-on-meth edits, UC gave me a worse tummyache than Emeril. Not that the dialogue is any help, what with the direct transmissions from the Bad Cop Cliché Radio Network to every character’s headset mic and all. Token Female Agent: “I’m not comfortable with this situation.” Dreamboat Captain: “Who promised you comfort?” Even UPN wouldn’t run this dreck … for more than a month, at least.
With Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit running constantly on NBC, A&E, TNT, USA and probably even Animal Planet at this point, does Dick Wolf’s L&O franchise really warrant another spin-off? Do you even have to ask? Law & Order: Criminal Intent (debuts Sunday, Sept. 30) is, well, another Law & Order show, but with big-time film actor Vincent D’Onofrio tube-slumming as “an American Sherlock Holmes,” in Wolf’s own words. Hey, he was probably tired.
These are my only words on Inside Schwartz (debuts Thursday, Sept. 20), the latest in the towering scrap heap of nondescript singles-in-the-city sitcoms—this one about a hallucinating sportscaster (Breckin Meyer), with mucho star-athlete guest-shots that only SportsCenter nuts who don’t watch NBC Thursdays could appreciate: Doomed to follow Friends into the 7:30 abyss. Last year’s pissed-upon Weber Show (a.k.a. Cursed) got a raw deal, man.
Unlike Emeril and Schwartz, Scrubs (debuts Tuesday, Sept. 25) is actually funny, mostly due to the absence of those increasingly irritating and practically obsolete laugh tracks that scream “This is hilarious, dumbass! Bam!” Kind of a Malcolm in the ER, Scrubs follows the daily adventures of a new medical intern (Zach Braff), his surgical intern bud (Donald Faison) and fellow med-intern Object of Lust (Sarah Chalke, the hotter replacement daughter from Roseanne). Twisted, smart and downright hysterical—just the kind of show NBC will broom quickly to make way for more Spy TV.
And then there’s Crossing Jordan (debuts Monday, Sept. 17), a suspiciously CSI-like crime drama described by one brilliant TV writer—oh yeah, it was me—a few months ago as “Quincy in pantyhose.” Allow me to retract: Star Jill Hennessy (Law & Order, pick one), despite the unmussable supermodel looks, dresses down as Boston medical examiner Jordan Cavanaugh, with no girly-gear like hosiery to be seen in the pilot ep. She’s too busy solving crimes the lazy-ass Beantown cops can’t, damn it! She cares too much! Believe me, I know the feeling—I’m always forgetting my pantyhose. u