Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Season's Fleeting

TV is pretty much over for the year. So go read a book.

By Tom Danehy

JUNE 8, 1998:  THE TV SEASON is over and now we must live in darkness.
It was pretty okay as TV seasons go: lots of good dramas, a few really funny sitcoms, eight million nights of Dateline. Something for everyone.

What are we supposed to do now? I mean, I love TV, but even I won't sit around and watch reruns of shows from last winter. Everybody knows you're supposed to save that for when the shows go into syndication.

Someone suggested we go on a picnic on a nice summer evening. I had to run for the dictionary to look that up. Not "picnic." "Nice summer evening." What in the world is that?

No, summer is a time for summer basketball in a 98-degree gym, mindless movies in a 70-degree theater, and mostly watching videos in a swamp-cooled tract home.

I read somewhere that back in the 1960s, the TV season ran from Labor Day until around the Fourth of July. Now there's a reason to be nostalgic. One year, they made 39 episodes of My Favorite Martian and ran a first-run episode every week from late September until July 5. Of course, the work schedule eventually made Bill Bixby turn into a green steroid monster, but that's another matter.

Nowadays, even the biggest shows make only 22 episodes a year. In a single year, they run 22 new ones, 22 repeats, and still have to fill eight weeks with World's Most Dangerous Police Chases of Secret Magicians As Animals Attack.

They don't start until October, show reruns from Thanksgiving until mid-January, gear up for the February sweeps, take three weeks off around Easter, then show three, maybe four, new episodes in May.

That's enough to make people start reading books again. Fortunately, I read books while I watch TV. That way, I break even intellectually. It's like stomping on the gas and the brake at the same time.

For those of you who were braiding your armpit hair and were thus too busy to watch the chilling season end of Homicide: Life On The Streets, please allow me to touch on this season's high- and low-lights.

I'm waiting for an apology: Ellen got canceled. I knew it was coming. I told you it was coming. And for doing so, I was branded a bigot, even by someone here at The Weekly whom I like and respect very much.

Because I dared to state that the show wasn't funny, I was all of a sudden a gay basher. Well, guess what?

On the subject of Ellen, the national media said: "Not funny" (TV Guide); "painfully unfunny" (Entertainment Weekly); "unwatchable" (Rolling Stone); "as unfunny as anything on TV" (USA Today); and "grating, shrill, and most unforgivably, not funny." (L.A. Times)

Not surprisingly, the show's star, Ellen DeGeneres, claimed the show was canceled because her character, Ellen Morgan, was "too gay." (Oddly enough, lesbian activist Chastity Bono used the exact same phrase, explaining that the show was becoming strident and pushy and "wasn't funny any more.")

So does that mean I was a bigot or simply prematurely aware?

The one thing she couldn't refute is that the show (Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place) which replaced Ellen on a trial run doubled Ellen's Nielsen ratings. And believe me, Pizza Place isn't going to earn a spot in the Sitcom Hall of Fame.

She made a bold statement by coming out on TV. She then forgot why she was on TV in the first place. The vast majority of TV viewers are good, open-minded people who want to be entertained, even just a little bit. After the Big Splash, most regular viewers like myself shrugged and said, "Okay, cool, now make me laugh again." But she didn't want to. She wanted to get a girlfriend (the blandest white woman in the history of TV); she wanted to make out on TV (yawn!); she wanted to spar with the network.

Hey, you can preach, you can teach, but you'd better be funny as you do so or you're gone. Now go.

And if any of the seven other people in America who watched the torturously long one-hour series finale can tell me they laughed even once, they need to get back on their medication before The Grand Master From The Planet Zellrod starts giving them instructions again. That shit wasn't funny at all.

The series started okay, made an important contribution to television, then went out like a chump. It won't be missed.

Other notes: Last year's Emmy winner Law & Order just keeps getting better and better. This year they mixed in two intricate subplots about Lenny's (Jerry Orbach) drug-addicted daughter and the coming political storm in the race for District Attorney between the bedraggled incumbent and a crooked opportunistic judge. Unfortunately, I was all geared up for the season finale and didn't get to see the whole thing. NBC decided to rerun the final Seinfeld (I'll bet there was a stampede to watch that snorefest again!) that night. Since it ran 75 minutes, everything was pushed back 15 minutes. I programmed the VCR to take Law & Order from 9-10, not wanting to have to catch any Patty Weiss sightings). I got the first 45 minutes of the L&O and am now left hanging for the entire summer...If anybody saw the whole thing, please let me know what happened. NBC put its best foot forward by placing Frasier in the vacated Seinfeld slot. It's way too smart for some, but it's great TV. NewsRadio will continue on the air, but without Phil Hartman (and Khandi Alexander, who left earlier in the year), it can't last much longer. Hartman was underappreciated by critics, and really unappreciated by his psycho wife. The good-but-not-great Brooklyn South got canceled, but the spectacularly good The Practice was renewed...And then ABC gave it a graveyard time slot at 9 p.m. Sunday against the second halves of movies on NBC and CBS. The only hope is that people will tune in after The X-Files on Fox, or tape it, like I do. Hey, if God didn't love us so much, He wouldn't have invented the VCR.

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