Category Archives: Must Flee TV

15 Spin-Offs That Never Existed That Were Cancelled Too Soon

Coach Ioki

Last month we took a look at 15 shows that never existed that were cancelled too soon, and with today’s news that a Married With…Children spin-off focusing on Grandmaster B Bud Bundy is a (germ of an idea of a plea of a) reality, it seems right to shift perspective and now look at some forgotten spin-offs from television history. There are some dramas, some comedies, some animated series; some won several awards, some were roundly ignored; some were praised by critics, and some just adored by fans. But these spin-offs all have one thing in common: they never got the chance they deserved (because they never existed).

Ioki’s Place (FOX, 1990): After misfiring with Booker Fox attempted another 21 Jump Street spin-off, this time with Sergeant Harry Truman Ioki leaving the force to open a neighborhood bar and banh mi shop. But Ioki gets more than he bargains for when his father/head chef (the legendary Pat Morita) can’t help but meddle with his leadership style, and sparks begin to fly with his new manager, Samantha (Ellen DeGeneres). Most notable for featuring a pre-teen Seth Rogen as neighborhood kid and prankster Billy Goldstein. Peter DeLuise appears uncredited in every episode.

AIDS (TNBC, 1992-1993): An obvious ploy to capitalize on the success of Saved by the Bell, AIDS focused on a group of hall monitors and office assistants at Manhattan Beach Preparatory High School. Despite much fanfare, a plum time-slot, a young Michelle Rodriguez and a sweeps week visit from Screech and Mr. Belding, the show inexplicably failed to catch on with viewers and was soon replaced by a second helping of California Dreams. 

Knight Rider Knights (Syndicated, 1986-1987): When Glen A. Larson and NBC agreed that 44 minutes of David Hasselhoff per week was not sufficient, they expanded the franchise with this short-lived look at how Michael Knight and his sentient car-best friend KITT spend their nights when they’re not fighting crime and chasing bad guys. Loosely based on the provocative 1980 Al Pacino thriller Cruising, the majority of episodes featured Knight and KITT hopping from drive-in movie theaters to Dairy Queens to mall parking lots to drug-fueled sex parties. The rambling, ramshackle nature of the show – there was clearly no script and some scenes were obviously just Hasselhoff’s home movies shot on a cheap VHS camera – quickly turned off loyal fans of the brand, and even a cross-over event with the original series, dubbed “The KITT Stays in the Picture” failed to bring viewers back. Delved into the supernatural towards the end of its run, and most remembered for the penultimate episode in which a jealous Wiccan transforms KITT into a 60-year-old man, portrayed by KITT voice William Daniels, sporting the same wardrobe and mannerisms he’d later incorporate into his iconic role of Mr. Feeny. Not to be confused with the animated series Knight Rider Knights (1988), in which a lightning storm sends KITT back in time to Camelot where he serves in King Arthur’s Court, or Team Knight Rider (1997-1998), which was a real show.

The Urkels (ABC, 1993): With the white-hot heat emanating from Family Matters resident nerd-in-love Steve Urkel, ABC quickly green-lit this spin-off – a drama focused on Steve’s parents and his autistic brother Stewart – for the fall ’93 slate. Unfortunately, even with an advantageous TGIF slot following Full House and a gushing review from Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker, the series struggled in the ratings and ended with an unresolved cliff-hanger in which Mrs. Urkel (Wanda Sykes) files for divorce. Young son Stewart was initially played by an aging Emmanuel Lewis, but was replaced with Wild & Crazy Kids‘ Omar Gooding after the pilot.

The Cosby Mysteries: Sex Files (NBC, 1996): An ill-advised attempt by Bill Cosby and then-NBC head of programming Warren Littlefield to revive the Cosby Mysteries, this time moving away from the wholesome, family-friendly storylines of the original series towards the more graphic and explicit fare that has become the hallmark of NBC’s later primetime hit Law & Order: SVU. The six produced episodes were never aired and quickly destroyed, and all cast and crew involved were paid off to never talk about it.

