Mr. Coogans Weekend Groove Tube Update 01.17.04

I don’t care what anyone says, syndicated repeats of old television shows can be a viewer’s best friend. As I have been sick and writing my weekly column, I’ve seen two episodes of “Law & Order: SVU,” and “Three’s Company,” three episodes of “The Cosby Show,” and, to top it off, four episodes of one of my favorites, “Roseanne.”

That isn’t to say that the older shows are any better than what’s available currently. I actually recorded several hours of “new programming” while the old stuff was on.

I guess the older shows are like that old piece of clothing that’s just so hard to get rid of. We hold onto it until it so has so many holes and rips, we just can’t wear it anymore. Even at that point, we still hold onto it because it makes us feel better. That’s the way I feel about Theo Huxtable’s ridiculous flat top haircut, Roseanne’s overdone “domestic goddess” comedic bits, and the horrendous wardrobes of the cast of “Three’s Company.” It’s preposterous to keep them around seeing as they are so dated, but who is it hurting if you do?

What’s the point of this? Well, I guess the cliché statement, “out with the old and in with the new” doesn’t necessarily apply all the time. After all, I can watch old syndicated television while the new stuff is being recorded.

However, with this column, it does apply. I’ve talked about the old and now it’s time to talk about the new

Opening Credits: NBC, ABC, the WB, CSI, and JOHNNY MAC!

NBC has a lot on their plate this spring

The announcement was considerably less romantic than with “Friends,” but this week, NBC made the long delayed announcement that this in fact would be the final season of network comedic staple, “Frasier.” It was largely assumed that this would be the final season until some rumors cropped up in the last couple of months that said differently.

Well, once and for all, NBC Entertainment head, Jeff Zucker made the announcement to the TV critics putting the kibosh on any additional rumors about the show’s future.

As usual, “Frasier” was overshadowed by more talk of “Friends.” As the announcement was made about “Frasier,” a story about the series finale of “Friends” leaked out the press sort of. The story isn’t overly significant, but at this point anything involving “Friends” or the cast has become a big story.

The bit of news: a table read-through.

Apparently, the script has been constructed for the final episode and the cast read through it this week in preparation for the taping next week. With that, emotions are already starting to fly as Jennifer Anniston showed on a recent trip to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in Chicago.

Meanwhile, as “Friends” receives all the glory in the form of advertising space and media coverage, “Frasier,” a show that’s actually been on a year longer than “Friends,” has been largely getting the shaft.

Kelsey Grammer showed a little bit of honesty in a recent interview, but largely remained diplomatic in stating:

Yeah, I suppose it bothered me a little. But, you know, we’ve always been sort of a little stepchild show once in a while. We’ve been shuffled off a few times. …

It will be more of, I guess, a social phenomenon for ‘Friends’ to leave than it will for ‘Frasier,’ so we will accept that. We’ve always been creatively, I’d like to think, setting a very high bar, and we can go out saying that we continued that to the end.

Nonetheless, NBC will be giving both shows the proper send-offs and will actually do so one week apart. “Friends” will say good bye on Thursday, May 6th and “Frasier” will say “Good day and good mental health.” a week later on May 13th. Both shows will have a one-hour finale preceded by a one-hour clip show similar to the way “Seinfeld” ended several years ago.

Apparently, ABC has a short memory

According to Zap2it, ABC Entertainment President, Susan Lyne recently powerfully proclaimed the following statement:

We think the time is right for the next generation of primetime game show.

The show they are referring to is entitled, “Deal or No Deal” and has been popular in various parts of the world. While it is unclear exactly what the format will entail, it is believed that it will resemble its international counterparts. That show includes one large studio audience that plays the game and progressively gets narrowed down to one individual person guessing how much money is in various gold suitcases.

Maybe my imagination and visualization skills are a bit out of whack, but is it me or does that format sound awful? The climax of each episode ends with the winning contestant guessing how much money is in a series of suitcases? I don’t get it.

This is even more ironic because ABC is the same network that essentially ruined the prime time game show just several years ago by completely saturating its prime time lineup with multiple episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” per week. The show struck ratings gold initially and then fell off quickly once the multiple airings began.

