Mr. Coogans Weekend Groove Tube News Update 12.29.03

Last week, I used this “introduction space” to talk about the lack of quality television programming during the holiday season, even less specifically between December 20 of the old year and January 5 of the new year (in large part, some is great). Meaningless college football “postseason” games, assorted Christmas themed programs, and here’s a new one: all day marathons of our favorite syndicated shows on basic cable.

Anyway, with the A-ROD (Alex Rodriguez, the Texas Rangers All-Star Shortstop and largely considered the best player in baseball) saga, fans in Boston and baseball in general have had some compelling television to watch over the holiday season as we all wondered what was next. Would he stay? Would he go? Would the large amounts of money be worked out? Would the Red Sox be able to complete a stellar off-season by completing a Nomar Garciaparra for Magglio Ordonez trade?

Well, in theory this was all compelling and a good alternative to the repeats and other assorted bad television, but there was a problem: everyone got tired of it quickly.

Bill Simmons of ESPN.com’s Page 2 summed it up pretty damn well in his latest column (and I loved his comment on Tom Hicks!):

You have to love Tom Hicks, the Texas Rangers owner who was dumb enough to outbid himself for A-Rod by $70 million, then brazen enough to demand money from the Red Sox when they were bailing him out of that same franchise-killing contract. He’s a piece of work. It’s like somebody heading into a Mercedes dealership, offering $80,000 for a $45,000 car, then trying to decide the terms when someone’s doing them a favor by buying out the lease. How do some of these owners get rich in the first place? Have you ever wondered about that?

Anyway, the protracted (and agonizingly public) negotiations between Hicks and the Sox owners just about submarined my last few weeks. First it was on, then it was off, then it was kinda on, then it was kinda off, then it was in grave danger, then it looked promising … this was like Ben and J-Lo’s engagement, but 100 times worse. Now it’s off again. Deader than a mackerel. Or so they say. I don’t know anything anymore.

Here’s what I do know: I just wish somebody would give me the last two weeks of my life back. Like the 100 phone calls I made with my friends. Or the 56,000 times I reloaded ESPN.com at work to see if anything happened. Or the endless stream of message-board threads I sifted through. What a waste of time and energy. The entire saga started to feel like one of those five-overtime hockey games — after awhile, you don’t even care how it ends anymore, you just want an ending.

Would the Sox have been better off with A-Rod and Magglio? Yeah, I think so. But Plan B (Manny and Nomar) isn’t so bad. And I have no problem bringing either of those guys back, even after all this stuff — Manny’s too much of a space cadet to realize what happened, and Nomar’s too much of a professional to tank the 2004 season. Especially a contract season. Besides, sulking interferes with his OCD.

Regardless, I just want the whole thing to end. None of these deadlines mean anything anymore. Just tell me it’s definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY over. Better yet, sign a contract and explicitly say that it’s over. Please. I can’t take it anymore. For God’s sake, can I just enjoy Christmas! Can I do that?????

See in theory, it’s compelling television (not to mention a fascinating news story to follow) and a rescue from other television and news at the time. However, in the end, we all needed a rescue from the rescue That’s tiring.
Hey Theo, Larry, John and Tom do us all a favor. Either sign Nomar long term or get the damn A-ROD deal done. We all want to look forward to the season, not wonder if the dealing is done

Anyway

Opening Credits: “Friends,” Fox, “Bachelor” Bob, James Garner, Notre Dame and “The Body”

Potential “Friends” News

WARNING!!!!! POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS NEWS UPDATE ABOUT “FRIENDS”

Kristin, the television scoop reporter on the E! News Daily show reported that a rumored storyline involving Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette) leaving New York City, becoming suburbanites and buying a house slightly north of Manhattan in the ritzy Westchester County is a go after all. In addition, the highly regarded young actress, Dakota Fanning will play a character who lives next door to the house a couple are looking to buy.

Of course, I searched exhaustively across the Internet attempting to confirm this story and couldn’t find much of anything, so maybe it is still out there in the realm of fantasyland and not 100% set in stone yet.

If this particular storyline is a go, it is a good transition. Chandler and Monica are the only two of the six friends who would be ready to move away from New York City and get on with the rest of their lives in the land of suburbia. Also, it’s definitely a symbolic gesture that the era of these six close twenty-something friends living in “the big city” is over along with the television show that has captured these twenty-something friends.

Big “Bachelor” Bob has been bad.

