Upfront Reaction: ABC
by Steve Lutz — May 20, 12:22 PM
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Television executives are kinda dumb.
Are you dumb, too? Take this pop quiz to find out.
Question 1. Your traditionally embarrassing network has unexpectedly lucked into three hit programs in a single season. Fall 2005 approaches, and your advertisers are expecting you to capitalize on your newfound success. Do you:
A) Take the popularity of Lost — a show primarily about deep, flawed characters with just a pinch of science fiction — to mean that your audience is clamoring for caricature-populated, hugely improbable sci-fi such as Invasion and Commander in Chief?
B) Forget entirely about the apparently huge segment of the population that likes to watch crazy broads carp at each other?
C) See what that nice kid, Freddie Prinze, Jr., is up to; ask him if maybe he’d like to be on a sitcom or something, premise TBD?
D) All of the above.
If you answered D, you could be running ABC right now. And you would be hurting badly, since not a one of your new shows for 2005-2006 would have survived the cruel and uncaring Nielsen axe.
But hey, another year, another schedule. So ABC Entertainment prez Stephen McPherson thought long and hard about what exactly makes shows like Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy so popular. “Our success has been driven by great storytelling and memorable characters that audiences have fallen in love with,” said McPherson at the ABC upfront presentation. “We set out to develop a diverse group of shows that will continue in that vein and also to grow our audience.” And I have no doubt that Mr. McPherson is true to his word; that he did indeed set out with only the best intentions to develop diverse, gripping, character-rich, audience-growing goodness.
Sadly, what they actually ended up with was this crap.
Betty the Ugly
Many a time have I run across it while scanning through the TiVo program guide, nestled snugly amongst the Spanish-language channels. And though I have never watched the actual show, each time I see its name scroll by I am forced to shout out, “¡Betty La Fea!” to nobody in particular. It annoys the wife and the cats, but there are some things a man just has to do.
Now, like so many kilos of high-grade blow before it, this apparently beloved telenovela has made the arduous journey north from Colombia to Los Angeles. And before you start writing angry letters to your Congressman, you should be aware that Betty the Ugly is only taking the undesirable 8:00 Friday time slot that no American shows were willing to fill.
What you should be angry about is that, although the show has maintained its original storyline — slightly dumpy gal tries to survive in the shallow and cutthroat world of high fashion — it has been cruelly stripped of all outrageously hot, large-breasted, blonde Latinas! (In an apparent attempt at compensation, the producers cast a Betty who’s not even all that ugly. As trade-offs go, this one is of the trinkets-for-Long-Island variety.)
Later, if the show lasts that long, feel free to be angry about the hypocritical storyline. In the Colombian original, Betty eventually has a makeover and turns out to be sorta hot, then uses her newfound attractiveness to hook up with her abusive pig of a boss; a turn of events that pretty much negates the earlier episodes’ message that a gal can get by just fine on wits and basic decency. I’d be surprised if those Hollywood wimps stick with the original plot, but then again, I was surprised that somebody thought it was a good idea to import ¡Betty La Fea!
If Betty the Ugly has one thing going for it, it’s the presence of the magnificent Tony Plana. Nerdos like myself know him as the voice of Manny Calavera in the brilliant adventure game, Grim Fandango. Slightly less hardcore dweebs may know Plana best from a single classic line of film dialog: “Oh yes, El Guapo. You have a plethora.”
In case you blew that pop quiz earlier, here’s one more opportunity to prove that you’ve got the stuff to run a major network:
Question 2. Some punk kid is in your office, pitching his idea for a new “high-concept” sitcom. At what point do you spin him around and put your boot to his ass so hard that he sails right through the lobby and out the revolving doors?
A) When he tells you that the brilliant, original premise he came up with is a show about a goddamn wedding.
B) When he explains that the only thing setting this apart from every other crappy comedy about a goddamn wedding is that he slapped the “real-time” concept from 24 on top of it.
C) When he describes with gleeful enthusiasm the kind of over-the-top wedding-related highjinks — The mother of the bride kvetches over choice of side salad! The Maid of Honor and Best Man make the beast with two backs! — the writers can pack into every…single…episode.
D) Six weeks into the fall season.
Yep. It’s “D” once again. You really should be ensconced in a leather chair in a corner office right now.
Brothers AND Sisters
The all-caps “AND” isn’t a typo; that’s actually how they have the show listed on the ABC web site. I guess they’re trying to get across the point that while this show is like Sisters, it’s actually even better because it also has histrionic dudes.
A large, curiously photogenic family gets together for a birthday celebration, during which Dad unexpectedly croaks. “With this safety net gone,” says the web site, “everyone will be forced to face the reality of their lives.” Given that this show is basically a primetime soap, I’m going to guess that those realities aren’t comprised of nine-to-five jobs, day care, and awkward, perfunctory marital sex.