Now, all of a sudden, ABC is ready to bring back the prime time game show. Maybe it will help programming executives forget what happened a few years ago

David E. Kelley just doesn’t quit

David E. Kelley, acclaimed scribe of shows such as “The Practice” and “Boston Public,” is at it again as he and “Boston Public” partner in crime, Jason Katims signed a development deal to bring another drama to ABC.

The unnamed show will focus on three sisters and their lives as they run a Long Island “wedding palace.” I assume that means it’s a wedding planning consulting firm of some kind, but “wedding palace” was the description I saw in my research, so, I’ll have to stick with it even though it sounds like Chinese food place that also serves up quickie marriages and $20 blowjobs.

The better description of the new show came from TV Guide.com, which basically likened Kelley’s new creation to “Six Feet Under” except with weddings instead of funerals.

The significance here is that while ABC has a slew of family comedies, the network has largely abandoned the family drama, instead using hour-long slots for reality shows (“The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” and “Celebrity Mole”) or more workplace dramas (for lack of a better term), like “The Practice” and “NYPD Blue.”

It’s certainly interesting to clarify dramas in certain ways in that manner. While some family dramas succeed with gusto, it appears that more dramas focusing less on families (“CSI” and “Law & Order” for example) have a longer shelf life primarily because it’s much easier to incorporate new and interesting storylines. Lawyers try different cases, police detectives solve different crimes, and forensics experts have different cadavers to trace the cause of death to.

Of course, that’s not always the case since shows like “Six Feet Under” and, to a lesser degree, “7th Heaven” have succeeded mightily. However, to me, it seems more feasible that a drama like “Law & Order” would be more apt to last longer than a typical family drama since that family pretty much has to go through the ringer to keep the audience interested.

Then there’s “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” which are in a whole different category

It looks like Fox doesn’t want “A Minute with Stan Hooper.”

Norm McDonald’s freshman comedy, “A Minute with Stan Hooper” has officially been given the ax by the Fox network after airing just five episodes. The show was given one of the better network lead-ins with “That 70s Show” at 8:00 PM (EST) and “Stan Hooper” at 8:30. Despite that, the show only managed to secure an average of 5.7 million viewers per episode before being shipped off to Friday nights to essentially die a slow death.

As I stated in November in a 411movies column, I wrote about several television offerings, “Stan Hooper” deserved a chance. I was disappointed with McDonald’s performance as the main character, Stan (a television news reporter from New York City who moves to a small town in Wisconsin with his wife) and was a little baffled that Penelope Ann Miller (as Stan’s wife) would want to be involved, but I found the supporting characters to be funny and charming and the writing to be funny attacking the “small town folk” stereotype and completely twisting it around for the sake of good comedy. It was a bit wacky, but could have worked if given the chance.

But alas, this becomes yet another show thrown to the television series scrap heap. Something tells me this one won’t get brought back any time soon

YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!

For some strange reason, CNBC has decided that the loud, obnoxious, opinionated, overbearing former host of ABC’s short lived game show, “The Chair,” John McEnroe, would be a good candidate for an hour long nightly talk show assaulting the current headlines of the day. The currently unnamed show will begin airing sometime this spring according to Zap2it.com.

In regards to the opportunity, McEnroe stated:

I’m looking forward to my new show with CNBC. “We’ve designed it to be both serious and fun, to be able to jump on news or cover on-going topics, and still have many surprises and create havoc when necessary.

Something tells me this guy won’t exactly be the best person to lead an in-studio show. While he has the personality to fire off comments at will, he needs an experienced television news anchor to make things go just a bit smoother.

I better be careful what I say though, he might come and track me down and hit me with a tennis racket.

Quick Hits

— SPOILER ALERT!!! If you are interested, TV Guide.com has some VERY interesting tidbits of information regarding the “Friends” finale being taped next week and aired May 6th. I won’t write them in this column, but will direct you to the TV Guide article instead. Click here.

— And you thought “Law & Order” was becoming overexposed According to TV Guide.com, in the fall, CBS will launch a third “CSI,” this time invading “Law & Order’s” territory, New York City. The other two “CSI’s” set in Las Vegas and Miami have done well in the ratings (actually, the original “CSI” is always in the Top 5), so it seems like a no-brainer. But, I think the rule should be no more than two sister shows started from the original unless an entire cable network will be created to devote to it.