Producers of the ABC (former) hit show, “The Bachelor” have sued their most recent single man “looking for love” Bob Guiney because he’s done several promotional events publicizing his new music CD, 3 Sides. Contestants on the reality show are prohibited from promoting other products without permission from the show’s producers (say that five times fast ), so the show organizers have flexed their muscles.

I imagine a clause exists in all contracts for contestants going on reality shows. After all, they want “real” people taking part in these shows and not just people looking to hawk a particular product whether it be their own bad music, their “acting skills” or even a local rib joint in their own hometown. It makes sense to me since the producers of these reality shows provide such “real” situations for all the contestants taking part. Not only do I eat boiled ox testicles on a regular basis, but my college friends and I often travel to Thailand for weeks at a time to take part in obscene physical challenges for large cash prizes only to stab my friends in the back by the end of the “vacation.” I really do understand where the networks are coming from.

Some tidbits from the Rupert Murdoch television network

Part “The Truman Show”, part “Paradise Island”

Fox has committed a hefty 25 episodes to a new reality series entitled “Forever Eden.” The show will be heavily modeled after the “Paradise Hotel” model where several sexy singles will be sent to a beautiful resort and will be expected to co-exist with one person being voted out every week and a new person being added. In addition, people from some contestants’ pasts will appear on the show potentially creating some emotionally explosive scenes.

The idea of The Truman Show comes into play in several ways. First, this will be an ongoing soap opera. If all goes according to plan, the reality show could, in theory, go on forever. There won’t be any season premieres or any season finales. The contestants will move to the resort and stay there as long as possible. It could be a few weeks or a few months or even a few years. It will depend on how much the contestants want to be cut off from the real world, which is a requirement of the show, and if they can keep themselves from getting kicked out. The longer they stay, the more prize money they earn. However, if they get kicked off the show, they only keep half the money they earn and if they crack and leave the show on their own, they don’t get to keep any of it.

In addition, the producers have stated that the contestants are not going on a show so much as they are leaving their current life in favor of one on a beautiful resort on television cut off from the rest of the world. It’s not going on a show, it’s changing your life.

It’s a fascinating concept in that it tests the traditional format of primetime television comedy and drama. With the exception of a few (the WWE being a key example), most television shows don’t carry on the entire year without hiatuses, season premieres and finales. In addition, can a show carry on forever? Probably not. However, no one has really tried and stated that it could. I just can’t see myself tuning into a show like that every week though. We’ll have to wait and see

“The Jury” is in

Zap2it is reporting that Fox’s legal drama “The Jury” has added Billy Burke, Adam Busch, Jeff Hephner and Cote de Pablo to its pilot casting pool. This will join Shalom Harlow who has already been cast.

I find this particular casting news interesting because “The Jury” pilot was written by Tom Fontana and James Yoshimura and will be directed by Fontana’s long time partner, Barry Levinson. The Levinson/Fontana duo has brought some outstanding, compelling television drama to the airwaves including “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Oz” and anything that these two are responsible for is worth paying attention to.

“The Jury” will analyze the legal system and tell stories through the eyes of the jury rather than the criminals, investigators, or lawyers like “Law & Order” or “CSI” often does. Stay tuned for this one

Cousin Oliver returns

No, I am not referring to Robbie Rist, the fellow who played Cousin Oliver in the final season of “The Brady Bunch.” I’m referring to the short lived, albeit solid, Fox sitcom, “Oliver Beene.” The show, to some degree, follows the “Malcolm in the Middle” format in that in a show revolves around the adventures of a preteen boy and his family. However, the differences are this show is set in the Kennedy era 1960s in Rego Park (an area of Queens, NY). In addition, the show uses an odd, but appealing, array of flashback and flash forward techniques to tell certain stories and make certain jokes. Coupled with old reliables, “King of the Hill” (which gets pushed back to 7:00 PM EST with the re-addition of “Oliver” back to the schedule), and “The Simpsons” on Fox’s Sunday night comedy lineup could be a great move if they commit to it and not pull it so quick.

Why couldn’t the network do this with “Family Guy” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe?”

Mr. Garner Don’t go anywhere. Your presence is still requested.

One of the most fascinating stories of the 2003-04 television season is the (forced) evolution of the ABC show “8 Simple Rules ” since the death of its primary star, John Ritter. The show has developed from a pure silly family comedy into a dramedy of sorts with many storylines revolving around how the family is coping with premature loss of the family patriarch (Ritter). James Garner has played the father of Katey Segal’s character Cate Hennessy since the show returned from hiatus during November sweeps.

