overthinking the idiot box

May 17th, 2005

For the television aficionado, the Upfronts are more than just a sneak peek at the fall schedules for every network — they offer the observant a chance to better understand what the network thinks America wants to watch. What exactly that is? Leave it to SMRT-TV to tell you.

special feature
The Fall 2005 Upfronts: SMRT-TV Staff Discusses

The WB
Fox and UPN

The CBS Announcement

Fact: Cutting Hewitt's boobs out of any picture decreases her attractiveness by 85%.
Roberts: So. First on the docket, we have the new Ghost Whisperer, which I'm told isn't based on a Nick Evans novel or a Robert Redford film. Instead, it appears to be directly ripped off of Patricia Arquette's so-so NBC series, Medium. Seriously: A newlywed who helps the dead seek contact with the living? This is boring me, and it hasn't even aired yet.

Elana: I kind of hate Jennifer Love Hewitt. And I'm embarrassed that they're so obviously ripping off Medium.

Roberts: Seriously. What demographic is CBS even trying for now? Frumpy hausfraus and gay twinks?

Elana: Well, people who wanted to watch Medium, but felt it would be better if it starred a hot twenty-something with great tits. So, like... dads? CBS: The Slightly Creepy Dad Network.

Roberts: I kept confusing Patricia Arquette with Daryl Hannah. Now apparently someone's confusing Jennifer Love Hewitt with someone who can carry a show. Isn't it sweet, though, to see both Dharma and Greg have found work? Although Dharma's new show sounds an awful lot like a 1950s film musical. The idealistic secretary, looking for love and life in the big city.

Elana: It totally does sound like Rhoda or whatever.

Roberts: Pausing every 12 minutes to break into a dance number with a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Unless, of course, she needs to do a book number with the Lauren Bacall character.
"Confused about life? I was, too- and a raging pothead! Until my good friend Tom Cruise gave me a copy of a wonderful book I'd like you to read. Call now for your free copy. CBS *cares*."

Elana: I hope she talks about how Scientology helps you understand men. Every episode could end in one of those CBS Cares things. "Confused about life? I was, too- and a raging pothead! Until my good friend Tom Cruise gave me a copy of a wonderful book I'd like you to read. Call now for your free copy. CBS *cares*."

Roberts: It's interesting the other notable credits on this cast list: Doctor Zhivago, Friends and Romy and Michele: In the Beginning. Glad to see we've run the gamut from good, tired and lame-ass derivative.

Elana: And I'm sure we can agree that anything interesting will be cancelled by November.

Roberts: Speaking of which, I'm already addicted to Criminal Minds, which stars Mandy Patinkin as an FBI profiler. I suppose this means Dead Like Me is stuck on Permanent Hiatus. It'll be nice to see Mandy back on CBS, although I don't think I can handle it if the FBI turns out to be as quirky as a certain hospital in Chicago.

Elana: Why must all shows be about FBI profilers? How does that development meeting work?

Roberts: "You know what I'd like to see that's never been done before? A show about doctors. Or maybe sexy lawyers. Oooh, how about grizzled cops with hearts of gold?"

Elana: "Okay: picture this. It's about a team of slightly offbeat, yet totally committed FBI profilers! And it stars that dude with the high singing voice. He'll profile people... with SHOWTUNES."

Roberts: "Hello, my name is Mandy Patinkin. You killed my last hit. Prepare... to die."

Elana: Bwaha!

Roberts: What I'm finding interesting is the subtext. All the actors currently on other shows now... Stockard, Mandy, Scott Cohen.

Elana: You know what I'm excited about? The Unit. Although the name is unfortunate.



Roberts: I'd watch a hemorrhoid commercial if [Mamet] directed it.

Elana: If The Unit doesn't take off, you might get your chance.

Man, these guys are totally eclectic!
Roberts: In Threshold, we have what sounds pretty much like Sphere: The Navy finds something mysterious underwater, and it might be alien. Cue The X-Files theme. It's nice to see Brent Spiner in something new, but I'm already cringing at the network's description of this. When the network has to tell me to look forward to "a suspenseful drama" about a "chilling discovery" that will be investigated by a "hand-picked team of eclectic scientists," I've changed the channel.

Elana: I hate getting invested in mystery shows because they get cancelled and you never get the answer!

Roberts: "Eclectic specialists" is network-speak for "affected personality quirks to save on character development." What do you want to bet there'll be one guy going through a divorce, one person with a drinking problem and someone who's secretly gay? And they all have to live and work together!

Elana: "Angry Gay Guy to the set, please. Angry Gay Guy, you're up." Oooh, and how about the young upstart is dating the divorced one's wife! And it's a secret! Dun dun dun!

