Another TV season is upon us. And from what I've seen of the seaon so far, it looks to be another bad year for free television. In September, Viacom announced they were merging with CBS, which had just announced it was buying syndicator King World (after 4 years of rumors). UPN's future is very much up in the air, since right now Viacom can't own both UPN and CBS and UPN co-owner Chris-Craft/United Television is up for sale. NBC, the antithesis of a family network, bought 32% (and a secretive controlling interest) of family rerun network Pax TV. (This means among other things that should the FCC ever wise up and revoke WNBC-4's license, NBC can simply move their programming to WPXN-31 here in New York.)
The teenycrap programming trend is still alive and well on the WB and Fox networks. Fox is down considerably in the ratings because its new shows aren't doing well. At this time, their fall Friday lineup is cancelled and a TV movie is in place for now. UPN is close to WB's ratings again thanks to the WWF. (Maybe Stone Cold Steve Austin can smack a Stunner on the debris that passes for comedy on NBC's Thursday night.) And there is a glut of newsmagazines and their unacceptable clones on TV.....
News: ABC's Monday Night Football is back at 9PM. ABC 7 isn't happy, but the football fans west of the Appalachians are. CBS adds one new comedy ("Ladies' Man") and one offensively feminist drama (Family Law). Fox replaces Melrose Place with a Party of Five spinoff called Time of Your Life. NBC cans half of "must-she TV" with a Law and Order spinoff. (The remaining "must-she" shows are 4th in their time slot and are headed for cancellation.) UPN's new shows include a "Moesha" spinoff called "The Parkers" and a show called "Grown Ups" featuring a grown-up Jaleel White of "Urkel" fame. WB still is competitive with its highest rated show, 7th Heaven.
Best shows: CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond," Fox's Ally McBeal.
Not Recommended: NBC's "Suddenly Susan" and "Veronica's Closet"; CBS's Family Law.
Unacceptable: NBC's Dateline. A certain Brooklyn College faculty member who works for NBC (Prof. Adrian Meppen) doesn't consider this crap a newsmagazine. Dateline should have been yanked after the GM pickup explosion fiasco in 1993, in which NBC producers put explosives in a truck to "prove" a defect. In the early 1990's, KCNC-TV Denver (at that time an NBC O&O) lost a reporter to jail because she staged a story on dog fights. Dateline should have been canceled years ago and NBC should have paid millions of dollars in fines for staging the GM story. But instead, their only reprimand is this column's "unacceptable" award.
News: CBS discovered their show JAG was a hit, so the followed it with 60 Minutes II and a Providence ripoff called Judging Amy. ABC lost "Home Improvement" but kept the much worse "Spin City," "Dharma and Greg," and "Sports Night." ABC also added a mediocre romantic drama called Once and Again (not to be confused with the superior Now and Again) that will run at 10PM until NYPD Blue returns in January. NBC has more crappy comedies and the unacceptable Dateline. Fox moved Party of Five to 9PM and added a repackaged half hour of Ally McBeal. UPN moved "Dilbert" to Tuesdays and added a new show that lives up to its title, "Shasta McNasty." And WB still has Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a spinoff best described as "Touched by a Vampire" (Angel).
Best shows: CBS's JAG and 60 Minutes II; ABC's NYPD Blue; UPN's "Dilbert".
Not Recommended: Fox's "That 70s Show"; ABC's "Sports Night," "Dharma and Greg," and "Spin City"; NBC's "3rd Rock," "Just Shoot Me" (just shoot this show), and "Will and Grace"; CBS's Judging Amy.
Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. Attention FCC: Pseudo-newsmagazines that stage news DO NOT SERVE THE PUBLIC INTEREST!!!
News: CBS adds "Cosby" and a movie; ABC has the good ("Drew Carey"), the bad ("Norm") and the ugly ("2 Guys and a Girl"); Fox and WB have new teenycrap dramas at 9PM; and NBC ruins the night by preceding the halfway decent Law and Order with the liberally biased West Wing and the unacceptable Dateline. UPN still has 7 Days and Star Trek: Voyager.
Best returning shows: CBS's "Cosby"; ABC's "Drew Carey".
Not Recommended: ABC's "2 Guys and a Girl," "Norm," and "Oh Grow Up"; NBC's The West Wing; Fox's 90210 and Get Real; WB's Dawson's Creek and Roswell.
Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. If you don't watch it, they won't keep putting this crap on the air.
News: The other networks have discovered that NBC's Thursday comedies are crap, and they can be defeated in the ratings. The chief beneficiary of NBC's decline has been UPN, which with its WWF wrestling is now 3rd for the night. Fox struggled with its hilarious but now on hiatus "Action" and "Family Guy" while ABC discovered that teenycrap dramas don't work on their network (the soon-to-be-cancelled Wasteland). Thursday may yet prove to be "Must-See TV" but none of the watchable shows are on NBC.
Best shows still on Thursday: CBS's 48 Hours; UPN's WWF Smackdown.
Not recommended: NBC's "Jesse," "Friends," "Frasier," and "Stark Raving Mad"; ABC's Wasteland; WB's Popular and Charmed.
News: Friday is still a poor night for television, although it is not as bad as it used to be. UPN added a new movie franchise called "Shockwave Cinema." NBC canned Homicide for an even worse show whose ratings were so bad the show didn't last two months (Cold Feet). Fox temporarily has a movie (since its action dramas didn't last a month). ABC has a more PG rated but still awful TGIF comedy lineup. WB still has its ethnic comedies. And surprise! The only decent new CBS show this season (the difficult-to-categorize Now and Again) is making CBS competitive on Fridays again.
Best shows: ABC's 20/20 and CBS's Now and Again.
Not recommended: ABC's TGIF comedies; NBC's Providence.
Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. (Insert comment about the decline and fall of the media here.)
News: Certain Excelsior writers are intrigued by a new NBC show that describe their social circles: Freaks and Geeks. ABC has a three-hour Saturday movie. And CBS and Fox will continue to lead the night with reality shows and dramas dedicated to law enforcement.
Best Shows: CBS's Martial Law and Walker Texas Ranger; Fox's "Cops" and America's Most Wanted. WB11's Xena and Hercules are also recommended, although this may be the last season for both.
Not Recommended: NBC's Freaks and Geeks, Profiler, and Pretender. By turning the night over to a movie, ABC has admitted they can't and won't compete on this night.
News: Perhaps the least changed night of the week after Saturday. CBS isn't changing their lineup, and Fox moved "King of the Hill" and "Futurama" to Sundays last summer. WB moved their teenycrap drama Felicity in from Tuesdays. And NBC moves the worst newsmagazine on the air up against the best newsmagazine. Give a wild guess who will win that ratings race.
Best shows: CBS's 60 Minutes and Touched by an Angel; Fox's "King of the Hill," "The Simpsons," "Futurama," and The X Files (in what will probably be its last season); ABC's Wonderful World of Disney and The Practice.
Not Recommended: WB's Felicity and Jack and Jill.
Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. General Electric should do the media and society a big favor and pull the plug on this crap now.
November 10, 1999/BC Excelsior