News reports indicate that Garner is going to be staying with the show the rest of this season possibly signifying that the tone of the show probably won’t be changing too much in terms of the tone and the storylines created.

Without being too disrespectful to the memory of John Ritter, while I understand why the show has evolved the way it has, I just hope this theme doesn’t continue into the 2004-05 season. The way everyone on that show ranging from the writers and producers to the stars has come together to make this work has been nothing short of phenomenal. However, the same way this the United States has largely “gotten back to normal” since 9/11, the cast of “8 Simple Rules” needs to move on and get back to the point of the show, and that’s comedy.

“The Body” just ain’t what it used to be.

If former wrestling superstar/Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura’s relevance in society were a muscularly toned wrestler like he was in the 1970s, then right now, it would probably look like that big potbelly he carries around with him as we enter 2004.

In another sign that Mr. Ventura has lost whatever captivation the public had for him in recent years, MSNBC has put his new talk show on “indefinite hiatus” after the network initially buried it with a Saturday timeslot instead of one of the more coveted weeknight prime time slots.

Assuming his show ends up drifting into oblivion like most believe it will, what will be next for this guy? Does he stay in public service, something he evidently has a passion for? Or does he head back into the entertainment industry with movie roles or perhaps a role with Vince McMahon in the WWE? I certainly haven’t heard one way or the other, but it will be intriguing to see what his next career move will be.

Don’t worry Notre Dame will be just fine

Several news outlets have reported that the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN has signed a five-year contract with NBC Sports so the network can air at least all of the university’s home football games. The price tag appears to be a hefty $9 million per year for the peacock network to fork out.

This works for Notre Dame because they won’t have to join a football conference after all and they can keep many of their traditional rivalry match-ups with schools like The University of Southern California, Boston College, Michigan, and Michigan State without losing other games with opponents on a more rotating basis. Also, they will remain the only university affiliated with the NCAA to have their own national television contract.

Meanwhile, NBC will continue to have some sort of legitimate football to air on the weekends during the fall. First, they lost the NFL in the TV bidding rights war to CBS, then the NBA to ABC/ESPN. NBC Sports really hasn’t been the same since. The network has patch worked a sports schedule by airing extreme sporting events, NASCAR, and games from the Arena Football League but they are still more than a step behind FOX and CBS which have the NFL every Sunday during the Fall. The Notre Dame pickup doesn’t help NBC very much since the ratings for those games are traditionally low, but at the same time, anything that gives the sports department a little bit of legitimacy is a positive. After all, the Olympics only come every two years and they last less than three weeks anyway!

You’ve GOT to be kidding

In one of the most ridiculous, partial news stories the television industry has seen this year, the American Screenwriters Association has voted its ten worst television programs. Members of the Association voted for a show and this is the list of the top ten shows that appeared on the most ballots (Credit: Zap2it):

1. “The Anna Nicole Show,” E! (33.7 percent)
2. “The Jerry Springer Show,” syndicated (12.7)
3. “Temptation Island,” FOX (9.6)
4. WWE wrestling, UPN/Spike TV (9.2)
5. “Joe Millionaire,” FOX (9.1)
6. “Howard Stern,” E! (8.9)
7. “Fear Factor,” NBC (8.8)
8. “Big Brother,” CBS (6.2)
9. “Survivor,” CBS (1.6)
10. “The Amazing Race,” CBS (0.8)

Two conclusions can be reached here. First, ARE YOU KIDDING??? Is there supposed to be any legitimacy to a list like this put together by screenwriters when none of the show on the list actually involve screenwriters putting together fictional stories? Why don’t we ask 100 Red Sox fans “Which team is better? The Red Sox or Yankees?” Gee, I wonder how that will turn out.

Nine of the ten worst shows are either reality or talk shows. Anything that inhibits the screenwriters from doing their jobs, i.e. writing stories for the small screen, then OF COURSE they are going to hate it. What a joke!

The second conclusion actually is legitimate and speaks to the audience of this website. That conclusion is that the one program on this worst programs list that involves story telling with imaginary characters is the wonderful writing product produced by the WWE writers. Now, I believe the writing on the two shows (especially RAW) has been better as of late, so I do think this “distinction” was a little harsh. However, there has been a lot of clunky, awkward, predictable situations contrived by the writing team and apparently the Screenwriters Association has taken notice of this futility. I wonder if the McMahons and their “people” pay attention to lists like this.