— In a fairly surprising development, the WB canceled the Jerry Bruckheimer show, “Fearless” without actually airing one show. The program, starring Rachel Leigh Cook (more well-known for her film work), was based on a series of books by Francine Pascal and was about a young FBI agent who was genetically incapable of feeling fear.

According to Zap2 it, the show was criticized for the fact that its’ main character (Cook) came off as affectless instead of fearless. WB executives worked with Bruckheimer to try and change it but decided to cut their ties with the show instead of spending more time massaging the concept.

— Since a reader sent me an email about it, I’ll answer the question here and now. HBO’s “Six Feet Under” starts its season June 6th according to USA Today and TV Barn.com. The USA Today article also stated that changes will be afoot for this coming season and writers and producers will head back to the lighter tone that existed in Season One. For more general revelations of upcoming storylines, Click here.

The NHL CAN be saved! But, it needs a lot of work

I participate in an informal sports email list with several friends and many more friends of friends. Over the last several weeks, we’ve debated everything from Pete Rose’s possible Hall of Fame induction, to the National Football League (NFL) Playoffs, to the “Brooklyn Nets,” to the survival of the of the National Hockey League (NHL).

The survival of the NHL was one topic that intrigued me greatly because I find it amazing that one of the United States’ four major (team) sports gets so little respect from the media, the fans, and in the television ratings. As a whole, we began throwing out potential ideas about what the people associated with the league need to do in order to save the league since the Collective Bargaining Agreement ends at the end of this season and it’s a decent possibility the league will fold since players’ salaries are too high and the arena attendance and television ratings are too low. These are my comments regarding the league and its possible survival (spruced up for the purpose of presentation):

1. Several people brought up “more media exposure” for the NHL, the league and its’ players. That’s DEFINITELY a Catch-22 type situation. The ratings for hockey are abysmal, people (even in big time northern areas like Boston and NY) don’t call sports radio shows to talk about the hockey teams, attendance at many arenas are down….That tells me there isn’t much interest in hockey and seeing as that’s the case, why in the bloody hell would the media would devote a lot of time/space to a product to something that isn’t overly interesting to the general public????

2. The NHL needs to do some things to make the sport better in that it gets more people interested and therefore the media more interested in spending a large amount of time/space covering it.

First, bring in the shoot-out. It’s artificial excitement, but it’s a hell of a lot better than a game ending in a tie.

Second, there needs to be some sort of rule changes that at least make the product more watchable (though they don’t necessarily have to increase scoring). Maybe it was patriotic pride, maybe it was the product itself, but watching Olympic hockey with the continuous play in the larger rink was much better to watch than the product that exists now. If both can be incorporated, I fully support it.

Third, contract, contract, contract. I don’t think they’ll contract the Devils (maybe just relocate them) or any of the Canadian teams (it is THEIR sport), but the Thrashers, Lighting, Panthers, Predators, Mighty Ducks, Sharks, Blue Jackets, and perhaps the Hurricanes all need to be contracted. Talent certainly isn’t down, but it’s too spread out to a lot of teams that can’t fill arenas.

Fourth, I don’t know if a salary cap is required, but something has to be done about the high salaries. Bill Guerin makes $9-10 million per year? I don’t think he’s worth that. Not while attendance is and ratings are………down.

3. The teams themselves could do a little more to make the product more marketable and interesting to the general public. Several people brought up lowering ticket prices. Yes. They should get slashed DRASTICALLY and then raised periodically as more people show up. The other dopey stuff, like the promotions I can certainly live with. That’s the least of my concerns.

4. This has been brought up by journalists in regards to the NBA vs. the NFL, but it applies to the NHL too. How do you market the league? Through individual players like the NBA (who you can see more of considering all they wear is a tank top and shorts) or more through the teams and the league itself like the NFL (you can’t see the players with their helmets and all their padding)? After all, the NHL players wear helmets, padding, and the bulky sweaters. Not only is the puck hard to follow, but five guys with the same color sweater, the “stars” can get lost in the shuffle. Plus, with all the line changes and the dozens of shifts these guys play, how do you tell everyone apart? When is your favorite player on the ice playing?

Hockey is VERY difficult to follow and I think the league needs to work with the television networks to make this a more watchable product. Whether that means changing camera angles or the continuous play idea (therefore screwing over the advertisers a little bit), something needs to be done. Someone said HDTV will make a difference. First, I don’t think it will make that much difference. Second, HDTV is still a long way from becoming mainstream. This isn’t the DVD player that caught on like lightning. HDTV is still too expensive and not completely available.