That may not sound like the most exciting premise you’ve ever heard of, but the show does feature a pretty good cast, including the weirdly angular Calista Flockhart, Anthony LaPaglia’s skinny kid brother, and Rachel Griffiths, whom I would probably be more impressed by if I was less of a cheap bastard and subscribed to HBO.
Help Me Help You
“You got your Becker in my Dear John!”
“You got your Dear John in my Becker!”
“Hey, it tastes like ass!”
From the Perl script that brought you Hot Properties comes Help Me
Help You. Ted Danson plays a self-absorbed doctor whose personal life is a shambles. He leads a therapy group filled with wacky misfits, who learn to rely on each other as they face their neuroses and life’s ups and downs. For God’s sake, they even dug the guy who played Kirk out of mothballs for this.
Obviously, ABC is hoping that the people who loved Becker and Dear John will tune in, thinking that this is one of those shows. True, you’d have to be pretty clueless to be unaware that both were cancelled years ago, but keep in mind: we are talking about the people who loved Becker and Dear John.
I’m betting this show will run for the better part of a decade.
“Hi, is this J.J.? Hey, J.J., how ya doin’? This is Stephen! No, Stephen McPherson. ABC? The guy who greenlighted What About Brian? No, Lloyd’s gone, dude, this is Stephen.
So anyway, hey, J.J. how ya doin’?
So hey, I was watching the Lost DVD and I saw the bit about how Lloyd came up with an idea for a show on an island, and you were like, ‘Hey, I think I could make a cool show out of that’, and he was all, ‘Go for it, dude’. And, well, I was kinda wondering if you could take one of my genius ideas and build another hyper-successful show around it.
The idea? It’s like, well, there’s this group of people, right? And their lives are all intertwined and stuff, but they don’t even know each other. Plus, some of them have mysterious back stories that we can gradually reveal over the course of the series. And here’s the kicker: they’re on an island!
What? Well, yeah, I guess it does sound a little like Lost now that you mention it. But this is actually totally different, because the island they’re on is… uh… Manhattan!
Oh… Seriously? So the hatch is, what, the Statue of Liberty’s torch? Oh, man, that’s going to be so awesome!
Well, whatever, just throw together a show with lots of back stories and characters and stuff, okay? I know you’re really busy right now. All I’m asking for is a little of the Abrams magic, just half a dozen episodes or so and then we can hand it off to the show runners. Worked great for Alias, and Lost hasn’t missed a step this season without you.
Please, J.J.? My ass is on the line here, man.
Right on, dude! Hey, I’ll send by your usual U-Haul. Are C-notes okay, or do you prefer smaller denominations?”
A gaggle of assorted fat guys and dweebs, and one smokin’ hot Latina (a refugee from Betty the Ugly perhaps), band together to rob Mick Jagger’s condo. Which is a great idea for a show, because as you know, everybody loves to watch fat guys and dweebs. And television shows about thieves.
Personally, I’m going to tune in just to try to catch a glimpse of the hidden machinery that makes Jagger’s corpse move in lifelike ways.
Men in Trees
This one’s just for the three or four of you that loved Anne Heche’s guest stint on Everwood.
Says the ABC web site: “Finding a good man in today’s world isn’t as difficult as some women think. You just have to watch out for the signs.” Right you are, anonymous blurb-writer. And it also helps if you’re not shopping for sausage at the fish market. But I digress.
To summarize, Heche plays an author of books about healthy relationships who ends up marooned in Alaska shortly after discovering her fiance’ is cheating on her. While there, she realizes that what she really needs to do is stop and smell the roses. and the hot, Alaskan dudes!
So, yeah, basically Miss Match with a side of Northern Exposure. Helloooo, dead pool!
“Hi, J.J.? Stephen McPherson again. Yeah, from the other day. Hey, dude, I just had another killer idea and I thought I’d run it by you.
So there’s this group of people, right? And their lives are all intertwined and stuff, and they have mysterious back stories that we can gradually reveal over the course of the series.
What? No! No, it’s totally different from that idea I had before. That one had six people, this one has nine.
Oh, also, in this show the people all know each other. Like, they all went through some sort of traumatic event together. Or something.
No, I don’t know what kind of event, I still have to figure that part out. I was planning to think about it while I’m down at the bank, filling up another U-Haul.
So, you game?
You’re the best, J.J.!”
Notes From the Underbelly
…in which we learn that ABC is the new NBC.
Which is to say, this half-assed comedy looks like the sort of trite crap NBC tried for years to pawn off on us during the Thursday 8:30 PM slot. One guess as to when this show is airing.
The premise: some lady gets pregnant. And that’s pretty much it. Seriously.
Curious as I am to find out what happens to this show after nine months, I am nonetheless relieved that we’ll almost certainly not get the chance to find out.