Mr. Coogans Saturday Groove Tube Update 06.12.04

In case you missed what’s already been done, Part I talked about the upfronts, how they are important, but at the same time, they aren’t important and the new shows being debuted on NBC and the WB this upcoming season.

Part II previewed the new shows on ABC and CBS.

That takes us to Part III of the Steve Coogan 2004 Upfronts Trilogy where I whip out a drafting board, a compass, and several rulers to figure out the new Fox schedule grid for the next calendar year and a sympathy card for UPN and their meager contributions to what is a monumental time of year in the television industry.

The last part of this column breezes through an interesting list of stars that DIDN’T have their pilots picked up by the networks they signed development deals with. It really is amazing to note that despite the number of new shows that make it to the air every year, there are three times as many pilots that never see the light of day after they are taped. Hell, some pretty good ideas ended up getting left out in the cold. Then again, Fox has so many shows coming out in the next year, I think they picked up ALL OF their pilots It feels that way anyway. Check it out:

Fox Seven new summer shows, four new fall shows, six new spring shows

Up to this point, I was labeling the new shows on the networks as “fall” shows and “mid-season additions” primarily because while many of the other networks have committed to new programming during the summer, they still are largely committed to the “traditional” television schedule where a group of shows are introduced in the fall and a smaller group of shows is introduced in January or February or “mid-season.” However, Fox has completely abandoned that type of schedule in favor of going with an aggressive 12-month/full year programming that the cable networks like HBO and FX have utilized to some degree. However, instead of just debuting a couple of new shows with new episodes, Fox appears poised to rearrange their entire schedule several times per year to accommodate several new shows and obviously popular returning shows, or in the case of “American Idol,” juggernauts. So, the term “mid-season” is meaningless to Fox since the term implies a beginning and an ending somewhere. That’s why it’s best to talk about the Fox seasons in terms of seasons according to the calendar rather than the customary television season that was established so many years ago.

Before, looking too far into the future and making predictions about their success, let’s take a look at the summer series that have started or will be starting next week and have already been hyped heavily by the network:

** “The Jury” (Debuted June 8th Tuesdays at 9:00, encores Fridays at 9:00) Produced by the famous Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana duo (“Homicide” and “OZ”), this legal drama attacks a court case from the perspective of the jury attempting to decipher the facts as they are introduced. This was a great movie when it was done in the 1950s called 12 Angry Men, but the show is going to have all its pivotal moments decided by a series of guest stars acting as “The Jury” instead of the permanent cast of the lawyers and judge (played by Levinson) like most legal shows. In addition, the first two episodes have introduced additional evidence to the case and the potential to disrupt the flow of the show is high and very risky.

** “North Shore” (Debuts June 14th Mondays at 8:00, encores Thursdays at 8:00 After last year’s unheralded success of the summer, “The O.C.,” it appears the prime-time soap opera is “in” again after falling out of favor over the last several years. Fox hopes that “North Shore” can gain the same type of excitement that the Cohens and co. did last summer. Thankfully, the premise isn’t the same as “The O.C.” though as the stories will center on the staff at a luxury Hawaiian resort and their interactions with their bosses and, in some cases, the customers. Led by Bruce Willis’ newest young belle and former “Baywatch babe”, Brooke Burns, the cast is attractive and their looks coupled with the possibility of them engaging in some heavy petting with assorted other guest stars makes the package enticing enough to take home. However, will the contents of the package be worth keeping or bringing back to the high end retail store it came from?

** “The Casino” (Debuts June 14th Mondays at 9:00) Picture it: Two guys who made their millions at the end of the 1990s when any business plan with the words “Internet” or “dot-com” in it automatically guaranteed millions of venture capital dollars end up buying the old Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas and attempt to restore it to its former glory. From there, the hopes apparently are to compete with the monstrosities of the city like the Bellagio and Caesar’s. Then, add in the TV cameras following them around and their various interactions with staff, customers, and other random people they need to associate with, add the fact that this is a Mark Burnett produced show and it looks like it could be a great success. Word is the format is similar to “The Restaurant” but the two owners are likable. Even if they aren’t, it’s Vegas! Everyone wants to go there, so this is a good way to live vicariously.