Roberts: Maybe they'll make the alien language translator blind or something. Like in Sneakers. But he's a math whiz who can hear fractals in his head. Seriously, I have no hope for this show.

Elana: Oh, yeah! And maybe the aliens are all blind, too, which is why they crashed into the freakin' ocean.

So, what do we think CBS thinks America wants to see?

Roberts: Other than stock characters and deliberate derivatives of more popular shows? I'm surprised there isn't another CSI spinoff. Didn't you think that episode with Brass in LA was just setting us up for one?

Elana: I did!

Roberts: Well, color us surprised.

Elana: But maybe they realized that Brass just isn't sexay enough to carry a show. I mean, he's no David Caruso.

Roberts: I'm surprised CBS isn't putting together another Golden Girls spinoff. Where's the TV for the geriatric set?

Elana: That might be too scary. A sitcom set in a retirement home, with people dying all the time, and children not visiting.

Roberts: It could be called Gimme My Meds! But CBS has all but abandoned their core demographic audience. Who is CBS trying to attract here? We've got two people from the Buffy-verse (Christian Kane, Allyson Hannigan), Broadway legends (Mandy Patinkin, Stockard Channing), a former Talk Soup host (Aisha Tyler), a has-been at the age of 25 (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a man known primarily for playing an android (Brent Spiner) and Doogie Howser. They're going after young people by making carbon copies of more popular shows on other networks. They're taking B- and C-list celebs and running them through a gantlet of mediocrity.

Elana: Yes! And they're "younging 'em down", too. See: Ghost Whisperer.

Roberts: Let me know when they start marketing directly to sperm and ova. That might be the 2007 season, if we're lucky.

Elana: Ooh!

Roberts: And so help me, if The Wiggles end up guest-starring on CSI, I'm never watching again.

Elana: How about a sitcom set in the vagina? As sperm race to the Fallopian tubes?

Roberts: Isn't that The L-Word?

Elana: Friendly Rivals?

Roberts: Oh, and why is Yes, Dear getting renewed? Or Two and a Half Men, for that matter. Can you name anyone who's ever seen a single episode of that?

Elana: I think they have a secret facility of Nielsen families somewhere in Iowa.

Roberts: I'm glad to see Numb3rs returning. I like having an action show with Jewish heroes. It's a comforting escape from reality, and a nice break of stereotype, even if the plots all resemble one another and I'm secretly upset because David Krumholtz is only a month older than I am. I've wasted my life. I should have agreed to play an elf.

Elana: Are the characters Jewish?

Roberts: Rob Morrow, Judd Hirsch and David Krumholtz?

Elana: Yes, um, but the characters?

Roberts: It was referenced in one of the first couple of episodes — a throwaway line. 'You know we're Jews, so that's why you can't play baseball.' I forget the context.

Elana: It's better than I expected it to be, but I'm unconvinced the Better Living Through Math gimmick will hold up forever.

Roberts: I'm unconvinced there can be a car chase or a bomb scare every week involving the same investigatory team.

Roberts: If nothing else, at least The Amazing Race has returned. Finally, a reality show for the rest of America. Bickering couples stuck traveling thousands of miles with a finite amount of clean underwear and no way to get liquored up off camera.

I want a reality show about arranged marriages. Not one of these pansy-ass The Bachelor ripoffs. Actual arranged marriages. "This is Bob, and he's your husband now. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT."
Elana: I want a reality show about arranged marriages. Not one of these pansy-ass The Bachelor ripoffs. Actual arranged marriages. "This is Bob, and he's your husband now. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT."

Roberts: I want a reality show where gay men get together and the winner gets to beat up Jerry Falwell on live TV.

Elana: The entertainment value would be tremendous. Um, at least for me. But CBS might not be your best bet for that.

Roberts: Probably not. Stupid Viacom.

Elana: It could be on the new gay channel!

Roberts: We'd be more likely to see Jew Eye for the Straight Goy. "Tefillin are very IN now!"

Elana: Oh... they cancelled Joan of Arcadia! This saddens me. I didn't actually watch it anymore, but still!

Roberts: Well, after her whole talking-to-God thing was dismissed as delusions from Lyme Disease, I lost interest. It was the same effect as "the Force comes from midichlorians" in The Phantom Menace. But what's Crimetime Saturday? Is that going to be like the NBC Saturday Night Thrillogy?

Elana: Why can't they just program actual shows on Saturday nights?

Roberts: Because nobody watches network TV on Saturday nights.

Roberts: That's when people go out and do things.

Elana: Nonsense!

Roberts: I don't think you and I count.

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