This must be what it’s like to have a totally crappy Christmas.
Like it must feel to wait patiently for months only to receive a few re-gifts and some trinkets from Japan, I’m feeling underwhelmed, disappointed and pessimistic about humanity’s prospects all at once. I can’t say for certain if this analogy holds true, since my Christmases have generally centered on Chinese food, but I’ve seen the “Home Alone” movies enough to make me something of an expert on the subject and pretty confident about this: The new fall TV season is barely underway, and it’s already like the worst Christmas ever.
Fall television is supposed to be an oasis in the desert for TV junkies. Summer television has always been an afterthought, but the advent of reality television has made the last ten or so summers especially poor and the contrast between fall and summer programming even more pronounced. So after barely getting by on a summer of “Seinfeld” reruns and only three of four “Undeclared” DVDs — seriously, if anyone knows where Disc 3 my “Undeclared” DVD set is I’ll give you $15, no, $20 — the new fall television schedule arrived to rescue my DVR from “Conan” reruns. (Quick tangent: Why aren’t single disc replacements for DVD box sets available? I’m not giving Judd Apatow $50 for 3 DVDs I already have and one my housemates lost. Isn’t this what eBay is for? Someone put me in touch with a venture capitalist; I want to make this happen.) Here’s the problem: The new fall schedule is not good. Very, very not good. Granted, most television is generally deplorable, but the current network lineups are especially weak. What’s unusual, though, is that the networks aren’t solely at fault here; you can blame the writers for this one, too.
Let’s backtrack roughly 10 months. The Writers Guild of America had just gone on strike, Tina Fey was walking around Manhattan with a picket sign, old people were preparing for life without five different “CSI”s and the TV world was getting ready to shut down. But after a few months of throwing away their salaries, the Guild agreed to come back to work, and Letterman shaved his beard and everything was just swell.
Except it wasn’t. Because while the writers weren’t writing new episodes of the “Ghost Whisperer,” they also weren’t writing or selling pilots of new, less terrible Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicles. So when the strike ended, the networks didn’t have the resources to conduct their normal pilot season, in which they historically commission a pool of pilots and move forward with a small percentage of them. Instead, the networks brought back an unusually high number of shows cut short by the strike, imported even more reality shows and ordered a smaller number of pilots, but put more stock in them, similar to how HBO and Showtime operate. This strategy hasn’t worked well. Exhibit A: “Hole in the Wall.”
“Hole in the Wall” is a television show from Japan. In the American version, which is obviously on Fox, humans jump through holes in a wall. That is the show — people passing through non-traditional doors. (Well, if you want to nitpick, the contestants position themselves to slide through moving walls, but that’s really just a technicality.) It also features illuminating commentary like “THAT WALL NEVER STOOD A CHANCE,” when especially, um, substantial women aren’t able to fit through the wall. This is quality shit, people.
On the other end of the spectrum is NBC’s “Chuck,” which no one really liked but apparently wasn’t bad enough for NBC to replace with something new. Like a number of shows that debuted last fall only to be cut short by the strike, “Chuck” still exists because it can. It seems to have made sense for the networks to suck a little more out of their strike-shortened shows and hope everyone forgot how much they never, ever wanted to watch a show like “Chuck.”
And that’s about it. Granted, the season is just beginning and a number of shows have yet to debut, but the fall is almost entirely void of buzz-worthy new programming. In the past couple years, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Pushing Daises” were anticipated properties entering the fall, and though their quality level varied wildly, they at least brought some excitement to the fall season. This year, J.J. Abrams’s “Fringe” had some potential, but it debuted on Fox last week and seems to be nothing more than the “X-Files” with fewer internet porn addicts and more Mighty Ducks. NBC has a revitalized “Knight Rider” set to debut in the coming weeks, but that will probably only appeal to the type of person who gets excited when they’re in a car with OnStar.
And sure, “The Office” and “30 Rock” are coming back, and “Lost” will be consistently blowing my mind by early next year, but network television’s prospects are pretty dark outside of that. For an industry built on shallow hype, it’s doing a poor job of making me excited about anything new this fall.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go put a hole through my wall.