Mail Bonding (NBC, 1989): Quietly falling between The Tortellis and Frasier, this short-lived and quickly forgotten Cheers spin-off swapped out the bar for the post office. Unfortunately, Cheers producers Glen & Les Charles forgot to bring over the sharp wit and clever writing of its progenitor, and the talented cast – which featured Gordon Jump, Brian-Doyle Murray, Ellen DeGeneres, former NFL great Bubba Smith, a young Marc Maron and Tom Bosley as Postmaster General Charlie O’Flaherty – never quite found the chemistry that was the trademark of Sam, Norm, Woody and the gang. By the time Cliff Clavin stopped by the Beacon Hill Post Office in episode nine, the bad news of cancellation had already been delivered.

Designing Men (CBS, 1991-1992): After leaving Sugarbaker Designs, Anthony Bouvier (the late Meshach Taylor), heads to New York to open up his own interior design firm and get a taste of the big city. Partnering with his former prison cellmate, Fuzzy Mendez (Luis Guzman), and moving in with old college friends Eli and Paris (David Paymer and Harvey Firestein), Anthony is ready to bring a little southern peach to the Big Apple. The series’ final episode, “Bullies Over Broadway” was heralded for its brave depiction of ageism in theatre, winning an AARP award and snaring Firestein a BAFTA nomination for his performance. Despite lasting only one season, the show was a phenomenon in Germany, where it was titled Girly Männer and can still be found in reruns on the country’s RTL II network.

Private Boner (ABC, 1990): After a vocal (and sometimes openly hostile) write-in campaign persuaded ABC brass to bring back Growing Pains‘ Richard “Boner” Stabone (the late Andrew Koenig), this short-lived midseason replacement found Mike Seaver’s best buddy on the ground in Kuwait, trying to mine laughs from minefields. Hoping to combine the pedantic and sanctimonious tone of Growing Pains with the poignant authenticity of M*A*S*H, the series was, ironically, preempted for a special report on Operation Desert Shield and never returned to air. A later effort to return Boner to Growing Pains was, in fact, aborted by the now Born-Again Kirk Cameron, who objected to Koenig’s staunch belief in the right to choose.

MonsterMASH (CBS, 1987): A poorly conceived collaboration between M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbhart and the Brady Bunch’s Sherwood Schwartz, this variety show was the first (and only) program to blend elements of comedy, drama, musical numbers, and the Korean War. Adam Arkin stepped into Alan Alda’s boots as Hawkeye Pierce, reimagined now as an exceedingly neurotic and easily frightened Brooklyn Jew, and Jamie Farr reprised his role as cross-dresser Max Klinger. The pilot aired as a Halloween special, but, like many pilots in Korea, it crashed and burned, as some viewers were offended by the portrayal of Koreans as werewolves, vampires, Yetis, Frankensteins and other figures of the occult. Airing up against ABC’s Mr. Belvedere, the series never really had a shot, and was DOA.

Just Close Enough for Comfort (Syndicated, 1987): After retooling Too Close for Comfort into The Ted Knight Show to middling returns, executive producer Earl Barret decided to take the opposite tack, dropping the show’s star, the eponymous Knight, and bringing back original cast members Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lydia Cornell, and Audrey Meadows, along with new additions Robert Hegyes, Anson Williams and third Quaid brother, Barry (in his only credited role). The series picks up with Knight’s character Henry Rush inexplicably absent and shifts the focus to Jim J. Bullock’s Monroe Ficus, whose opens a handmade sofa and loveseat gallery to immediate success (later episodes would reveal that Rush left Marin County to pursue his dream of writing political cartoons for The New York Post). Early reviews were not kind, noting, accurately, that “nothing ever really happens in this show,” “the characters just basically get along really well and pay each other compliments. I counted seventeen hugs in the first episode alone, which I guess is fine, but super, super boring,” and “one episode is devoted entirely to the characters offering excessive praise of Ficus’ new chaise lounge. Granted, it was a very nice lounge, but the whole 22-minutes were completely devoid of any conflict – or charm – whatsoever.”  Said chaise lounge is now on display at the Paley Center for Media (Los Angeles).