Quick Hits

• Believe it or not, Betty White and Roger Clemens have something in common (besides still being alive ): upcoming appearances on ABC shows. Clemens will appear as himself on the new Kelly Ripa/Faith Ford comedy “Hope & Faith” while White will do a three episode run on “The Practice” as someone close to James Spader’s character, Alan Shore. I’d say White’s appearance is more worthy of note because David E. Kelley ALWAYS writes very good parts for the celebrity actors/actresses that appear on his show.

• TV Guide Online reported that ABC has cut the season of its cop drama “10-8” to 15 episodes from its original 22. Also, starting February 15th, the network will replace the show with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” This may be temporary as well however, since the network is considering of placing the critically acclaimed “Karen Sisco” on Sunday with “Alias” and “The Practice.” That could be an interesting, influential development.

• This really deserves its own column considering all the directions I could go in, but for now, I’ll leave it as a “quick hit.” Kristen Nelson has signed on to play the female lead to the new Jason Alexander CBS sitcom based on the life and time of Washington Post columnist and ESPN personality, Tony Kornheiser. That isn’t overly Earth shattering news, but the fact that a television show featuring Jason Alexander AND Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo from “The Cosby Show”) based on Kornheiser’s life has my attention.

Closing Credits: More Baby Talk Response to a Reader

Normally, I’d have something else to contribute in the middle before the closing credits, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll throw out just a few more comments before going on my merry way.

Last week, I received an email from “Teff” in regards to my comments about characters new babies on sitcoms:

Hey Steve,

I enjoy your TV column and I would just like to add one thing to what you said about sticoms and babies.

Usually a character having a baby is a sure sign that a show needs refreshing, and I’ve seen it kill some shows. I think you left out one of the more famous shows that involved pregnancies. Laverne and Shirley ended it’s run right about the time that Cathy Williams (it is Cathy Williams right?) was pregnant, and to keep the pregnancy off the air the producers and writers wrote that marriage ending that a lot of people including me didn’t like, simply because they didn’t want anyone to know that Cathy was pregnant.

First off, thank you for the kind words Teff. I thoroughly enjoy hearing from my readers and would love to incorporate more reader feedback into my columns. Please, tell your friends to read and write. Everyone else, remember to send me feedback. It makes me happy.

Second, you were close, but it was Cindy Williams who played Shirley. Cathy is Cindy’s sister and only has one film to her credit, the 1987 film Business as Usual. Good effort though.

In regards to Teff’s comments, he definitely has a valid point in regards to the way the 70s and 80s comedy classic, “Laverne & Shirley” ended. The show was about the close friendship between two strong women of the 1950s and 1960s. If you’ll excuse the bad pun, “they did it their way.” They were single, working women living together and doing their best to enjoy their lives despite societal pressure at that time (meaning the 1950s) to get married and have families. The unfortunate ending involving Williams’s departure of the show really threw the show off balance and ruined a good thing. It would be like watching the “Everybody Loves Raymond” cast break up due to the death of Frank or Marie or the divorce of Ray and Debra. The whole premise of that show is that it’s about the Barone family and anything that gets away from premise alters the show significantly, largely for the worse.

Seeing as this is true, my opinion is that while the baby certainly made the show worse, it was the complete change of the dynamic of the show (the relationship between Laverne and Shirley as two strong, single, funny women) that gave it a clunky ending, not necessarily the baby itself. That could have been the death of one the characters, it could have been the marriage, it could have been the baby that Williams was having.

While I don’t fully agree with “Teff’s” point about “Laverne & Shirley,” he did make think about how a baby (or in some cases working in a younger, fresher face) merely displays that a show is in need of refreshing and producers will do anything possible to make keep the show fresh, even it doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Here are some obvious examples of where the addition of a younger face (though not necessarily a new born baby) was probably just a faint way to make the new show fresh and new:

• “The Brady Bunch” – Part of the charm of this show was the high “cuteness factor” that existed with preteens Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Cindy (Susan Olsen). That was especially true with Cindy, who always wore big, puffy dresses, carried around a doll, and spoke with a dramatic lisp. It was cute. However, both kids grew up over the course of five seasons and weren’t so cute anymore. Solution: Add a seventh kid, younger than the rest to increase the cute factor. So, in 1974, out of nowhere, Oliver (Robbie Rist), who was somehow related to Carol Brady (Florence Henderson), comes into the picture as the new Brady and appears in seven episodes.

In one particular episode, the main storyline was that the other Bradys believed in the “Oliver curse” because bad things always happened when he was around. Now that I think about it, couldn’t it be possible that it was a playful jab at those who doubted Oliver’s appearance on the show. After all, the episode ended with everyone openly embracing Oliver saying that everything was going to be alright. Too bad it wasn’t since the show was canceled at the end of that season.