5. Overall, I think the NHL has the most work to do in making this a more viable product that people like. However, the individual teams, the television networks that cover them, and to a lesser degree, the media that cover them could play a part in the recovery as well. It starts with the league though.

Closing Credits:

Answers: Jesus Christ and “Family Guy”

Question: Name two things resurrected from the dead.

Several weeks ago, I was in Northern Virginia seeing my dearest friends for New Year’s Eve. There’s a group that usually range from about five to nine of us depending on who is around, who makes the trip, and other varying factors.

When we all get together, we have conversations of varying length, intelligence level, knowledge exchange, and joke swapping. Usually, the length is long, joke swapping is high, and the intelligence level and knowledge exchange is quite low, but we have a good time, and that is what’s important

Anyway, one morning several of us were talking about DVDs and “Family Guy” (something tells me we were watching an episode, but after a night of heavy drinking, certain details escape me ). During the conversation, my buddy Mark and I engaged in the following exchange (wording may be a bit off) regarding the show.

Me: Christ, I love this show. I wish they would bring it back from the dead.

Mark: They are making a bunch of new episodes of that show.

Me: (jaw hitting the floor since I feel like I am pretty up to date on news in the television industry) THEY ARE?!?!?!

Mark: Yeah. You didn’t know that?

Me: NO!

(Mark then leaves the room for a specific reason but feels satisfied that he stumped me and left me cleaning drool off my clothes).

Once Mark left the room, I felt the need to jump on his computer and do some quick research about his (what I felt were) crazy, outrageous claims.

A quick Google search uncovered a USA Today article from November 18th authored by Gary Levin. In part, Levin stated the following:

In a sign of the growing importance of DVD sales to Hollywood, 20th Century Fox is considering a plan to resume production of Family Guy, a sometimes crude animated comedy that the Fox network took off the air more than 18 months ago.

As many as 35 new episodes could return in January 2005, marking the first time that a canceled series has been revived based on strong DVD demand and ratings in syndication.

Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow said a decision is expected soon and called the series a late-blooming phenomenon that may have aired before its time.

A DVD set of the show’s first 28 episodes released in April has sold nearly 1 million copies, making it this year’s top-selling TV show and the No. 4 television title ever, according to Video Store magazine. A second collection, of 22 episodes, has sold 520,000 copies. And the series is Cartoon Network’s most popular among adults.

That was only the middle of November and doesn’t factor in that it made a great Christmas gift for admirers of the canceled show.

Since that initial report, several other news sources including the Chicago Sun-Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made mention of the potential comeback, but the show still didn’t receive all that much media attention despite its wild success in selling on DVD. In the case of several fan websites, the news was not treated lightly. Considering the types of people that enjoyed the show so much aren’t typical, run-of-the-mill television viewers, that isn’t overly surprising.

Nonetheless, since that exchange with Mark, I’ve been keeping an eye on this potentially intriguing development.

Then, this week, Don Kaplan of the New York Postbroke a story that would change the lives of “Family Guy” fans (and fanatics), while also introducing a potentially interesting trend in the television industry. As Mr. Kaplan stated: “‘The Family Guy’ is coming back from the dead.” He also went onto say:

Talks are under way with both Fox – which canceled the cartoon series two years ago – and the Cartoon Network – which airs it in reruns now – for new episodes of the show, Seth MacFarlane, creator of “The Family Guy,” told The Post.

No matter what, MacFarlane says, production will begin soon – even if he doesn’t know exactly where they’ll end up.

“We’re sort of waiting on an official word, but to the best of my knowledge, the plan is to start producing a batch of new episodes without necessarily knowing where they’re going to wind up,” he says. “It’s sort of a new format that really hasn’t been tried before, and it’s based on the DVD sales.”

DVD sales of the canceled show have been huge – and in no small part is fueling talk of reviving the series.

“It’s insane. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that it would have this kind of afterlife,” MacFarlane says. “It’s just a shock to everybody who worked on the show.”

So, there it is. While the New York Post isn’t 100% reliable when it comes to reporting real “news,” Kaplan has quotes from the creator, Seth MacFarlane who says the show will definitely be back and that’s big.