Mona’s Place (ABC, 1992-1993): When Angela Bower sells her Connecticut home to move to Manhattan with new husband Tony Miceli, her vivacious and hyper-sexually-active mother Mona stays behind in the guest-house and proves that 70 is the new 20. Originally titled The Cougar Den, this Who’s the Boss? spin-off failed to appeal to young TGIF viewers, but was applauded for its frank discussions of sex, ageism and menopause. Despite lasting just thirteen episodes, Katherine Helmond earned a Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice award for her performance in “A Round of Appalled” in which she learns she has contracted the Clap, an episode that continues to be shown in many high school Health Education classes today. An interesting footnote: following cancellation, Mona’s bedroom/sex den was repurposed into Cory and Eric Matthews’ room on Boy Meets World, which debuted the following fall.

Saved by the Bell: The Early Years (TNBC, 1994-1995): Ever wonder what Bayside High was like when sixteen-year-old Richie “the Big Bopper” Belding was spinning records for KKTY? Neither did anyone else.

Just the Nine of Us (ABC, 1991): In a last-ditch effort to capture viewers, Just the Ten of Us producers Guntzelman-Sullivan-Marshall retooled the series as a season-long kidnapping mystery. Unfortunately, due to abysmal ratings, production was quickly halted and we never learned which of the Lubbock children had been abducted. Series star Bill Kirchenbauer later called it “the single worst professional experience of my life. No one knew why we were there and all of our lawyers were combing through our contracts desperately trying to find a way out. To say that cancellation came as sweet relief is a massive understatement.” An extremely short blooper reel can be found on the Growing Pains Season 7 DVD.

UnsDuck in Time: The Lost Tales of Launchpad McQuack (Syndicated, 1993-1994): Unlicensed and dangerously incompetent pilot Launchpad McQuack, second banana to Scrooge McDuck and sidekick to Darkwing Duck, finally takes center stage in this rare collaboration between Disney Television Animation and the Children’s Television Workshop. Thanks to a temperamental and possibly demonic time machine invented by Gyro Gearloose, McQuack is sent backwards through the ages to important events in history, from the Revolutionary War to the JFK Assassination. Designed as way to teach children about world history while keeping them entertained, the program failed at both aims, and ended with a controversial finale in which a Launchpad McQuack from the year 2020 is sent back from the future to kill his present day self in order to prevent a nuclear holocaust. That finale, ironically, netted the show its largest audience by a wide-margin, but talks to revive the series were abandoned following the runaway success of the newest Disney Afternoon sensation Bonkers, as well as the rampant drug use by the show’s animators. However, the story did continue in a spin-off comic book series published by Malibu Comics, which ran for seven years, and featured the writing debut of future Spider-Man scribe and Eisner Award winner Brian Michael Bendis.

Heidi’s Head (FOX, 1992): Encouraged by the mild success of Herman’s Head, FOX executives fast-tracked this spin-off that followed the same blueprint. Joan Cusack starred as the titular Heidi, an aspiring designer at a hip fashion label, with Soliel Moon Frye representing her sensitivity, Sandra Berhardt her lust, a young Jeremy Piven standing in as her anxiety and Robert Guillaume as her intellect, with occasional appearances from Marsha Warfield as Anger. A back-door pilot in which Herman’s Head star William Ragsdale sleeps with Heidi (after Hank Azaria’s womanizing scoundrel Jay drugs her at bar) was shelved in favor of a Married with Children clip-show. Was later ripped off by Pixar.

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Filed under Feeny, Lists, Mickey Mouse Club, Must Flee TV, Saved by the Bell, TGIF, Who's the Boss?

15 Shows That Never Existed That Were Cancelled Too Soon

Judge Dabney ColemanWith the impending return of the X-Files, Full House and, yes, Coach, we thought it would be appropriate to look back at fifteen series that never had the chance to capture the large, passionate audiences of those beloved shows. Sadly, they will never be rebooted. They were never even booted in the first place.

