There are good ideas, and there are bad ideas—but it ain’t that simple. If a bad idea manages to slip by everyone and somehow winds up making a pile of money, it then becomes a good idea. If a good idea fails to catch on and doesn’t make any money, then it’s a bad idea. If anyone in an upper-level management position has any kind of an idea at all, we like to refer to that as a friggin’ miracle, and so on.
Was it a good idea for local UPN affiliate KJZZ 14 to finally break ties with its steadily declining “network” so it wouldn’t have to just go through the motions anymore, pre-empting virtually unwatched and unprofitable UPN “programming” with thrill-packed Utah Jazz and University of Utah sports? Hell, yes. Now, if only KSL 5 would come clean and bail on its marriage of convenience to NBC, a network whose programming is 90 percent reprehensible to its Mormon ownership. Oh yeah, unlike UPN, NBC actually makes money (and it’s got them Olympics), so that would be a bad idea for KSL. See how this works?
KAZG 24 (Channel 8 on most local cable), an Ogden station with the current signal strength of a garage-door opener, will pick up the UPN affiliation affliction when KJZZ gives up the network ghost in January 2001. So have no fear; you’ll be able to watch the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager at the end of this TV season. It’ll probably look like it’s being beamed in directly from the Alpha Quadrant, but at least it’ll be on, as will the relatively high-rated WWF Smackdown. There are other shows on UPN (no, really), but none worth adjusting the rabbit ears for, so don’t sweat it.
KJZZ, on the other hand, has had to sweat through a minor media roasting for the past couple of weeks thanks to a very bad idea in the wording of what was to become their Dear John letter to UPN. They asked for the option of dumping UPN if the network increased its “urban/ethnic” (i.e. the Monday night “black” block of African-American-centric sitcoms Moesha, The Parkers, The Hughleys and Girlfriends) above more than two hours per week. Like a true network weasel, UPN’s Adam Ware sent a copy of the letter to the Washington Post, adding his own self-serving spin that us backward Utahns are racist for not wanting to carry programming that delivers crap ratings across the nation, not just in whitey’s stronghold of the Beehive State. Crap ratings, remember, mean crap economic returns.
Comedy Central’s Daily Show With Jon Stewart got a great sarcastic news-bit out of the flap (“When you think African-American culture, you think Salt Lake City. The town’s rich ebony tapestry is home to such leading black figures as … Karl Malone”). KJZZ and the local media didn’t help matters by citing the station’s past success with syndicated reruns of Family Matters, The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, shows about as “urban/ethnic” as Kurt Bestor throwing down P-Funk jams. Since UPN could very well be out of business by this time next year anyway, it was a good idea for KJZZ to jump now. Trying to explain its way out of it, despite UPN’s borderline slanderous allegations, was a bad one.
Another good idea—as a pseudo-journalist, I thought so, anyway—has been shot down after only five airings. NBC’s Deadline, starring Oliver Platt as a hard-drinking news-crime columnist, was canceled last week after reporting possibly the lowest ratings ever for an in-season original NBC series. Even after canning weak lead-in sitcoms Tucker (the first kill of the season, just as I called it weeks ago) and Daddio (finally!), and plugging in another Dateline, the crime drama had lost more than half its Monday-night viewers since its Oct. 2 premiere.
What gives? Besides Platt, Deadline also had an all-star cast featuring Bebe Neuwirth, Hope Davis, Lili Taylor and Tom Conti, the direction of Law & Order honcho Dick Wolf, and exceptionally good storylines with snappy dialogue. OK, there’s the problem. Cable will likely pick up the show and its unaired remaining seven episodes before the season’s over, as recent history has shown with Freaks & Geeks, Action, Harsh Realm and now Sports Night, coming to Comedy Central.
Was it a bad idea to put Deadline up against Monday Night Football, Everybody Loves Raymond and Ally McBeal? Or was it just a bad idea to expect a chubby, bourbon-swilling egomaniac who doesn’t pack a gun to carry a crime show? A test-spin on Wednesday nights as a warm-up for The West Wing (instead of the so-bad-it’s-still-bad Titans) would have been a good idea, but maybe that’s just the whisky talkin.’