** “Quintuplets” (Debuts June 16th Wednesdays at 8:30, encores Sundays at 9:30) This looks like a disaster right out of the gate. Unfortunately, poor Andy Richter must have signed the development deal from hell with Fox since he is the start anchoring the series. He gets a GOOD show in “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and the network ceremoniously dumps it. Then he has to move to this show to play the dad of quintuplets that have reached their teenage years. Of course, all five kids have remarkably different personalities and considering they don’t look all that much alike, it would appear several of the kids are adopted. Nonetheless, the stories will be told from the perspective of the kids and the whole family unit I suppose. Maybe Fox is hoping Richter can catch lighting in a bottle and “Quintuplets” can attract the same type of audience that liked John Ritter in “8 Simple Rules?”

** “Method and Red” (Debuts June 16th Wednesdays at 9:30, encores Tuesdays at 8:30) The plot is simple: Rappers Method Man and Redman play fictional versions of themselves and move into a rich New Jersey suburb after hitting it big. Naturally, sticking two urban African-American men in a Caucasian based rich neighborhood causes all sorts of problems for what was formerly a peaceful area. The premise vaguely reminds me of Will Smith’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” in that a “kid from the rough city” (Smith’s Will character moving from Philadelphia) moved to a more “refined” area (Beverly Hills, CA) and being forced to adapt to his new surroundings. While that show was a bit corny at times, it stayed on the air for several seasons in part because Will DID adapt to his surroundings while also keeping an urban sensibility of sorts. The show wasn’t four-plus years of him making ghetto blaster jokes, though that element did exist in some form. This relates to “Method and Red” because if the two can get over acting like buffoons, avoid succumbing to various African-American stereotypes and actually tell some fun stories that are a little more character driven with some of the urban humor, then it could develop nicely. However, that probably won’t happen and show will likely morph into some unwatchable mess.

** “The Simple Life 2: Road Trip” Technically, this isn’t a new show as it’s being dubbed as socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie coming back for another round of hick action, but the premise is largely different. This time, the two will travel from Miami to Beverly Hills in a motor home, but aren’t allowed to carry cell phones, cash, or credit cards with them. So, to earn money for food, gas, and assorted necessary worthless trinkets, the two have to take various odd jobs that they aren’t exactly accustomed to. The first edition of this show was surprisingly popular, so it was an no-brainer to come back for Round 2. However, sequels never do as well as the original, so it may lose some momentum from last year. Then again, with the new premise that avoids all the awkward, unnecessary family drama they had to endure in the first season, it will probably generate a lot more pure, dopey laughs, which will definitely be a good thing.

The way the Fox prime time schedule will work this is once these shows debut, they, along with other network staples such as repeats of “The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “That 70s Show,” and “The Bernie Mac Show” and new episodes of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted,” will air until October. At that time, the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs and World Series will hijack Fox’s primetime lineup. While games won’t be on every single night, they will be on the majority of the time during that month. Once the World Series champion is crowned, Fox will debut four series (three of them being reality shows) in November and six more next January that will take the network through May sweeps and into June when the network will come back with a whole slew of new summer comedies again (including the return of “Family Guy”).

But what about those new shows to debut after the MLB playoffs? Are there any sure fire hits? Are there any duds? How about the biggest risks? As always, Fox has it share of all three

What looks like the best? I’m going to let one comedy, one drama, and one reality show duke it out for what will likely be the next best show on the network. The one comedy I’m speaking of is another animated gem that comes from “Family Guy” creator, Seth MacFarlane titled “American Dad” (Sundays at 9:30 beginning in January). This new show chronicles the life of an uptight CIA agent who acts as the paternal figure of a family that includes a German speaking goldfish and a sensitive, sensible alien rescued from Area 51. Zap2it reports that those who saw the clips at the upfront presentation laughed out loud and had pretty high hopes for the show. For those who are worried about the sitcom genre, Fox may single-handedly save it with the two MacFarlane comedies, “The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” and the commercially underappreciated “Arrested Development.” The only potential problem with “American Dad” is it’s stuck in the same timeslot that “Arrested Development” struggled in all of last season. Whether that’s a product of the timeslot or “Arrested Development” being such a quirky show will likely be determined when this show hits the air early next year.

