TV Eye

TV Fruitcake

With shopping, eggnogging, and dashing through the snow (okay, nix the last one -- maybe), who has time to watch TV? It's not like I haven't watched my fair share of nearly every holiday classic that TV has to offer. And I've tuned in more times than I can remember to the Food Network to get tips on how to cook a bird, prepare a Kwanzaa meal, and make cookies of every flavor, ethnic influence, shape, size, and color. So, here, dear reader, are some odds and ends on what's been happening in TV land, from my harried perspective. Think of it as a TV fruitcake, from me to you.

Comings and Goings

NBC has finally pulled the plug on The Michael Richards Show. It joins Titans, Deadline, and Tucker as yet another NBC series that fizzled after launching this year. The new comedy DAG is still holding its own, as is Cursed, but it's doubtful those shows will hang on much longer. Of all the networks' new series, Ed is the only one thriving, especially since it was recently moved from Sunday to Wednesday. Although Ed gives me the creeps, it's a much better lead-in to The West Wing than that horrid Titans.

According to the Dec. 7 issue of the online newsletter Studio Briefing, there is some balking at NBC over the proposed $8 million-per-episode price tag Paramount is asking for next season's Frasier. Rival networks like ABC and CBS are reportedly showing interest should the peacock network cast off the comedy. Other changes include: the cancellation of The $treet at Fox. The "male version of Sex and the City"? Hardly. Strangely, the mainstream press insists that Sex is raunchy. Why? Because women in the prime of their lives have and enjoy sex? Sure, there is a lot of sex on the show, but it's called sex and the city, not dentistry and the city, for goodness sake. The $treet was downright trashy and not as smart or, well, sexy as Sex and the City. I kept meaning to come up with something suitably long-winded and snippy to say about The $treet, but I never got around to it. Suffice it to say, I'm glad it will be gone.

I can't say the same about Billy Crystal, who will not be available to host the next Academy Award ceremony as he has so smartly done for several other years. He'll be busy finishing up work on America's Sweetheart, starring Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Over at CBS, cast changes are in store for the Bette Midler vehicle, Bette. Kevin Dunn, who plays Bette's husband Roy in the show, is leaving "amicably," according to an Entertainment Weekly report. No word on how the exit will take place -- death, divorce, or if he'll be replaced with an entirely new actor, like Lindsey Lohan was earlier in the season. Lohan played Bette's daughter Rose but was replaced in the third episode by Marina Malota, who, at press time, was still cast as the divine diva's daughter.

Midseason contenders include a new show featuring Vicki Lewis called Three Sisters (NBC) and ABC's much-hyped new reality series The Mole, challenging 10 contestants to figure out who is the spy among them, hosted by former ABC News correspondent Anderson Cooper. It will borrow a time slot from Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which, if the Millionaire's faltering ratings are any indication, has oversaturated the market. The Mole will probably air on Friday nights, beginning January 9.

I was sorry to see Sally Field finish her stint on ER as Maggie, Abby Lockhart's (Maura Tierney) manic-depressive mother. I wasn't sure what to expect from the diminutive actress who's endured many years of ribbing since her "You like me, you really like me!" acceptance speech at the Oscars a few years back. But let me tell you -- Sally Field tore up the screen. It is rare that watching television gives me the chills of a live performance, but Field's well-timed turns from extreme excitement to abysmal despair to screeching anger were absolutely jaw-dropping. Cheers also go to Tierney, who has managed to make Abby a character all her own. It was obvious Tierney was brought on to be the new Nurse Carol Hathaway, after the marvelous Julianna Margulies left the series. To be honest, I had low expectations of Tierney, who held her own on NewsRadio -- but not much more. In ER, she's managed to step out of the shadow of the much-loved Carol Hathaway and create a multifaceted and enduring character of her own.

And speaking of enduring characters, now that Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) has that inoperable brain tumor, does this mean quits for Edwards? Will he have a grand death scene at the end of the season, and if so, will this mean that old friends like Dr. Ross (George Clooney) and Nurse Hathaway and maybe even Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) will make a deathbed appearance? Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top -- but after you've watched a show for this long, you can't help but concoct your own storylines.

Simpsons vs. Seinfeld vs. 3rd Rock

A few weeks ago, I mentioned there was some in-house lamenting at the Chronicle about the change in late-evening programming at Fox 7. No longer are Seinfeld or The Simpsons shown from 9-10pm. Instead, the local affiliate switched to news during that hour, followed by back-to-back reruns of 3rd Rock From the Sun from 10-11pm. Apparently there are others who are also unhappy with the new programming, but instead of just sending a polite e-mail to the Fox 7 programming office, a larger effort is in the works, according to an e-mail sent to "TV Eye" from Cortney Allen. She proposes two things. The first is "an online poll to determine the popularity of The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and 3rd Rock From the Sun." The results would then determine which of the three shows would air in the now-coveted 10pm slot. Allen is sure that The Simpsons will be the big winner, since "Everyone [she's] talked to was outraged" that 3rd Rock rather than The Simpsons was now the cornerstone of late-evening viewing on Fox. Maybe so, but don't forget those die-hard Seinfeld viewers (who, right about now, are reminiscing about the Festivus episode -- perhaps over a pint of the new Ben & Jerry's ice cream with the same name. By the way, it's delicious.) If an online poll doesn't work, Allen proposes a petition. "Since most Austinites enjoy The Simpsons more than 3rd Rock, many people will sign our petition." Maybe. But don't underestimate those Seinfeld fans. However Cortney directs her poll, I hope she doesn't deal with butterfly ballots, chads of any variety, or misplaced ballots.

As always, stay tuned.

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the michael richards show, bette, sally field

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