Sludge (CBS, 1983-1984): Dabney Coleman stars as veteran Salt Lake City Judge Sherman Lipschitz decides to use the power of the bench to combat environmental pollution when his son grows a third arm after swimming in the lake. A pre-Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson co-stars as Bailiff Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, with a cherubic Jerry O’Connell as Sherman Jr., the boy with the extra appendage. The series started strong, but suffered a huge ratings hit when it was accused by both Exxon and the EPA of being “wildly, willfully and dangerously inaccurate.”

Nine Lives (Syndicated, 1987): After crossing paths with a black cat on a Halloween, unemployed comic book artist Freddy Cheshire (Zach Galligan) wakes up to realize that he has developed feline-like reflexes and agility, as well as an insatiable hunger for Fancy Feast and a hatred of mice. By night he uses his new powers to fight crime, by day he transfers his recent experiences to his newest comic creation, Super Whiskers. Dom DeLuise appears as criminal mastermind and comic book store owner, Dom Dominos.

Whiskers (Syndicated, 1987): A retooled, comedic-approach to Nine Lives now features Freddy trying to hide his feline-leanings from his new roommates, including Matt (Matt LeBlanc), Steve (Steve Burton) and his big-crush, aspiring singer-songwriter Marisa (Ellen DeGeneres). Freddy can only reveal his special condition – and his true feelings for Marisa – to pet store owner and close confidant, Mr. Byrnes (Brian Doyle-Murray).

Where There’s a Will (NBC, 1984, 1987): After a car crash claims the life of greedy, self-obsessed estate lawyer Will Christman (William H. Macy), he’s sent back to earth to fulfill all the Last Will and Testaments he had blithely ignored over the years. Notable for featuring one of Orson Welles final appearances as the voice of God. Briefly resurrected in 1987 with Billy Baldwin in the lead role.

DOM! (Fox, 1989-1990): The late Dom DeLuise starred as Dom DiLorenzo, a retired Broadway actor who opens up his downtown Chicago apartment to his struggling progeny (real-life sons Michael, Peter and David), despite living alone for the past 30 years. With the womanizing, scheming, unpredictable Dom as the head of the household, it’s hard to tell who’s the father and who’s the son. But who says an old dog can’t learn some new tricks? A young Jack Black co-starred as the youngest DiLorenzo, Nick.

From Riches to Rags (NBC, 1987-1988): When the wealthy Sheraton girls – Cindy, Mindy, Lindsay, Winny and Barry – lose their parents in a freak Aspen gondola accent, they also lose their sprawling mansion in Beverly Hills. With their inheritance squandered by their father on his secret family, and nowhere else to go, the girls are adopted by lonely plumber Joseph Pulaski (Joe Bologna), and move into his two-bedroom basement apartment in the Valley. Slowly but surely they learn that there are some things in life that can’t be bought, and love is worth more than money. Executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and with a pilot directed by Clint Howard, the series premiered to big numbers, but never recovered after being pre-empted for Brian Boitano’s gold-medal winning performance at the ’88 Olympics in Calgary. Most remembered for Paula Poundstone’s role as oldest sister Barry, and Nora Dunn’s winning performance as Terry, a cold but caring social worker.

Drexell’s Class (Fox 1992-1993): Starred Dabney Coleman in the role of Otis Drexell, a fifth-grade teacher at fictional Grantwood Elementary School in Cedar Bluffs, Iowa, and a formerly  famous corporate raider who lost a large sum of money on a failed venture was subsequently arrested for tax evasion. At his court case, he was told that he would receive a suspended sentence on the basis he work as a teacher in the undermanned school until he pays his back taxes. This was a real show.

