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Peter Ames Carlin - 11/08/03
The Orgeonian

A new book won't let you down like those
penny-pinching networks

I know this sounds crazy, TV viewers, but maybe it's time to turn off the set and go to the library.

That new Jonathan Lethem novel, "The Fortress of Solitude," is supposed to be really good. And as I'm reading it, and the story takes flight in my imagination, I know I'll be able to get to the end without having to worry that some entertainment executive is going to decide it's not selling enough copies after all, and then yank it out of my hands.

Network television offers no such luxury.

You'd think I'd know this by now. I've been hurt so many times, sent away from favorite shows with only my tears and broken heart for company, you'd think I would be in some kind of 12-step program recovering from what is clearly a destructive habit.

But no.

Oh, sure, I always think the pattern is going to
change. This time, I tell myself, it's completely

But now it's happening again.


In one of the grimmest weeks of the TV year, Fox dropped the critically acclaimed drama "Skin" and NBC announced the cancellation of its critically acclaimed, Peabody award-winning sophomore drama "Boomtown."

The carnage didn't stop there. NBC pulled the plug on its smirky, dirty sitcom "Coupling," while ABC popped a cap on its fair-to-middling second-year cop show "L.A. Dragnet" and the WB cut the vine on its glossy new "Tarzan."

I doubt anyone will mourn those last three shows for long. But another painful cancellation came a week or two earlier, when CBS did the honors to its celebrated new drama "The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire."
The ax is certain to fall again, and given ratings
trends I can only fear the worst for ABC's "Karen Sisco" and NBC's "Miss Match."

And it's not just those shows. Almost all of the major networks are shedding viewers like crazy, compared with last year at this time. Jeff Zucker, NBC's entertainment chief, thinks he knows why.

"Some of the programming just sucked," he complained a few days ago.

Never mind that the last time we heard from Zucker, on the NBC days at the summer television press tour, he was singing arias to how brilliant his network's new season would be. Also never mind that Zucker developed
many of the shows that, in his own estimation,

Let's turn instead to this puzzling conundrum: Many of these shows were actually pretty good.

In fact, "Skin" was my favorite new drama of the fall season, followed not so distantly by "Brotherhood" and the hanging-by-a-thread "Miss Match" and "Karen Sisco."

Although all of those shows earned solid-to-ecstatic reviews from critics across the country, I fear that the very essence of what made them (along with the award-winning "Boomtown") so good -- a unique vision, complex characters, intricate, often-unresolved plots -- also made them a tougher-than-usual sell to the mainstream audience.

Once a great show could count on network support even if its ratings needed help. In 1981, for instance, NBC stuck with "Hill Street Blues" through many low-rated months, slowly cultivating it into the massive hit it became. The network showed the same patience with a
sputtering sitcom called "Seinfeld" in 1989, gradually building a blockbuster.

But the TV industry has changed. If a repeat of "Law & Order" can bring in more cash than a new "Boomtown" on Friday night, well, that's the end of "Boomtown."

Trouble is, that's eventually going to be the end of broadcast TV, too.

The shows don't all stink, chief Zucker. The networks, and the people who run them, do.

Jonathan Lethem's novel, on the other hand, is a great read. I'm not sure how it's going to turn out just yet, but at least I know I'm going to find out.

TV Gal - 11/06/03

[Alas, NBC has officially canceled "Boomtown." Even though we all knew this was coming, I still don't understand why the network would renew the show only to pull it after two episodes. But "Third Watch" (NBC, 10 p.m. Friday) is doing very well in "Boomtown's" time slot. Now I will commence my one-
woman campaign
to get Bravo to run all the unaired episodes.]

Matt Roush - 11/10/03

I had no problem with Vanessa Williams joining the show. Whether she could have provided a boost is a moot point given NBC's shameful lack of support for this series. It's hardly a secret that NBC chief Jeff Zucker is so enamored of the stand-alone episodic formula demonstrated by Law & Order that Boomtown didn't get the shot it deserved. First NBC tried to destroy the show creatively. Then the network killed it. It's really depressing.

Ray Barrington - 11/07/03
Green Bay News -Chronicle

I'm still honked off at the way NBC handled "Boomtown." It was an excellent show that rewarded viewers who sat down and actually watched it rather than having it on as background noise. Obviously, that won't work in today's society.

The Arizona Republic - 11/09/03

NBC's New Fall Lineup
How can it help a network's chances for midseason recovery if they can't even wait to midseason to cancel their new fall shows? Compounding the hurt, there's Jeff Zucker, the chief honcho at NBC Entertainment, admitting, "Some of the programming just sucked." He's referring to the show Coupling, the touted successor to Friends which had a difficult time spreading double entendres over six characters and is the first casualty in the network's misguided "Just Suck TV" campaign. "We really thought people would equate 'suck' with sexy and that any allusions to oral sex could win back cable viewers, especially during the all-important November sweeps. This just proves they just equate 'suck' with sucking in the worst possible way," said a beaten but chipper Zucker, who promises the network will rebound with a new midseason slogan, "Just Watch Us Blow It."

