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Old School’s Out

Diagnosis Murder and the death of uncool.



Oh, we Gen-Xers are a self-absorbed clique of ironic hipsters, aren’t we? Same goes for you Gen-Yers and whatever the hell cutely tagged-and-bagged demographic comes after that—we’re all just sooo cool. What with our MTV, our MP3s, our Eminems and so forth, it’s a wonder anyone even bothers to read anymore.

If you’re still with me, hang tough: The insidious pop-culture machine chews up and spits out anything that appeals to anyone older than the desired 18-34 demo and is deemed “uncool.” The Viacom corporation’s cradle-to-grave programming racket (Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, UPN, TNN, Showtime, VH1, TV Land and CBS) leans heavily enough toward the younger end of the scale, you’d think they’d leave some leathery scraps (i.e. CBS) for the older folks to gnaw on.

Think again: Engorged with younger-demo ratings thanks to shows like Survivor and, well, Survivor, CBS has gone all cocky and decided your parents don’t matter anymore, canceling long-running denture set staples Diagnosis Murder and Nash Bridges (both still airing Friday nights; back-to-back doubles for Diagnosis) at the close of this past season.

CBS prez Les Moonves called the move “very ambitious,” then rolled the Eyeball Net’s newfound under-50 audience and his older-than-50 self into a single advertiser-friendly package by adding, “We’re younger, we’re more affluent.” And if you’re not young, affluent or the CEO of a major network, screw you and the Rascal you rode in on.

What does the death of CBS’ oldster-aimed programming mean to you, kiddies? For one thing, in the case of Diagnosis Murder, it means the loss of some of the slyest pop-cultural satire that most of its deserving targets never saw coming—or never saw, period. As for Nash Bridges … uh, no more Don Johnson and Cheech Marin squeezing into fancy suits, driving a bright yellow Barracuda around San Francisco and calling themselves “private dicks?” Elder, less-jaded viewers never made “gay” assumptions about Nash and Joe; they just considered them “stylish.”

Dick Van Dyke’s Diagnosis Murder is clearly the greater casualty here, even though there are now eight seasons of reruns airing daily on Pax, one of the few “unhip” networks that seniors can seek refuge in anymore. Well, that and the Fox News Channel—until the Liberal Media shuts it down, dagnabbit.

Van Dyke’s Dr. Mark Sloan, when not making rounds at Los Angeles’ Community General Hospital or acting as a police consultant, likes to dabble in amateur sleuthing with block-jawed cop son Steve (real-life block-jawed son Barry Van Dyke), solving murders the LAPD can’t—that’s pretty much all there is to the Diagnosis Murder outline. There’s always a murder; the audience is always privy to the same clues as Sloan.

Then, somewhere along the way after DM’s 1992 debut (as a spin-off of, get this, Jake & the Fat Man), the showrunners decided to quit producing the show as Murder She Wrote With a Moustache. A satirical edge began surfacing (Regis Philbin shoots Kathie Lee Gifford; network execs turn up murdered; TV cops Mannix and Matlock drop in—there’s waaay more). It culminated spectacularly with 1999’s “Trash TV” episode, which had nutso producer Jackson Burley (nutso producer Steven J. Cannell) making a sensationalized TV show out of Sloan’s life (gun-toting Dr. Danger) to compete with the Pox (read: Fox) Network’s Maimings, Massacres & Practical Jokes and Red Asphalt: World’s Bloodiest Car Crashes. It was a hysterically hip and self-referential commentary on network weaseldom, more biting than you’d expect from a Dentu-Grip drama—wonder if any CBS suits watched it. Well, at least mom got a laugh.

Which brings up the other side effect of canceling oldster programming in favor of edgier fare: The less entertainment there is to keep the parents occupied, the more time they have on their hands to call you. Any time at all, day or night. The following conversation really happened after I hung up with my own mom after getting her take on DM’s cancellation (she didn’t care; she watched it every night on Pax “before going to sleep”). She called back 30 seconds later:

“You should flip over to this cute music video on the music channel right now. It’s got big sumo wrestlers flopping around while this odd-looking band just keeps playing the song.”

“Yeah, that’s Weezer’s ‘Hash Pipe.’ I’ve seen it, mom.”

“Oh, now the sumo wrestlers are playing the guitars—are they in the group too?”

“No, they’re just …”

“Now there’s a nice-looking rapper on, talking about ‘bling-bling’ and ‘hos.’ Would you like me to pick you up some Bling-Blings and Hos at the Hostess Thrift Store and send them to you? Sounds like you kids really like those.”

Thanks, CBS.