The Dog House (ABC, 1993-1994): Dabney Coleman returns (again) as gruff Detective Mitt Morgan, whose drinking problems lead him to bungle a murder case and convince his wife to throw him out of the house. Busted down to canine patrol, and living in his mother’s basement with his new partner, Bartleby, Mitt tries to put his personal and professional lives back together. But Mitt soon learns that the dog days are just beginning. Chi McBride co-starred as Mitt’s former partner and best friend, Chi and the late Jean Stapleton received her final Emmy nomination as no-nonsense widow, Louise Morgan.

Spuds (ABC, 1988): After the smash success of Dynasty, Executive Producer Aaron Spelling turned his Midas touch to a sprawling potato farm in Idaho’s Sun Valley and the filthy rich but morally bankrupt Van Vondren clan. Family patriarch Geoff Van Vondren (John Aniston), who inherited the estate from his late father under suspicious circumstances, struggles to keep his house in order and to cover up all the secrets – including a second wife, a mistress, a shady deal with a Russian vodka company, and hypertension – that could ruin him. Aniston famously broke his Days of our Lives contract for the opportunity to portray Geoff and act with his daughter, Jennifer, in her first television role. The family was rounded out by Shelly Duvall as Geoff’s jilted wife Yvonne, Daniel Baldwin as eldest son Carmichael, Rick “Ricky” Schroeder as youngest son Michael, Dick Van Patten as the ghost of Gerry Van Vondren, and Temla Hopkins as Geoff’s jilted lover, Sadie, and later featured a visit from Ted McGinley as Geoff’s cousin Clay Fallmont, a reprise his Dynasty character. Despite the all-star cast, it was more famine than feast, as the show was unable to capitalize on its popular lead-in (Battle of the Network Stars), and was soon banished to Saturday nights. The show ended on a cliff-hanger, with the Van Vondren family facing a hostile takeover from arch rival Oral-Ida Corp.

S.P.U.D.s. (Fox, 1995-1996): Following the brilliant but canceled The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Fox and Executive Producer Carlton Cuse re-teamed for the farcical action-comedy S.P.U.D.s (Shelly Potato Uniformed Division). Cuse once again set the story out west, but this time in the small, potato-loving town of Shelly, Idaho. Bruce Campbell also returned, starring as Captain James “Jim” Progresso, a former NYPD detective who was dismissed from the force for insubordination (and an unfortunate incident at the Thanksgiving Day Parade) and moves out to Idaho for a fresh start heading up Shelley’s potato protection squad. Yes Dear’s Anthony Clark co-starred as bumbling Deputy Dave, along with Marcia Gay Harden as hard-nosed local policewoman Diane Schmatz and California Dreams’ Kelly Packard as Julienne, the Mayor’s daughter and Progresso’s romantic foil. The infamous season (and series) finale found most of the town being destroyed by an at explosion at the annual Spud Day Festival, a deliberate and somewhat spiteful decision by producers who knew that cancellation was imminent. The story was continued, however, in a 6-part limited comic book series penned by Cuse and illustrated by Campbell himself, which followed Progresso and his trusty Golden Retriever Russet on a quest for revenge that turns the Idaho potato fields into the killing fields.

Gängers (WB, 1998-1999): In his last major role, Dom DeLuise returned to primetime as successful businessman Dom DeDavinci, whose life is turned upside down one when he encounters his doppelgänger, local chef Paul LaViolette, played by real-life celebrity chef and DeLuise’s close friend, Paul Prudhomme. Brothers from another mother, Dom and Paul get the sibling they never had, and, by swapping jobs, a new outlook on life. Designed to pick up where Sister, Sister left-off, the series never clicked with the WB’s more urban demographic, and the show was pulled after the controversial episode “Strange Bedfellows” in which Dom and Paul sleep with each other’s wives (Wendie Malick and the late Wendie Jo Sperber).