As for the drama that looks like it could be the best, it comes from “The O.C.” creator Josh Schwartz and is in the same mold as the successful prime time soap opera. “Athens” (tentative title with a tentative timeslot of Mondays at 8:00 starting in January) is set in a small New England town at a prestigious university and involves some of the same elements as “The O.C.” including intermingling storylines between adults and teenagers/young adults and in the same way Chino is “a long way” from Orange County (despite being fairly close geographically), those who live in the small town where the college is located actually live remarkably far away from it (at least from a status perspective). Finally, it appears the rich students and less wealthy townies will be interacting in some way creating some potentially dicey storylines where the rich couldn’t possibly understand the poor and vice versa. However, the timeslot for “Athens”could cause a problem as it’s scheduled to go against the popular gross out NBC program, “Fear Factor” and the traditionally plot rich Aaron Spelling WB staple “7th Heaven.”

The reality show that has a chance to succeed and put up good numbers actually might come as a surprise considering the copycat nature of the show. “The Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best” (tentative title with a tentative timeslot of Tuesdays at 8:00 starting in November) is the third show featuring a billionaire picking a worthy winner out of a series of contestants desperate to become rich and famous. Obviously, NBC has Donald Trump and “The Apprentice” and ABC is set to unveil Mark Cuban and “The Benefactor on the world this fall. In Fox’s case, the billionaire is Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson and the contestants try to survive the competition by following the tycoon around the world reliving some of the adventures he’s experienced in his life. Essentially, the show appears to be some sort of wacky combination of “The Apprentice,” MTV’s “Road Rules,” and “Fear Factor.” If any new shows are created copying just one of the concepts, chances are, it wouldn’t succeed. But, potentially all three? I’m interested, especially if Sir Branson cheers on his contestants eating the colon of a mountain lion. It’s one thing when Joe Rogan does it, but a knighted British billionaire? Sold.

Unlike CBS and NBC, Fox is taking more chances with its output of shows and not relying on spin-offs of already established franchises, so it’s a little harder to discern exactly what has legs and what won’t. Nonetheless, all three of these shows appear to have the ability to gain some real followings. If it came down to one, I think the show with the best chance of leaving a lasting impression on the television industry is “American Dad”. With comedies in short supply and MaFarlane’s track record of pumping out remarkably funny (but largely unappreciated at the time it airs) material, the show could really resonate with the public. Even if it doesn’t, Fox will probably make a boat load of money on the DVD sales like it did with “Family Guy.” Either way, stay tuned for some funny shit

What’s the biggest risk? No doubt about this one, the boxing reality series, “The Next Great Champ” is a huge risk for the network. According to some, this show was put together in a pretty hasty manner and strictly in response to the Burnett/Stallone/”Sugar” Ray Leonard NBC project “The Contender” airing its first episode in January. However, instead of Mark Burnett and Sly “Rocky” Stallone, Fox has pretty boy Oscar De La Hoya and a no-name production team. The premise of a reality show focusing around De La Hoya and his team trying to find the next great boxing superstar is risky enough as it is since many people don’t have a terribly high opinion of the sport right now and, in general, it’s hard to sell a sports reality series to a wide audience. This show certainly could flop horribly and it would look even worse if Burnett and his production team are able to do a better job uncovering the real human drama that people will be tuning in for and expecting to see. If NBC does that, it will generate better ratings and possibly make Fox look dumb. It looks like Fox tried to beat NBC “to the punch” but they could look quite foolish instead.

