Confessions Of A Remote Hog: Three Tiers For Fox

A few years ago I took the plunge. You see, I’m typically the kind of guy who is easily a year or two behind the times when it comes to technology. My computer is always out of date, my “must have” VHS collection has only recently been replaced with DVD’s and my Madden Football video games still come in cartridges. Yet, I was in the process of moving and my local cable operator offered me an intriguing choice, regular or digital cable. After carefully considering all my options and figuring out the economic implications, I said what the hell, let’s go digital.

Well, sort of like a kid on Christmas day who has more fun playing with the wrapping paper than the actual present, what fascinated me most with my new cable system was the remote. It seemed to open a whole new world to me. I could use it to access anything, my TV, DVD, hell, even my stereo system would jump into action at a single flick of my finger. I know, a universal remote is no big deal to most people in the technologically enhanced USA, but for a guy brought up in a lower middle class family who had been struggling for the past few years to get his my legs solidly planted on the ground after college, it was like I finally had control of my domain. Yet, even more than it’s control over multiple electronic devices, what truly fascinated me was the the way the remote worked together with my cable, the ability to scan through the programing guides and getting little summaries of the shows right there on my TV gave me hours of joy.

Well, since obtaining that beautiful remote, I have started a summer ritual. The day after the last season finale graces our TV sets bringing in the summer television dull drums, I would head out to my local discount super store and stock up on AA batteries. While I was never a boy scout, I did agree with their motto “always be prepared.” I knew that with the uninspired summer season about to hit, my remote would be used and abused, scanning the nether regions of my digital cable box in search of anything interesting.

Then Fox came out and announced a “trailblazing year-round programming initiative.” Instead of a singularly planned out premiere season, followed my mid-season replacements for failed programming, and ending with a summer of reruns and filler programming, Fox now planned for a three tiered approach to new programming. Each tier has been meticulously planned out, and announced to the public. Instead of a summer of reruns, Fox launched four new fictional series, North Shore, The Jury, Method and Red and Quintuplets. So, I said to myself, no need for the jumbo box of batteries this summer, with the new Fox shows, The Amazing Race, and new seasons of USA’s Monk and The Dead Zone about to start, my remote should have a nice relaxing summer. Yet halfway through the summer I found myself once again flipping between Phillies baseball, televised poker and old episodes of Early Edition on Pax, while obsessively scanning the program guides for anything. Soon I discovered a lag in my remote and was forced to run out late one night to grab a pack of batteries at ridiculous convenience store rates.

So what happened? This was supposed to be the summer of new programming, not stale old reruns, retreads and ridiculous reality stunts. Yet, the Fox summer season fizzled instead of sizzled.

Part of it was just my own bad assumptions. The idea that the summer television season could be saved by four new shows was a reach. I should looked at it more realistically. North Shore was never going to be my kind of show. I have little patience for beautiful, rich people running around pining over lost love. Sitcoms, unless they offer something edgy and different, tend to lose me quickly. Maybe I put to much faith in Andy Richter, the star of Quintuplets, whose short run series Andy Richter Controls the Universe was just the kind of sitcom that hooks me in, and maybe I expected Method Man and Redman to breathe new life into a stale format as they do with their music. Yet both shows ended up being formulaic and at points, just plain unfunny.

The only new show that really gained my interest was Barry Levinson’s, The Jury. It was well written, well acted and suspenseful. Seeing Barry Levinson in an acting role as a surly, philosophizing judge was a hoot, and any chance I get to see Andre Braugher I’ll take. Yet, despite Fox’s pledge that it’s new programming structure will help it “introduce and nurture a significant amount of new programming,” Fox nurtured The Jury for all of six episodes before it shut down production.

So why would a show with such a strong pedigree and potential get canned in this new age of nurtured programming? Easy answer, ratings. Fox did a poor job of promoting it’s year round programming idea. Having new shows in rotation during the summer is not a new thing, yet the public views these show as “part time” programming, not quite up to the standards of the shows of the traditional season. They just don’t believe that these shows have a future. They look at the successful summer hits that have become traditional season hits, such as Survivor, American Idol and The O.C., as flukes. This image of “part time” programming will only be enhanced by The Jury’s demise.

So now Fox is getting ready to launch it’s second tier. Despite the typical buzz of the new Fall season, Fox often falls a bit flat compared to its competitors due to its commitments to the MLB playoffs and World Series. Yet, this season seems even flatter than the years before. The Fox lineup is only offering us one new non-reality shows, House (Tuesdays at 9PM). It is a series with potential, being produced by Homicide vet Paul Attanasio, directed by Brian Singer and staring Hugh Laurie as a caustic doctor investigating medical mysteries. House faces a daunting challenge, it premieres on November 16, over two months after NBC launches it’s own similar show cleverly titled, “Medical Mysteries.” It’s competition is tough, with shows like Scrubs and One Tree Hill, but not life threatening. It’s saving grace may very well be that when Fox launches it’s third tier, House will be teamed up with a very strong opening act, American Idol.

