Sunday, February 5, 2006

Quick Cancellations

Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new type program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was. ~Art Buchwald

“The Book of Daniel”, I guess it was called, was cancelled rather quickly, prompting religious groups who protested the show to crow about their incredible power. Phooey. When these guys get “Desperate Housewives” cancelled while it’s still in the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings, I will acknowledge their impact on what we watch. Getting “Daniel” cancelled is like doing a rain dance. You dance, it rains, but there is no actual causal relationship.
Face it folks, “Daniel” had to be one of the worst concepts ever to come out of the cesspit that gurgles out new television shows. A pill-popping priest who talks to Jesus to complain about his alcoholic (or was it drug-addicted? I don’t really recall)wife, his gay son, his philandering adopted son, and his drug-dealing daughter? Not exactly “Father Knows Best”, is it? It’s one thing to rub religious groups the wrong way; satirical shows have done it for years. It’s another thing to insult the intelligence of virtually every viewer in America. In other words, O great television gurus, there really is a limit to how crappy a show can be.
It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. There have been some pretty high-profile programs that died quick deaths, even without being crass to the level of “Daniel”. Bad is bad, and if it’s really bad, people won’t watch. If the people don’t watch, no one buys ads. If no one buys ads, the show is on the rocks.
Yes, there have been good programs that got a quick ax, but they usually found their way back for another try. Sometimes, though, what the critics like is just not what the rest of us want to watch.
Ordinarily, years ago, TV execs would give a show at least half a season, even if it stunk, just to see if there was some sort of audience out there. But there was one show that was so bad that the star of the show actually came on the next week to apologize.
The year was 1961. Jackie Gleason had been one of the biggest television stars of the 1950’s, but he seemed to have run his course and had been away for a couple of years, when some creative genius convinced him that he should host a humorous game show called “You’re in the Picture.” The premise of this misguided half hour was to have a poorly drawn life-size picture hauled on stage. Guest panelists would stick their heads out of holes from behind the picture. Their task was to guess what the picture was and who they were in it. They did this by asking Gleason questions, to which he was to make funny ad-libs.
I’ll bet your ribs are aching from laughter at the very thought. Well, the only aching at the network was in the pit of the stomachs of the execs who were going to have to explain this mess. Gleason himself was mortified at just how bad the show was (and, yes, I saw it, and, lordy yes, it was bad). The network was going to allow the show to finish its allotted 7 or 13 show run (I forget which). But Jackie Gleason was old-school in the best sense of the word, and he wasn’t about to make an even bigger fool of himself nor was he going to insult his legion of fans (and, believe me, he had millions of fans) by running another episode of this tripe.
So Gleason told the network what he was going to do, and such was his stature that the network buckled. The second week of the show he came on to an empty stage and apologized. Now, being Gleason, he didn’t come out with some sad, weepy, “Please forgive me” sort of thing. Nope, he accepted full responsibility; he had to. I mean, after all, shouldn’t he have seen how bad this was during rehearsals?
However, having done that, he laid it on. He said the show was such a bomb, it made the H-bomb look like a two-gun salute. He went on and on like this, with the audience rolling in the aisles (including the 10 or 12 of us who had tuned in to see if the second week could be as bad as the first). After a while, he began to tell stories of old show business flops and still the audience laughed. He was brilliant.
For the next few weeks, there was Gleason, on what was now called “The Jackie Gleason Show”, sitting on an empty stage, talking about show business, having an occasional guest (Art Carney was one), and generally providing some really great entertainment.
But Gleason was no dummy. He knew he wasn’t a talk show host, so as soon as the required shows were done, he pulled the plug.
When someone can take responsibility for a dud and come up smelling like a rose, that’s entertainment.

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