What will be the biggest flop? “Related by Family” (Wednesdays at 8:30 starting in January 2005) probably looks like the worst offering from Fox over the next calendar year. The show centers around teenagers who work at the food court at a local mall, including two step-siblings whose parents seem to appreciate the kid they had together more than ones they already had with other people. Zap2it isn’t ready to give up all hope on the show as the cast is attractive, appealing, and wearing funny uniforms while working at the mall. However, the teeny bopper premise makes this show more of a “7th Heaven” companion on the WB than one for the smart, satirical “That 70s Show” which appears to be where it’s heading as of now. Considering the “American Idol” results show is scheduled for that night as well, it seems more likely that show will get unnecessarily extended yet again when this show flops and fades away with very little fanfare.

What about the rest? Fox appears ready to give its viewers a healthy dose of dramas and reality shows in addition to the smattering of comedies on the schedule as well. If they plan on airing as many shows as they intend, they are going to need to include reality shows since they’re so much cheaper to produce than the risky comedies and dramas.

** “Kelsey Grammer Presents: The Sketch Show” (Sundays at 7:00 starting in January, 2005) Kelsey Grammer, otherwise known as “Dr. Frasier Crane” from his NBC days, is venturing to get away from that character but stay in the comedy limelight with this new comedy devoted to duh sketches. However, the premise will be much different than shows like “Mad TV” and “Saturday Night Live” in that it won’t involve seven or eight minute skits, but instead follow the “Laugh In” format where each show will provide 20-30 mini-skits that will be 30-60 seconds in length. It’s different and the crew deserves credit for that, but the comedy may not mesh with the viewers and the cast isn’t loaded with accomplished comedians that could draw or maintain an audience by themselves.

** “House” (Tuesdays at 9:00 starting in November) The premise is similar to NBC’s “Medical Investigation” in that it’s an organization that will “do what it takes to diagnose medical conditions.” However, as Zap2it points out, the show will be different because it will be based around the title character, “House,” played by Hugh Laurie. According to the description, House is an unlikable leader of the group of medical professionals and could cause a lot dissention on the show. People could appreciate the drama, but if the character is too nasty, it may not be worth tuning in for. He’s been compared, in part, to Dr. Cox on “Scrubs.” While Cox may have a nasty side to him, he’s also inherently likable as well because when he subtly lets his barriers down to let someone him, it’s ultra rewarding for the viewers that tune into see him every week. Can the title character of “House” have that same appeal? It’s a big risk to take.

** “Jonny Zero” (working title, Fridays at 9:00 starting in January, 2005) This show stars Franky G (The Italian Job) as the lead character, Jonny Calvo, who, after spending time in prison on a drug charge, must choose between going back to his high riding life as a drug dealer or working as an undercover FBI agent. It’s a little more interesting when the “good guy” straddles the line between good and bad (like Vic Mackey from “The Shield”) because viewers never know which way they’re going to go. However, when the career criminal or the “bad guy” has faces the same dilemma, it’s a lot less interesting because it’s predictable if he goes back to his bad ways and horribly boring if reverts completely to being a “good guy.” This is unless the character is deep and well-written (and consequently, well acted). According to Zap2it, the visuals are terrific but the story has some work to do to catch up with it. If that happens, then the show could be a good Friday night show (though, I am not sure they really exist ).

** “The Inside” (working title, Fridays at 8:00 starting in January, 2005) Rachel Nichols, formerly a model and star of Dumb and Dumberer, stars in this “21 Jump Street” remake as a young FBI agent sent back into a high school to uncover the (apparent) massive crime ring taking place there. I think the show can go a couple of different directions. First, it could focus on individual crimes as they unfold week to week. The other direction it could go is to allow Nichols’ character to start on one mission only to uncover one larger “crime organization” that needs to get sorted out throughout an entire season. If viewers tuning in attempt to figure out what the other characters are doing (kind of the “Whodunit” idea), it might make them forget the unbelievable premise and make the show appear to be a little more realistic. That seems to be the show’s biggest roadblock to overcome at this point.