Cat’s Cradle (Fox, 1999): Rebounding quickly after the cancellation of The Single Guy, Jonathan Silverman stars as Gregg Greenberg, a recent widower and struggling architect who lives in an Upper East Side apartment with his nine-month old son Glenn and tabby cat Elvis Pawsly. With Gregg barely finding the time to watch his son and meet his deadlines at a fledgling design firm, it falls on Elvis to take care of little Glenn when Gregg’s not watching. Home Improvement‘s Debbe Dunning played building superintendent and object of Gregg’s affection, Debbe, and Corey Feldman provided the cool-dude voice of Pawsly. A flood of letters from concerned parents, public advocacy groups, PETA and the American Humane Society, as well as a stunning lack of jokes, convinced Fox to ax the series only four episodes into its run. However, its final episode, “You Aint Nothing But a Pound Dog,” featured television’s first and only canine-feline pregnancy scare (until the most recent season of Girls), and won no awards. Despite a public plea (and particularly graphic threats) from Feldman, Cradle was quickly replaced by a seventh weekly airing of episode of Cops, and ratings immediately skyrocketed.

Bulworth (UPN, 2001): Perfect Strangers’ Mark-Lynn Baker returns to television in this small-screen adaptation of the “hit” film, taking on the title role. After narrowly surviving his assassination attempt – picking up where the film left off – Sen. J Bulworth retreats to his home town of Modesto, CA with new main squeeze Nina by his side (Stacey Dash, stepping in for Halle Berry). While recovering in his parents’ guest house, he recaptures his love for local politics and decides to run for city council. The incomparable Marion Ross and Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis co-star as Bulworth’s parents, whose old-school perspective clashes with Bulworth and Nina’s interracial relationship, often to hilarious results and Flavor Flav appears as Bulworth’s campaign manager and hype man, Flav Flavor. Pulled after only one episode in response to very valid complaints by the NAACP, among other many justly outraged organizations.

Splitsville (ABC, 2000): The Alphabet Network’s entry into the great bowling alley-sitcom wars of 2000 (see: NBC’s beloved but barely-watched Ed), Splitsville starred Joe Bologna and Annie Potts as a recently divorced couple who agree to joint custody…of their bowling alley. The late William Hickey earned a Golden Globe for his guest appearance as Bologna’s father, Col. Mickey T. Splits, despite passing away three years prior. Infamously, it’s widely considered the death knell of the first incarnation of TGIF, particularly due to rabid unpopularity of Bologna’s signature dance “The Split,” which was a thinly veiled ripoff of “The Urkel” (itself a thinly veiled ripoff of “The Bartman”).

Dabney (NBC, 1995): Dabney Coleman comes back to the small screen as an author of do-it-yourself books who leaves New York City to run a bed and breakfast in a small, rural Vermont town that features no shortage of colorful, eccentric characters. Production was stopped immediately when producers were informed that this is the exact plot of Newhart. 

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Filed under Best Show You're Not Watching, Must Flee TV, TGIF

Goodbye Ann Perkins, We Hardly Knew Ye AKA What Do You Do With a Problem Like Rashida?

Three weeks ago sources revealed that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe would be leaving Parks and Recreation midway through its upcoming sixth season. News about the impending departure of unlucky in love Ann Perkins and perfectionist City Manager Chris Traeger was expectedly met with some sadness and disappointment by devoted Parks and Rec fans. The cast of the NBC comedy has developed into one of the strongest ensembles on television, and, with the exit of The Office and 30 Rock last season, Parks and Rec is poised to be NBC’s number one workplace comedy, with the citizens of Pawnee providing the most colorful and entertaining array of recurring characters and bit parts this side of Greendale Community College. Losing two main cast members is a bit of surprise, a curious altering of a formula that seemed to be working so well. But here’s the thing: we actual welcome the change, as it will solve the show’s most glaring problem, a significant flaw that has existed since episode one: what do you do with a problem like Rashida?