This is significant for two reasons: First, it’s obvious this show developed a cult following of fans (mostly, but certainly not exclusive to, young men I would imagine) who weren’t offended by the racy dialogue, occasional racist comments and constant dopey references to Adolf Hitler. For those people that either found this type of humor funny, or at least were willing to overlook it, they were rewarded further primarily in the witty, humorous dialogue and the hilarious flashback and flash-forward sequences that often had very little to do with the story being told at that time. “Family Guy’s” storylines weren’t as intricately weaved as “The Simpsons,” the show most commonly compared to it, but it offered a similar type of humor that relied on random pop culture references and often outrageous situations. And the talking dog, and the toddler with a British accent, an I.Q. higher than Albert Einstein, and a mean streak to match didn’t hurt either.

Now, “Family Guy” gets another chance. If Fox does end up getting the show again and adding it to its prime-time line up, it will be up to the viewers to ensure that it has a longer shelf life than before. If the show doesn’t do the numbers, I’m sure it will be pulled very quickly as merely another failed experiment in primetime. If that happens, that will DEFINITELY be the end.

However, if the Cartoon network ends up being fortunate enough to secure the exclusive new episodes, the show will definitely have a longer shelf life. While four to five million weekly viewers would be unacceptable to the programming executives at Fox, it would be reason to break open the champagne and throw a party at the Cartoon Network since most of their programming rarely attracts more than one million viewers.

Who do you root for to get “Family Guy” back? Maybe Fox, so they can admit to their mistake of canceling it in the first place simply by airing new episodes. Also, the shoe reaches a larger audience since there are still people living without cable. However, if the Cartoon Network secures the show, it will probably “live long and prosper” and MacFarlane and his band of misfits can churn out as many new episodes as they want if they so choose. Maybe both? Kaplan did state that as a possibility in his article. Either way, fans of “Family Guy” will be treated to a slate of all new episodes and that’s something to be happy about.

The return of “Family Guy” is significant for one other primary reason: many believe it has to do with the Seasons 1-3 DVD sales. As stated earlier, Levin’s November 18th article stated that as of that time, the first DVD set released (seasons 1 and 2, totaling 28 episodes) had sold over one million copies while the second set (season 3, with 22 episodes) sold more than 520,000. Television industry trade publication Broadcasting & Cable reported in its December 22nd, 2003 edition that of all the television season DVDs that had been released last year, “Family Guy” outsold them all (no small feat considering seasons of “Friends” and “Sex and the City” were released).

So, these questions need to be asked: Is this now going to become a regular occurrence? Will many other shows that were canceled previously ever be brought back?

My guess is possibly, but I don’t see this as a hugely developing trend.

Since DVDs are a lot cheaper to manufacture and much more compact to ship to retailers, media companies and movie studios are taking advantage by re-releasing all sorts of crazy cult classics out to the retail shelves for consumers. That includes movies and old television shows. In the last 15 years, many comedies (and dramas) appeared on the airwaves that likely have some type of cult following but were probably taken off the air too soon. Those include:

• “The Critic”
• “Mr. Show”
• “The Ben Stiller Show”
• “My So-Called Life”
• “The Upright Citizens Brigade”
• “Strangers with Candy”
• “Twin Peaks”
• “Sports Night”
• “Futurama”
• “The Tick”
• “Mystery Science Theater 3000”
• “Dark Angel”
• “Clerks”
• “Firefly”

Yes, I am sure everyone could chime in with a show that I missed, but that isn’t really the point. The point is that all of these shows that probably still have a following to some degree, have DVD season or show releases in stores and according to Amazon.com, only “Firefly,” a science-fiction type show set in the future canceled by Fox, (and both “Family Guy” volumes) finished in their Top 100 in DVD sales (movies included).

Amazon.com certainly hasn’t cornered the market of DVD sales or anything, but it’s a pretty good example of shows that may have a following of some sort, but the DVD sales themselves don’t warrant networks considering bringing back all, or any, of them.

So, in that case, “Family Guy” is the obvious exception to the rule and network executives stood up and took notice at the right time.

The lesson here is that instead of visiting those crazy websites that put together petitions that supposedly get sent to television networks/studios to bring back your favorite shows, wait until it comes out on DVD and then go buy whatever is available and while you’re at it, get a million of your friends to do so as well. You won’t be sorry.

OK soapbox being put away now.

Enjoy the show!

— Coogan