TV Eye

Premiere Schmear

It's been an odd series premiere season. A smorgasbord of dramas, sitcoms, and dramedies have been laid out to tickle and amuse, to capture the heart, and (in some earnest attempts) to arouse the spirit. So why is it that I feel so unsatisfied? Sure, there are a couple of new favorites on my plate -- The Gilmore Girls on the WB and That's Life on CBS (tape it!) -- but some of the other offerings are like that strange dish everyone goes on and on about ("You must try it!") only to prove disappointingly bland. These shows don't even have enough flavor to make you gag. They just become globs of nothing in your mouth, growing and growing until they're that much harder to swallow. Here are some of the biggest duds so far:

Deadline on NBC. What was that? I say "was," because it's been thankfully canceled -- or was that "placed on hiatus"? The real question is: Who cares? While other critics slammed the show for not being true to a real newspaper writer's lifestyle, I was miffed at how dull it was, a perplexing achievement considering the supporting cast: Bebe Neuwirth, Lili Taylor, and Tom Conti, in addition to the show's star, Oliver Platt. The best thing about the show? Platt's fabulous New York apartment. The worst thing about the show? So much talent, for a whole lot of nothing.

Boston Public on Fox. All right, I have to admit that I had to work real hard to be objective about this newest of the David E. Kelley dramas. But please! A teacher shoots off a gun in class to subdue his unruly students, a principal roughs up a bully for picking on another student, a teacher has an affair with a student (now that one I can swallow) -- all without repercussions and all stuffed into the first episode. It was just much too much for me to swallow. Boston Public prides itself on being "gritty," but all I saw was a bunch of pampered adults parading as teachers in the trenches. And what's the deal with Jessalyn Gilsig, as social studies teacher Lauren Davis, who just happens to be near whenever a teacher needs to blow off steam? Can we say contrived? The good thing about Boston Public? It made me long for Kelley's sublime Picket Fences and reminded me that he's capable of so much more.

The Michael Richards Show on NBC. (In case you're wondering, I haven't seen The Geena Davis Show yet, the show that most critics love to hate.) You know there's something wrong when you find yourself trying to laugh at something but realizing that you just can't fake it. Michael Richards still has the moves, the tics, and the bizarre timing many came to love in Seinfeld, but it just doesn't have the same punch in this ill-fitting, half-hour comedy with another cast whose talents go mostly to waste.

Bette on CBS. I've been a fan of Bette Midler since I was a teen rehearsing in my bedroom to be a Harlette. But the problem with Bette is that the schtick is all familiar, and the sight gags are from way back when. Watching Bette is like having a reunion with a friend from long ago. Once you go over all the "remember when"s there's not much territory left to cover. Still, Bette seems to be having the time of her life, and she does have that eternal glow about her, marvelous to see now that she's -- what, fortysomething? My hope for the show is that it will evolve past the familiar schtick into something beyond anyone's imagination. If anyone can do it, Bette Midler can.

As always, stay tuned.


Good Night, Steverino

Although the comedian's heyday was before my time, I don't think I should let this column pass without saying a few words about Steve Allen, the forefather of the late-night talk and variety show. His passing last week marked the end of an era. In my mind, Allen was part of the small coterie of performers who really experimented with what was a new and uncharted medium -- television -- and forged ahead in a devil-may-care way to see just what it could do. Some of the most intriguing clips I've seen of Allen in action included him doodling jazz riffs on the piano while Jack Kerouac (yes, that Jack Kerouac) read snippets from On the Road. Sound corny? Yeah, it kind of was, but immensely interesting. How many talk television shows nowadays can you say that about?


Class Action

When 28 TV writers filed a $200 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the TV industry -- including the major networks, production studios, and talent agencies -- for age discrimination, I waited for the you-know-what to hit the fan. So far, there's been hardly a ripple beyond the initial announcement, mainly because the defendants won't comment on legal matters outside the courtroom. The writers who filed suit represent nearly 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America who are age 40 or older. The plaintiffs allege that age, and nothing else, has created an invisible barrier to getting work in Hollywood, and that the practice is discriminatory.

It is not a new complaint. Hollywood has long celebrated the young, the thin, and the beautiful -- not to mention the white. Actresses over 40 have complained for some time that offers for work slow down considerably once they reach their 30s -- while actors like Richard Gere and Jack Nicholson romance women onscreen who could easily be their daughters. On television, the target of these writers' complaints, youth-centered comedies and dramas have a formidable presence. The complaint is not with the number of youth-oriented shows, however, but with the idea that only a twentysomething can write for, or serve as a script doctor (a common practice) for, these shows.

This is an interesting case, the repercussions of which will be felt throughout the industry. I will be following this issue with great interest.


'Straight Talk'

Central Texas high school students will discuss race issues in a town meeting format on Austin at Issue. The episode, Straight Talk From Teens: Prejudice and Race, invites 11th-graders from the Austin Independent School District and from McNeil High School in Round Rock to share their thoughts and ideas. Most will have seen the award-winning film The Shadow of Hate: A History of Intolerance in America, which discusses the need for tolerance in a democratic society. Straight Talk airs Friday (11/10) at noon and 9pm, and on Sunday (11/12) at 5pm on KLRU.


Last Licks

Although Seinfeld officially ended production in 1998, it gains new life this holiday season -- as a frozen dairy product. Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream vendors, will create a Seinfeld-inspired flavor named "Festivus." The new seasonal flavor is reported to be brown sugar ice cream with caramel and chunks of gingerbread. In case you've forgotten, Festivus was the holiday George Costanza's father dreamed up -- a blend of Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. A Festivus pole replaced the Christmas tree, and instead of a gathering of family and friends to share good cheer, the Festivus ritual called for the airing of grievances. And you thought spiked egg nog was the height of holiday frivolity.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

steve allen, deadline, the michael richards show, bette

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