** “Malibu” (Debuts in August before the MLB playoffs) This reality game show is a takeoff from the Australian show, “The Block.” The idea of the show is several couples will each be given a Southern California condo and a budget to renovate it. The condos will then go up for public auction and the unit that secures the most money at auction will mean the couple that renovated it will win a prize. This should appeal to the audience of TLC’s hit show “Trading Spaces,” even if they don’t involve a designer or carpenter to help the cause. Whether or not this has mass appeal is questionable.

** “The Partner” (working title, Sundays at 9:00 starting in November) In what could be a fascinating study of exactly what kind of law school people REALLY need to attend to get a good job, two groups of law school graduates will battle each other with one eventual winner getting a job at a major law firm. One group of graduates will be from Ivy League schools and the more “scrappy” bunch will come from much less prestigious schools across the country. I think it will be pretty easy to pick sides here. This is almost as appealing as the archaic “Battle of the Sexes” format. Let the games begin

UPN Three new fall shows, one midseason addition

Poor UPN They try to hard to compete with the bigger networks but it generally doesn’t work. Taking out WWE’s “Smackdown” which monopolizes the entire Thursday night lineup, the network only airs eight hours of exclusive programming per week. If “America’s Next Top Model” and it’s subsequent repeat airing later in the week is taken out, that knocks the network down to six hours of exclusive programming per week. So, is it really surprising that the network is only going to debut four new shows over the next year where as Fox is ready to roll out 17 at this point? Sadly, probably not. Forget the “best,” “risk,” and “flop” designations. Is it really worth it?

** “Second Time Around” (Mondays at 9:30) Real life couple Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Parker star in this comedy about a couple who remarry several years after getting a divorce and the changes that each has experienced since their initial separation. The Zap2it analysis described the chemistry between the two to be seems to be passable. In fact, it could be concluded that they work well together. Whether that carries over through out the season will be an interesting issue.

** “Kevin Hill” (Wednesdays at 9:00) I’m not sure exactly why Taye Diggs is going slummin’ at UPN, but that’s exactly what he’s doing leading this drama series. Diggs will play a hot shot, well paid entertainment lawyer who’s the epitome of the term “man’s man.” This is until he becomes the legal guardian of the six-month old daughter of his recently deceased cousin. He is forced to quit his high profile job and work at a smaller firm that provides more flex time and, of course, the new firm is comprised of mostly women, hampering his style. With “America’s Next Top Model” as a lead in, an attractive lead actor, and a foundation with some promise, the show could do decent numbers, for UPN anyway.

** “Veronica Mars” (Tuesdays at 9:00) This new show is a little “Alias,” a little of “The O.C., ” some “Law & Order,” and possibly even a little of “The X-Files” all mixed together. Starring Kristin Bell (who just finished a fabulous guest spot as a young whore looking for money on HBO’s Deadwood) stars in this soap opera/crime drama as Veronica Mars, a 17-year-old high school former Ms. Popularity turned outcast who’s also secretly working as an apprentice for a PI in her rich, seaside town. The PI also happens to be her father. As Zap2it reported, the show seems to flip flop between teen soap opera, crime drama, with “something bigger” going on in the town (hence “The X-Files” comparisons). As might be expected, the Web site also said the inconsistent tone could be the death of the series despite the fact that Bell could emerge as a rising television star.

** “The Missy Elliott Project” (working title, mid-season) Similar to the other reality projects led by celebrities/entrepreneurs, one star judge has a fairly large group of contestants to wade through. The winner then gets something from the big star judge amd lives happily ever after to either become a big star or become the subject of a “Where are they now?” edition of “Access Hollywood.” This time, it’s Missy Elliott taking 16 contestants on tour with her and the one who outlasts the other 15 will get a record contract from the star’s record label. Zap2it had it right when it said that Elliott has the charisma to make the show watchable and a likely cameo from friend, Madonna will certainly help the cause. However, the success of the show comes down to the personalities of the contestants and the type of tasks they have to take part in. I wonder if Missy knows that.

