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[whitespace] We Love TV

By Jon Roemer

'We love TV." That's ABC's network tagline. That's right. They're spending jillions of ad dollars to convince us that ABC, the people who bring us TV, "love TV." Another ABC billboard is pretty in-your-face: "Hello? It's free." Which also makes you stop and think. As if ABC doesn't know it's not cable. As if they don't know they're not WebTV, whatever that's supposed to be. As if ABC has a sense of humor about what they're doing. As if what ABC gives us is "free," and they "love" that.

And yet it's not quite clear the networks know what they're doing. Looking at the hyper-hyped shows of the fall season, there are a few surprises, a few signs of the times and a couple of classic duds. Some have already aired, and some are still mired in the networks' something-for-everyone PR machine.

NBC's preseason pitch for Conrad is the perfect example: "We'll present the male viewpoint on what it means to become an adult using ... women as a sounding board." That sounds very post-Seinfeld, very Fall '98. Seinfeld's coy, charged wit has been watered down to this: if it's aware of itself, it must be funny. My friends, we all know ourselves better than Conrad ever will.

CBS hits very close to home with Maggie Winters, in which a prom queen returns to her small hometown after a "failed marriage" and "nowhere" jobs in "the big city." Some of us may find nothing at all funny about this. Adult supervision is advised. In To Have and to Hold, two married lawyers face off in the courtroom week after week. "Both are as deeply involved in their cases as they are in love," which means they're much too busy and too much in love to love TV. It's another lawyers-in-love show, and I say resist and refuse, comrades.

Back at ABC, Maximum Bob is not all bad, if you have a penchant for poking fun at the underclasses. But it's all done with lots of clever weirdness and shades of Twin Peaks, a dubious distinction Maximum Bob shares with Buddy Faro, a new buddy cop show that sounds unbelievably awful--although some may find comfort in knowing that there is a former Twin Peaks writer on staff.

And then there's UPN's The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, a sitcom set in Abe Lincoln's White House that riffs on contemporary politics through the broken lens of slavery and the Civil War. As a concept, it's both patently disagreeable and full of promise. But because it's on UPN, my money is on "patently disagreeable."

The whole dreadful lineup is strange given that the headlines are rich with sitcom ideas these days. Cum stains on interns' dresses, cloned laboratory mice, Bill Gates and gay fashion designers--it seems like creating the perfect show shouldn't be that tough, especially if you "love" your work.

Visualize: a casual corporate setting with a storyline that revolves around a nerdy billionaire with liberal political aspirations, a sexy assistant with an insatiable weakness for cute rodents and a faggy next-door neighbor who spends all his time making everyone look great. That would be the regular, formulaic way of putting on a show. A more restrained, sophisticated, "self-aware" approach would mean we'd drop the stereotypes, make the girl a sassy reporter--while holding onto that sexual tension--and give the gay guy a full-time job.

Maybe someday. When TV loves me the same way I love TV.

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From the August 24-September 6, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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