• “Diff’rent Strokes” – Every time I see a show discussing or summarizing the plot of “Diff’rent Strokes,” everyone always seems to forget the seasons from the mid-1980s when Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain) remarried Maggie McKinney (Dixie Carter first, Mary Ann Mobley second) and he gained a step-son (Sam played by Danny Cooksey). At that point, Cooksey was only nine years old and Arnold (Gary Coleman) had gotten older, his cheeks weren’t as chubby, and it wasn’t as cute when he said “Whatchu talkin’ about Willis?!” So, Coleman stepped in and played the older brother to his new step-brother while Willis (Todd Bridges) was busy developing into a man, combing his moustache, and trying to get laid. With the kids growing up, the writers needed to inject some life into the show, so they brought in the new wife and the new little boy to keep the “cuteness factor” as high as possible.

• “The Cosby Show” – It’s hard to say one of the greatest and most influential sit-coms of all time was in desperate need of making a dramatic change to give it some new excitement. However, the reappearance of daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet), and the introduction of her husband Martin (Joseph Philips) and her step-daughter Olivia (Raven Symone) potentially suggested differently. By the time the new characters were introduced, Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) was growing up a bit and also losing that “cuteness” that made her great in the mid-to-late 1980s. That’s when Olivia came in and was able to provide some great adorable comedic sequence between her and Rudy and even more importantly, her and Cliff (Bill Cosby). I believe the show was able to continue and even thrive for another three seasons in large part because of the emergence of Symone’s Olivia character and the writers’ abilities to work it in smoothly while letting Cosby work his comedic chops on a fresh face.

In the cases of all three shows, it can’t necessarily be concluded that the appearance of a newer, younger, face made the show “better” or “worse.” That isn’t the point really. The point is that, using these examples, part of “Teff’s” theory is proven perfectly. These shows all had kids growing up, so the new, cute child is worked in to help liven up the show and give it a certain freshness it had lacked for a long time.

However, this certainly isn’t a blanket statement. There are several examples where “new arrivals” did not necessarily signify a show needed dramatic refresh to become successful again. Consider these shows:

• “7th Heaven” – When the show first started, Annie (Catherine Hicks) wasn’t pregnant. She became pregnant with twins, gave birth to them, and the whole process was worked into the storylines as merely a new adventure for an already large family. The bread & butter of that show is the adult themed topics and the way they are handled with a campy “good Christian” charm that other shows don’t capture. The birth of the Camden Twins didn’t signify at all that the show needed dramatic refreshing to be successful. It merely showed the Camden family is strong and more of them can make them stronger.

• “Malcolm in the Middle” – As much as the show was built around “Malcolm” (Frankie Muniz) and his life and family from his perspective, the fact is Lois (Jane Kazmarek) has become just as important as Malcolm in the way the stories and jokes within the stories are told. She’s nasty but funny, mean and arrogant but charming at the same time. Giving her character more to do by having the new baby at the end of the 2002-03 season wasn’t a signifier that the show needed to be refreshed, it was a signifier that Lois was important, and then it would be fun(-ny) and interesting to see what would happen if she had to go through a pregnancy and a potentially painful child birth. One could argue “Teff’s” point applies here, but considering the types of stories that are told on that show, I still think the show could continue to be successful without the new baby storyline. It was just fun to add it in.

Also, while it hasn’t happened to this point (and probably never will), think about what would happen if Debra (Patricia Heaton) became pregnant again on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The writing and acting on that show is brilliant as is, but wouldn’t a pregnancy and new baby open up a series of new stories and new dimensions in the characters that their fans haven’t seen before. Whether that means Ray (Ray Romano) being compassionate or Frank (Peter Boyle) being lovable and cute towards a new baby, it would be fun to see what would happen next with that crew. That storyline arc certainly wouldn’t be necessary to give the show new life, but it would be a lot of fun to unfold.

So, what’s the conclusion about all this “baby talk?” Well, “Teff” made some great points, but he also made some points worth disputing as well. My point is that “Teff’s” theory can be applied to some shows, but it doesn’t apply to others. Whether you agree with him, me, or neither of us, at least we made you think about the role of a “new arrival” in episodic television.

With that, I’m off to enjoy the last big party of 2003 before going back to work in 2004.

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and I guarantee you won’t see any repeats from me in the near future!

— Coogan