What about the stars that DIDN’T get their shows picked up?

As much as the upfronts can be pointless for the viewers and fans of television because the schedules often change many times over the course of a season, they are important because the networks essentially announce which of the pilot episodes they ordered got picked up for a half (usually 13 episodes) or full (around 22) seasons and which ones were not.

Surprisingly, the list of high profile stars (and their shows) that DIDN’T get their pilots picked up from the networks they signed with is vast. Check it out:

**Gina Gershon/Nick Lachey I group these two together because they worked together on a pilot titled “Hot Mom” for ABC where Gershon was to play the wedding planner mom with the crazy life and a daughter that didn’t exactly support those wild ways. Lachey had a supporting role as a struggling actor living in the house for free while also being an errand boy so to speak. Is this really that much worse than “Savages?”

**Jessica Simpson Also signing a development deal with ABC, everyone’s favorite “Newlywed” was set to star in a sitcom where she would have played a pop star turned TV newsmagazine correspondent. I guess the network liked her better on MTV.

**Joel Stein/Colin Hanks If you’ve watched VH-1 or E! for anymore than a half-hour in your life, you’ll probably know Joel Stein as the TV/movies/pop culture critic from Time magazine who has something to say about just about anything pop culture related. He helped develop a pilot about his early career and being the youngest reporter at a national news magazine with Colin Hanks (Orange County, Tom’s kid) playing the lead role. The network took a pass.

**Lewis Black He was good enough to crack us up on “The Daily Show” and finally good enough to get his own HBO special but his pilot for a sitcom that took place in a high school wasn’t good enough to get picked up by ABC.

**Maculay Culkin The child star turned young adult actor trying to relive the glory of his youth filmed a sitcom pilot for NBC about a brother and sister who reunite after several years apart living in different foster homes.

**Ana Gasteyer/Julie Bowen/Dave Foley This potentially charming trio taped a pilot called “The Friendlys” that centered around the wife and daughter fighting over a dead millionaire’s estate. The show doesn’t sound very promising, but the idea of the three stars doing a comedy together is enticing!

**Jeff Goldblum He may have been successful in past movies but his mere presence couldn’t get his sitcom “My 11:30” picked up by NBC. Goldblum’s character apparently suffered a meltdown that led him to therapy. After all, mental breakdowns always make good comedy!

**Chris O’Donnell Another accomplished movie veteran that couldn’t get the big, bad television networks to pay attention was Mr. O’Donnell whose comedy “The Amazing Westerbergs” didn’t get picked up by CBS. Apparently, they weren’t interested in a show about two adult men coddled so badly during their youths, that it took them several decades to learn they weren’t perfect. I

**Aisha Tyler/Lisa Kudrow Lisa Kudrow was all set to produce this CBS comedy starring Aisha Tyler as a small time fashion designer taking a corporate job in New York City, but I guess the eye was still angry that “Friends” ruled the ratings on NBC for ten years

**Ricki Lake/Kirstie Alley Ricki Lake is leaving her dopey talk show to pursue acting full-time again and Kirstie Alley hasn’t had decent work since Pier One no longer needed her services for their commercials, so they come together as, amazingly, a daughter/mother combination for a sitcom on CBS. Lake was to play a young firefighter’s widow who ran the bar that the other firefighters also frequented. I don’t know, that show seemed sad and sappy to begin with and would Kirstie Alley really have gotten away with playing Ricki Lake’s mom? Thankfully, we’ll never find out.

* * * * * *

And there it is over 12,000 words and three columns later, everything you wanted (or didn’t really want) to know about the network upfronts, all the new shows on the broadcast networks and some of the high profile actors that got left in the cold when shows were ordered.

Thank you very much to Zap2it and TVBarn.com for providing me with all the information on the new shows for my three-part breakdown of the upfronts. It was vital to this and since I couldn’t be at the upfronts myself, they made me feel like I was.

You will hear from me again next week

Enjoy the show!

— Coogan