After House, Fox’s new shows are all reality based, and unfortunately, unoriginal reality. Fox seems to have gone out of its way to steal as many ideas as possible from the other networks. The Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best (Tuesdays, 8ET/Nov.9), an ego trip around the world for Virgin Music mogul Ted Branson, combines elements of The Apprentice and The Amazing Race as young entrepreneurs must travel the world performing various stunts for a chance at a job. The Next Great Champ(Tuesdays 9ET/Sept.7), is one of two boxing oriented reality shows, this is the one with Oscar De La Hoya, and not Sylvester Stallone. The Complex (Fri.8ET) is another in a long line of renovation shows, this time with teams getting to eject the people who they don’t feel are contributing to the project. The show that seems to offer the most potential seems to be The Partner(Sun.9ET/Nov.7). While not truly original, it pits a group of lawyers from big name law schools vs. a more working class group of lawyers. One of these lawyers, through a series of mock trials, will win a position at a major law firm.

So with these new shows and some it’s returning core, such as it’s Sunday comedies, The O.C. and Tru Calling, Fox’s second tier will hit our televisions soon with a slight bump instead of a bang. Fox has seemed to position itself for its third tier, beginning in January, with its returning hit’s American Idol and 24 along with new shows by John Wells and Kelsey Grammar, to be it’s big bang premiere season. This is risky, but not without merit. Fox will be able to run 24, which will be moved to Monday nights, straight through without any breaks until the summer. The third tier also will launch two of it’s more edgy shows, The Inside, and John Well’s Johnny Zero, just at the time when some of the other networks are scrambling to replace it’s failed shows.

So all is not bad in the Fox world, we just have to wait a bit. November will bring us back The Simpsons and Arrested Development and the third, and probably best, tier of programming is still a few months away. Fox is hoping that, for fans, the anticipation will make it all the more sweeter.

News and Notes:

I would be derelict in my duties as a television columnist if I failed to mention the big event that will be hitting television tonight (Thursday). One of the most anticipated new programs of the season, Joey, will be premiering on NBC at 8ET/7CT. Now, I will admit that I wasn’t a huge Friends fan. I am not utterly repulsed by the show and will concede its many merits. Yet that being said, I think NBC made an excellent decision in spinning off Matt LeBlanc’s character. Of all the Friends, he is the one I would most likely watch in his own series. Matt LeBland is responsible for one of my favorite sitcom exchanges of all time. Oh, and it wasn’t from Friends, but the short lived Married… with Children spinoff Vinny & Bobby. Matt LeBlanc played Vinnie, a dim witted but lovable (sound familiar?) hunk on the on the brink of finally taking the marital plunge. At one point, Vinnie’s priest showed up to discuss wedding plans with him. He explained to Vinnie that he was here to “discuss his upcoming nuptials.” Vinny seemed monetarily confused, then looked down to his chest and replied, “What, you can see them through my shirt?” The simple fact that I can remember
this exchange in an almost totally insignificant series from ten years ago says something about this man’s comic timing. Or something about my ability to remember utterly useless trivia.

As a child I remember looking forward to Pat Croce’s two minute fitness spots during Sixer games as I stuffed my face with Doritos and TastyKake’s Butterscotch Krimpkets. Croce went on to big things and eventually became president of the 76ers and a best selling author. The man was so positive and excited about everything that you couldn’t help but respect him, while wanting to repeated slap him in the face at the same time. Now Croce is launching a new self help/talks show style program. The syndicated program begins September 13, check your local listings for times in your area.

Bitty Schran, who played nurse/assistant Sharona Fleming, will not be returning to Monk. Don’t worry though, this is not about money. According to a spokesman for USA the show was looking to go in a “different creative direction with some of its characters.” USA is currently looking for a female couterpart to Tony Shaloub’s character to “serve a similar role.” Yep, it’s not about money at all (wink, wink.)

CBS is currently looking for a replacement for Craig Kilbourne. While CBS isn’t likely to take my advise on anything (I’ve been begging them for an The Amazing Race reunion show for years) , I would love to see The Daily Show’s Stephen Colbert get a shot of this thing. He will get his own show somewhere, someday, and it will be a hit. Remember, its French, bitch.

On another CBS note, the premiere of the sixth season of The Amazing Race has been delayed until October 2. Maybe they finally heard my pleas.

On a personal note, if anyone has followed me over here to to good people at Inside Pulse from one of my various reality show blogs, I want to warn you right now. I will not be giving any special attention to the reality genre in this column, although I won’t ignore it either.. Inside Pulse already has plenty of extremely talented Survivor writers and if you don’t believe me check out Mark, Carlos or Dan’s pieces this week. Yet don’t fear, you can still catch my weekly thoughts on Survivor and The Amazing Race where you usually do. Here I plan to tackle a wide range of issues dealing with all aspects of television.

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