Pitting best series against each other draws ire

Jan 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Nothing like a little armchair analysis to make television executives second-guess their every move. Or not.

Reviewers who took part in Electronic Media’s semiannual poll took aim at everything from the dearth of original shows on Saturday night to the abundance of unscripted series (in questionable taste) on the air.

In general, critics were less impressed with the current season, rating it worse in its new offerings than the previous year. Though they pointed out as a positive the networks’ tendency to let shows percolate and find their places instead of yanking them off the air quickly if they don’t leap out of the gate.

There likely aren’t any reviewers out there without TiVo, so maybe they’re speaking for the general audience when they criticize the standard network practice of pitting their best shows head-to-head.

Singled out were the “The Bernie Mac Show” (Fox) vs. “My Wife and Kids” (ABC) matchup, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (UPN) vs. “Gilmore Girls” (WB), and the scheduling of “Robbery Homicide Division” (CBS) against “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (NBC). “CBS threw away a first-rate show [in `RHD’],” said Hal Boedeker of The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. After spending some time as a ratings cellar dweller, “RHD” was canceled last month.

Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said the network needed a strong 8 p.m. show, and “Bernie Mac” helped open the night. “We always thought the two shows could co-exist there, and they did,” she said.

“Bernie” will move with Cedric The Entertainer’s half-hour sketch show to 9 p.m. this month.

Missing the target?

While a few reviewers pointed out that networks still abandon Saturday night, another criticized Fox for putting two good shows, “Firefly” and “John Doe,” on Friday night when the young male target demo isn’t in front of the set. Several critics said Fox made a major mistake when it scheduled “girls club,” from uber-producer David E. Kelley, before anyone at the network had seen a pilot. The show lasted two episodes.

NBC’s new Tuesday and Thursday comedies took a massive critical hit, with “Good Morning, Miami” leading the most-disliked pack: “Stupid and allegedly successful, the worst kind of combination,” said Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewers said NBC did the right thing by taking “Watching Ellie” off the air, but criticized the plan to bring it back. Mitch Metcalf, the network’s senior VP of program planning and scheduling, said the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy will lose the real-time format and single-camera shooting style when it returns midseason.

Instead, it will have a live audience and will look more like a traditional four-camera sitcom. “We want to get it right,” Mr. Metcalf said. “There’s no guarantee we will, but we would hope people will give it another shot.”

`Mediocrity rules’

Most critics see the current season as inferior to the previous one, with fewer standout shows and more colorless offerings.

“Mediocrity rules,” said Ruth Butler of The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press. “Safe programming and reality shows are the norm.”

Ted Cox of the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill., said the competition was “much more ferocious” for his “worst” list than for his “best.” “TV is polarizing between quality and dreck, but dreck certainly seems to have the greater pull right now.”

The dramas on the air drew the most praise, while new comedies rarely passed muster. “This truly is a golden age for drama, especially when you take cable fare from HBO and FX into the mix,” said Alex Strachan of The Vancouver Sun. “Comedy, however, still seems to be stuck in a post-`Seinfeld’ slump.”