More: On not keeping up with the Jones

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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Better Late Than Never, Count Bleh, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Must Flee TV, Must See TV, Yasmine Bleeth

Branch Closing – A Farewell to ‘The Office’

We very clearly remember the moment that we fell for The Office, the NBC stalwart that closes up shop at Dunder Mifflin tonight after nine mostly great seasons. It was the fall of 2005, when The Office was starting to find its legs after a rocky and uneven six episode first season, and we in our first autumn post-college, back at our parents’, and for the first time since we were four-years-old not attending school. We were at our best friend and future roommate’s house, hanging out, maybe barbecuing, maybe drinking a few beers, maybe watching the first season of Lost on DVD, which dominated much of our time (and thoughts) during that period. We knew about the The Office, another blatant attempt to import a UK hit stateside, but missed its brief run earlier that year, as was the case with the aforementioned Lost, as the only shows we watched religiously during our final year of college (and last few months before true adulthood) were The Simpsons and Survivor. We did, however, recall reading that it was an imperfect translation of the original, and the Steve Carell-led vehicle – who was then best known as the other Steve from The Daily Show –  was not likely to resurrect NBC Thursday night Must See TV, let alone make it past Season 2. So with the middling reviews in mind, and the fact that we were unfamiliar with the original Ricky Gervais version, we didn’t go out of our way to watch the show. But that night changed everything.

More: But that was just the beginning…

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Filed under Across the pond, Back to the Past, Brilliance, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Freak Out Control, Good Humor, Is That Still On?, LOST, Must Flee TV, Must See TV

Watch the Throne: NBC & the Future of ‘The Tonight Show’

Jimmy Fallon Thank You NotesHere we are again, NBC looking ahead to replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show with a hipper, younger host, and a hipper, younger brand. This time, in place of the loose-limbed bean pole with the shock of untamable red locks as successor, we have the shaggy-haired giggle monster and impression impresario as Tonight Show usurper. So what makes NBC think that Jimmy Fallon is the right man for the job – only three years after Conan abdicated – and, perhaps more importantly, why now?

We actually take a somewhat different view from many television critics and media pundits, who believe this is history repeating itself, with the buffoons at NBC either incapable or unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Yes, if you look at the raw data, this move perhaps makes even less sense than the promotion of Conan to the Tonight Show desk in the summer of 2009. Leno, after returning to the late night centerpiece in February 2010, has held his own, even gaining viewers while NBC’s ratings have plummeted. Fallon, only four years and nineteen days removed from his maiden voyage on Late Night, is perhaps not quite ready yet to ascend, whether that be because he needs to further polish and refine his skills, or because he has not yet established enough of a viewership to command a promotion to Johnny Carson’s old spot. Is Jimmy Fallon, who just a decade ago was the  goofball on SNL who couldn’t keep a straight face, ready to tuck in the nation’s older viewers and Slow Jam the News them to bed? And what’s to stop Jay Leno from jumping ship to another network and sticking it to NBC, a possibility  was such a concern four years ago that the Peacock gave Jay a 10pm show, an unequivocal unmitigated disaster.

As Bill Carter reports,* this seems to be all but a done deal, with relations between Jay and the network sinking to an all-time low, bitter invective being spewed on each side. Leno, we can assume, is offended by the lack of respect and credit; after all, he’s still winning his slot while the network crumbles, he’s been a good soldier and has gotten nothing but grief for it. But here’s what’s important, and what makes this different from the Conan situation: as Wired argues in their latest issue, the Nielsen Family is dead and the traditional television model is obsolete. Installing Fallon as Tonight Show host – as reports say will happen by the end of 2014 – is not as much about challenging the upstart and Fallon contemporary Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, as it is about trying a new model, attempting to break out of the box. Fallon has built up a rabid fan base with silly sketches and fun games and brilliant taped pieces, all of which have appealed to the web’s viral culture. Certainly, a popular YouTube video – even one as popular as Justin Timberlake delivering an cappella version of “SexyBack” – doesn’t goose ratings, and it doesn’t do much to affect the bottom line. However, it is indicative of Fallon’s place at the vanguard of new media, of new viewing habits, and at the changing of the guard. Will Fallon alienate some of Leno’s longtime loyal viewers, sending them to Letterman or Kimmel or maybe just to bed early? Sure. But does it really matter, in this current television climate? We’re not so sure.