Marvin Kitman - 11/02/03
New York Daily News

That Stinking Feeling at NBC
Jeff Zucker was the wunderkid of NBC News. His big boss, Bob Wright, called him "a genius."

I never quite knew what was so great about him at the "Today" show, where he made his reputation. Aside from answering the question "Where in the world is Matt Lauer," his other major achievement was the windows. He brought "Today" outside; that's where it started with Dave Garroway. What he did was improve the quality of the crowd. Under Zucker, they held up more elaborate stupid signs.

Doogie - as Tom Brokaw was fond of calling him when Zucker was executive producer of "The NBC Nightly News," in homage to the 16-year-old Dr. Doogie Howser of early 1990s TV - was promoted to head of the network in 2000. He was supposed to fix the sinking network. Once a titan among networks, the old ship that ruled the airwaves for 17 years was springing bigger leaks than the Titanic. NBC's franchise shows, "Friends," "ER" and "Frasier," are on their way to Davey Jones' locker.

Captain Doogie went to L.A., where he fell in love with "Fear Factor." The idea of dumping rats on people in prime time for entertainment did not strike him as decadent or weird.

He tried to patch the leaks by putting on several comedies from which you could die from not laughing: "Emeril," "Hidden Hills," "In-Laws," "A.U.S.A," "Inside Schwartz." Maybe he should have had the "Today" crowds outside the windows of his sitcom homes holding up signs.

It's hard to say what his biggest bungle is in drama development. He has gotten over the freshman and sophomore jinxes. In this his third season, Captain Doogie's new shows are failing. Rob Lowe is failing on Sundays with "The Lyon's Den." Alicia Silverstone is failing on whatever night they switch "Miss Match" to. Everything is performing below expectations, except "Las Vegas."

But the most serious failure of leadership is what the captain did to "Boomtown," the most creative, original, yes, even awesome drama.

It suddenly vanished from the radar screen of Don Olcott of Massapequa. "Can you tell me what happened?"

What Zucker did to "Boomtown" is a travesty - and yet so typical of uninspiring executives.

Created by Graham Yost, "Boomtown" looked at an ordinary street-level crime in L.A. through the perspective of seven people involved, including cops, paramedics, beat reporters, the D.A.'s office, city officials and perps. The TV version of "Rashomon," crossed with "Pulp Fiction," it won critical acclaim, a Peabody Award and the affection of the usual smallish crowd of quality drama freaks.

Zucker's first vote of confidence was taking it off during November sweeps last year, a move guaranteed to reduce the audience, which assumed it had been canceled.

Then he further spooked "Boomtown" fans this season by moving it from Sunday, where it had been doing well, to Friday, where it hasn't.

And now he is thinning the audience again by taking the show off the air, as they say, temporarily. Hiatus, even the dimmest TV viewers know, is the death knell.

In between, Captain Doogie tried to fix "Boomtown," despite all its kudos. His idea was that it had to be lightened up. Also, the basic concept had to be changed. He didn't like the multiple perspectives.

The truth is Zucker didn't like "Boomtown" from the start. He doesn't like dark stuff. "American Dreams" was more to his taste, a sappy show about life in the 1960s.

He would have cut "Boomtown" last season if it weren't for all the critical hosannas and the expected media uproar over killing something that was at least new and different.

His only success this year, if you call that success, is "Las Vegas." It confirms to some degree his belief that what America wants is basically Aaron Spelling recloaked for the 21st century.

"Las Vegas" is basically "Hotel." But it's got Jimmy Caan as the hotel security chief. I've seen a few minutes of it from time to time. With its really dumb scripts, it is so Spellingesque: very glossy, light entertainment.

Let's see how many awards "Las Vegas" wins for NBC. As many as "American Dreams" won last year. "Boomtown" will be remembered longer than Zucker. Unfortunately, it will be by those who visit the cemetery on TV memorial days, paying respects at the graves of "Homicide: Life on the Street," "Murder One," "EZ Streets" and other classics whose throats were cut by the serial killers.

Under the theory of ostentatious failure, which has made TV the hopelessly incurable invalid of the arts, Zucker is being promoted from captain of the sinking NBC to commodore of all entertainment at the newly launched NBC-Vivendi Universal Entertainment grand fleet. He will be in charge of entertainment anywhere in the known world.

Doogie Zucker is smart. He is leaving behind Kevin Reilly as vice president in charge of blame. A brilliant innovator at FX - "The Shield," "Lucky," "Nip/Tuck" - the newly named head of program development at NBC will take the blame for what will happen next season as the TV Titanic runs into the iceberg. By that time, Doogie will be in the lifeboat, following the first rule of network survival drills: chief executives in the boats first, women and children, 18-to-49s, last.