Also, it’s important to remember that NBC is a moribund enterprise right now. And while that may initially lead one to think that they should keep the one thing that seems to be working, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, we think the opposite is true. So much is dysfunctional at NBC right now that it might be worth it to blow the whole thing up. When you’re routinely getting smacked around by the likes of Univision and AMC and USA (NBC’s own less glamorous, but often more successful cable cousin), why not cut off your perfectly fine nose to spite your brutally beaten face? In a television landscape where numbers mean less and less, NBC, more than any other of the big four networks needs to get creative and change the paradigm. Putting Jay on at 10pm four years ago was changing the game the other way, backward thinking in trying to keep old viewers while embracing new, trying to maximize value under the old model. Moving Fallon to the big chair is looking the other way, trying to stay head of the curve. Why be a slave to the old design, why cling to some antiquated rule that The Tonight Show needs to be in Los Angeles and why keep struggling against the Leno albatross? In a television world where late night talk shows are increasingly irrelevant, why not take a shot a true irreverence? Really, what does NBC have to lose?

Some light background reading:

Conan: Barbarian or Adventurer?

In Defense of Jay Leno/How He Might Screw This All Up AKA More Thoughts on Late Shift 2: Dave’s Revenge

The One in Which We Compare Conan O’Brien to Barack Obama

*Really, what does Bill Carter report on other than late night talk show behind-the-scenes machinations? Can we get his job if and when he retires? We don’t even mind signing a contract stipulating that we will inherit his position in five years or else be paid a steep pay or play penalty).

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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Count Bleh, Flashback!, Must Flee TV, Other people's stuff, Talkies

Must Flee TV: Community – The Twilight of the First Harmon Dynasty

Today we bring you the final entry in our “Must Flee TV” series, our thoughts on the end of ‘Community’ Season Three, and, well, the end of an era. 

Full disclosure: when we wrote our Dan Harmon obituary earlier this week we had not yet had the chance to view the final three Season Three Community episodes.  We felt comfortable going ahead with the in memorial post because there would be nothing in those final episodes of the Harmon run to change our opinion of his work and influence on Community.  Unless one of the episodes was a shot-by-shot remake of an unremarkable episode of Friends, he could do nothing to tarnish his legacy, and, actually, they probably could pull that episode off (and by Season Six he probably would have gotten to that too).  But, as it turned out, the show had still yet another level to go, there were still recesses of our mind left to blow.

Perhaps only when Fox burned off the last four Arrested Developments against the Olympics has viewing a block of episodes felt so bittersweet, such a painful joy.  But unlike the Arrested finale night, the last three episodes of Community left us with little closure, and much uncertainty.  If anything, we’re sadder now than we were at the end of Arrested (obviously we could not know that it would eventually come back on Netflix, and we would have been foolish to pin our hopes on such a thing, especially since Netflix was in its nascent stages then).  We know our show is coming back, but we don’t know in what form, if it’ll continue on the same genius path, if it’ll forge something new and different, or if it’ll be a morbid a shadow of itself, a crushing reminder of what was.

Up far ahead: Our top 5 episodes of the Dan Harmon Era…

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Must Flee TV: ’30 Rock’ Season Six – The Penultimate Warrior

This is the penultimate entry in our series of posts looking back at the NBC’s Thursday Night comedies.  Still to come is a brief review of the ‘Community’ finale (not to be confused with our already published thoughts on the show’s move to Friday nights and the exiling of Dan Harmon), but today we check-in on ’30 Rock.’ 

30 Rock is a curious case.  We’ve contended for years that it often is the funniest show on NBC Thursday nights.  That is to say that it contains the most laughs per minute ratio (lpms) of the four programs.  However, that has never necessarily been a compliment.  In fact – and you might be smelling a “but” coming – that proclamation has frequently preceded our criticism of the show, or, more often, been the central tenet of our negative remarks.  For much of the show’s six seasons it’s felt as if Tina Fey’s creation valued the laugh above all else, and sometimes praying at the altar of the almighty chuckle does not pay the dividends one expects.

More: Does ’30 Rock’ use Idea Balls?

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